Investigation of radium exposure to Grand Canyon visitors ends

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By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Late last year, the safety, health and wellness manager at Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park raised concerns when he found three buckets of uranium ore in a quiet corner of the park’s museum collection building at the South Rim. While large groups of the public didn’t visit this area, occasional tours of the area, including children, did take place.


Apparently the ore was brought into the building around 2000, and remained there until June of 2018. At that time the ore was taken to a nearby uranium mine and dumped out. Interestingly, the then-empty buckets were actually returned to the building.

Investigation of radium exposure to Grand Canyon visitors endsAt the time, it wasn’t clear just how dangerous it was to those who came into the area containing the uranium ore. As one nuclear physicist pointed out at the time, dangers from the ore depend on how much time in the vicinity of the ore, and how close to it one comes. The Park Service did a preliminary sweep of the museum’s collection and says it found radiation present only at background levels, ones that are normally present.

Now the National Park Service and its parent agency, the Department of Interior, have concluded an investigation into the matter. An outside firm was hired to backtrack and reconstruct the situation, including delving into how the materials were stored and how employees interacted with the area in question, to put a handle on if there was indeed danger to anyone exposed to the uranium ore. Their findings were reviewed by U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report’s bottom line: Evidently nobody was put in any health danger by the uranium ore. In fact, stuffed animal specimens stored in close proximity to the uranium-containing buckets were checked over and found free of contamination. The report did include recommendations on how to beef up secure storage of any possibly radioactive substances.

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Larry Lee

Wonder how much this investigation cost us taxpayers? It should have been a non-issue. There are regulations regarding uranium mining employee exposure. Those rules should make it fairly obvious that, for fresh, unrefined uranium ore there is minimal radiation exposure. A quick radiation survey of the immediate area and a check of the mine where it was obtained would reveal the non-issue of this situation.