By LAUREN MAINGOT
Buckets of uranium ore stored at the Grand Canyon National Park museum may have exposed park visitors and workers to radiation beyond the federal limit for nearly two decades, according to Elston Stephenson, the park’s Safety, Health and Wellness manager.
Stephenson told CNN that his requests for the National Park Service and Department of the Interior to warn tourists and employees of their possible exposure went ignored for months last summer. With a lack of response from officials, he sent an email to all park staff on Feb. 4 informing them of the situation.
“If you were in the Museum Collections Building (bldg 2C) between the year 2000 and June 18, 2018, you were ‘exposed’ to uranium by OSHA’s definition,” said the email. He also clarified that the exposure doesn’t mean imminent health issues. “It merely means essentially that there was uranium on the site and you were in its presence … and by law we are supposed to tell you.”
Stephenson contacted a park service radiation specialist when he found out that three buckets of ore had been stored next to a taxidermy exhibit for 18 years. According to the specialist’s report, testing results were positive for elevated radioactivity near the buckets, but elsewhere remained at background levels.
The park service decided to dispose of the ore in a nearby uranium mine, according to the report. The Department of the Interior says that the National Park Service is investigating the situation and working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Arizona Department of Health Services.
“Uranium naturally occurs in the rocks of Grand Canyon National Park. A recent survey of the Grand Canyon National Park’s museum collection facility found radiation levels at ‘background’ levels,” the department said in a statement provided to CNN. “There is no current risk to the public or Park employees.”
From a reporting standpoint, I think that this story doesn’t have deep enough coverage for its scale. For the museum of a national park that receives approximately five million visitors yearly, further investigation should be conducted regarding the origin of the uranium buckets and the reason why it took nearly two decades to remove them. The fact that schoolchildren would sit near the buckets regularly on tours and park employees and high school interns would work near them daily increases the urgency for more knowledge on the health effects of exposure.
An analysis of the manner in which the situation was handled from a management standpoint should also be covered, considering the poor communication and lack of acknowledgement by the National Park Service and Department of the Interior when initial reports emerged.