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Were Grand Canyon Visitors Exposed to Radiation?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 21, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

"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." Not exactly something you want to hear after your vacation to the Grand Canyon, but that's what the park's health and safety manager is claiming.

Elston "Swede" Stephenson says radioactivity readings gathered by Park Service officials on three buckets of stones believed to be uranium specimens appeared to be hundreds of times higher than federal exposure thresholds.

A Box of Rocks or a Load of Radiation?

Apparently not everyone is on board with Stephenson's evaluation of radiation risk at the park. "It's just a bucket of rocks," Craig Little, a health physicist who spent 25 years at the Oakridge National Laboratory told the Arizona Republic. "I wouldn't line my baby's crib with it, but ..." The central disagreement appears to center on whether uranium ore, which was discovered in three 5-gallon buckets that had been stored next to a taxidermy exhibit could emit dangerous radiation levels.

"Uranium naturally occurs in the rocks of Grand Canyon National Park," the Department of Interior told CNN. "A recent survey of the Grand Canyon National Park's museum collection facility found radiation levels at 'background' levels -- the amount always present in the environment -- and below levels of concern for public health and safety. There is no current risk to the public or Park employees."

Stephenson stood by his calculations, however, and noted that OSHA technicians wore full protective gear when they visited the building. "Please understand, this doesn't mean that you're somehow contaminated, or that you are going to have health issues," he said in a warning email. "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."

Suing the Grand Canyon

So, could lawsuits from park visitors be forthcoming? If the park in fact violated environmental laws on the storage or disposal of radioactive materials, it could be held liable. Additionally, the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows individuals to recover against the federal government for personal injury caused by the negligence of a federal employee. However, claims under the FTCA must be made following a specific procedure, in writing, and within two years after it becomes apparent a cause of action exists.

If you're wondering if you have a claim for radiation exposure, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney.

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