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Grand Canyon uranium case: 6 key things to know about radiation exposure

If you spent time in the museum collectibles building at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona over the past two decades, you may have been exposed to unsafe levels of radiation.

Three five-gallon containers brimming with uranium ore were stored in the building, next to a taxidermy exhibit where tours sometimes stopped for presentations.

Here’s what you should know.

What is radiation?

Ionized radiation is the emission of energy, or high-speed particles, in the form of invisible rays. Radiation occurs naturally in amounts of about 300 millirems per year at sea level. Ambient levels at the Grand Canyon are higher due to the altitude and geology. 

Natural dosages are safe for humans. However, intense exposures from radioactive material may damage cells, leading over time to medical issues.

What factors affect contamination levels?

Dosage depends on how much radiation is emitted, how close a person is to the source, for how long, and what the individual is wearing.

What’s considered unsafe?

Radiation exposure is measured in a number of ways, and the danger depends on the age of the person and the type of radiation.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has established a general public limit of 2 millirems in one hour for adults, or 100 millirems in a single year. Limits for children are one-tenth that due to higher vulnerability. 

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