Uranium mines like these at Capitol Reef National Park dot the landscape of Southern Utah, dating from an era when uranium mining was promoted for national defense.
Humans have been searching for ways to relieve suffering from arthritis, bursitis, rheumatism, cancer and just about every other painful malady for centuries. About 100 years ago, they thought they had found the solution and a huge quack or patent medicine industry quickly moved in to take advantage of this new “cure-all drug” found in naturally occurring elements like uranium and radium.
It wasn’t that they didn’t know about the radioactive properties. In fact, that is the “health benefit” they promoted. They were even in competition to see which company could make the stronger, “more pure” concoctions.
In methods that are considered stunningly ignorant today, people happily exposed themselves to radiation. One of the most common ways of exposure was to drink the stuff. Radium Ore Revigator Company sold special water coolers lined with carnotite, an ore of uranium and radium that undergoes radioactive decay, yielding radon gas. They claimed their product was much stronger and consistent than their competitor Radon Water.
In an ironic twist, when questions were raised about the amount of actual radiation in Radon Water (little to none as it turns out) the Federal Government was asked to step in and regulate the products to ensure that radiation levels purported were really true. A case of debunking the safe products in favor of the deadly ones.
Radium and uranium ores were also sewn into small bags, to be placed directly over the affected area. Hard to believe now, but one product was designed to be placed directly over the endocrine glands.
Uranium sand houses, small rooms similar perhaps to saunas, utilized crushed carnotite mixed with beach sand. Patients would sit on benches to absorb the radiation. Sand beds, narrow boxes filled with sand bearing uranium were also used.
Most of the insanity stopped when wealthy industrialist and playboy Eben Byers, a three-bottle-a-day user of Radithor, a “certified radioactive water” product, died from radiation poisoning in 1932. However, sand beds and uranium blankets continued to be promoted as late as 1956 and were popular in some areas of Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado in the 1950s.
There were legitimate, albeit unsafe uses of radiation-bearing minerals too. Radium, for instance, was used for the self-luminescent paint on watch dials and other products. Even then though, manufacturers took no precautions to protect employees until a lawsuit filed by five dying women, known as “Radium Girls” exposed the dangers in the 1920s. Radium was eventually phased out in favor of less toxic materials.
During the 1950s, uranium offered the ability to protect the nation and the Us Atomic Energy Commission encouraged exploration and mining for uranium. Even lands dedicated as national parks were opened to mining. Today, mine shafts and adits are still readily visible, even in places like Capitol Reef National Park. Most are blocked to humans but wildlife, especially bats, have ready access. What long-term effects exposure to radiation in these mines has on wildlife is unknown.
Today, the use of radiation for human health is highly controlled and when used properly can effectively treat some cancers. However, this whole quack medicine debacle leads to one inevitable conclusion regarding our health: just because something is natural doesn’t make it safe or advisable. Employing critical thinking skills over emotions or hope is still our best defense.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho