Meeker home demolished after ‘hot’ uranium ore found inside
Apparently, Fred Johnson, who lived in the home several decades ago, once worked at a uranium mine in Utah and he used to bring some raw ore home with him, Rio Blanco Undersheriff Mike Joos said. He added that it is rumored that Johnson used to invite neighboring children into the home to see the raw ore — although for very short periods of time.
The home has reportedly been unoccupied for between 20 and 35 years, Joos and Rio Blanco County Environmental Health Director Jeremy Simmons said on Friday.
Recently, the Johnson family here decided they wanted to do something with the house, so an effort was made to start a family cleanup and hold a yard sale. During the cleanup, a Meeker resident reportedly asked one of the family members if the uranium was still in the house.
The family member reportedly called the police and Rio Blanco Sheriff Si Woodruff went out to check the site and found the uranium ore. According to Joos, he called the Colorado State Police onto the site with their specialized equipment, which tested the ore found.
According to on-site EPA specialist Paul Peronard of Denver on Friday, “It was found by the EPA and the Colorado State Police to be ‘significantly radioactive’ within the immediate area. It showed only a very slight increase once you got to within eight feet of the house,” Peronard said. “But the radiation soared once you opened the door.”
He said it didn’t take long to find the ore, but there was more discussion that there was allegedly an old suitcase filled with ore than had not been located by Friday afternoon.
The original ore, which filled a large Folgers coffee can, was removed from the home.
Simmons said the uranium posed little risk from acute exposure but added that because the coffee can was “significantly radioactive” in its location next to the front right door, serious problems would be more likely to occur from prolonged exposure.
“It could have been worse, but I don’t believe I would want to lick the coffee can,” he said.
Peronard said the EPA will get rid of all the garbage and see if there is anything else.
“We will tear down the entire house,” he said. “Not only is the house a major long-term risk, but there is also the possibility that there is some asbestos in there, so we can hopefully take care of two birds at the same time.”
He said the Johnson family agreed with the demolition of the wood home.
Simmons added that there were some rocks similar to those in the coffee can found in the backyard during the demolition of the house.
Simmons said there were four big railroad car-sized dumpsters full of debris taken from the inside of the house and that the house fit into three of the large dumpsters.
The debris, he said, was shipped to Milner Landfill outside Steamboat Springs.
“The work went as planned, but the weather didn’t help any,” Simmons said. “It was as routine as something like this can be, and the removed soil and hole where the house was were filled in with very high quality excess drainage soil.
“The property is totally safe now,” he said.
Peronard reminded area residents that there was a yard/garage sale at the house roughly three weeks ago, and said that anyone who entered the house or who spent a fair amount of time near the house or in the backyard should check with their doctor, who can examine and check them for radiation exposure.