Many took note when the news of potential radiation contamination at the Grand Canyon made national news. There were three large buckets of uranium rocks indigenous to the area stored at the Museum Collections Building on the Southern Rim. Situated next to a taxidermy exhibit, the buckets had sat there from 2000 to June of 2018. The exhibit was sometimes a stopping spot on tours for kids.

The park’s safety inspector Elston “Swede” Stephenson brought this to the attention of the public after trying in vain to get superiors or even local politicians to address the matter and inform the public that the six million annual visitors to the park may have been exposed to unsafe levels of radiation. Of course, this would also affect employees as well.

Stephenson finally sent an email to all Park Service employees on February 4, alleging that the Museum Collection Building was unsafe and that there was a cover-up. By his calculations, those who looked at the taxidermy exhibit could receive radiation dosages exceeding OSHA’s standards in 30 seconds for adults and three seconds for children. According to Stephenson, close examination of the buckets yielded results that 400 times the legal limit for adults and 4,000 times the limit for children.

A cover-up ensues

Stephenson said that Park Service officials adopted a secrecy pact even though the law mandates that the public and fellow employees had a right to know. Stephenson himself acknowledged that the exposure might not have been severe and there have been no reported radiation issues linked to the buckets, but he still advised employees to get a medical screening.

While Stephenson still has his job at the Grand Canyon, whistleblowers can be targeted for dismissal. In a recent news story, he says that he is now on the outside looking in with Park Service officials not consulting him on this matter. He is afforded legal protections as a federal employee, but it is recommended that any potential work safety whistleblowers consult with an attorney who has experience working with employees exposed to improperly stored or handled hazardous materials.