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About Mysterious America

This column, hosted by our own Dr. Seymour O'life, goes out of its way to bring you the bizarre, strange, uncanny, and just plain mysterious places that dot this fair land. Perhaps it is a huge Buddha statue in New York or a state park in Pennsylvania, where the stones ring like bells - each month is always a peculiar jewel when it comes to Mysterious America.

The Heat in our Own Backyards

This happened in Grand Junction, Colorado where a housing development was built on fill from an abandoned uranium-processing plant. Fear of this radiation caused the government to launch a massive project to dig up thousands of tons of spent uranium ore that was used to fill in around the basements of 750 homes and a school.

All of this cleanup costs millions of dollars.

Outside Pittsburg, it was, and is, much worse.

HeatStandardSignThe Standard Chemical Company operated a radium refining mill from 1911 to 1922 in Canonsburg, PA. From 1930 to 1942, the company purified uranium ore. The Canonsburg plant produced more radium in a year than all of the rest of the radium plants in the world combined.

In 1921 Marie Curie visited the United States. She started her tour with a reception at the White House, where President Harding presented her with a gift of a gram of radium produced by the Standard Chemical Company. She was also given an honorary degree by the University of Pittsburgh. On May 27, 1921 Marie Curie visited the Standard Chemical Company works.

From 1942 to 1957, Vitro Manufacturing Company refined uranium and other rare metals on-site. The government bought this uranium from Vitro and used it in the Manhattan Project. Waste from site operations accumulated during the site's long history. Originally, the waste was left uncovered. It contaminated the group and caused cancer for most residents on a street down-wind of it. After the closure of Vitro, the site was used by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and, later the site was then used by a pottery plant; to this day Canonsburg pottery can be identified by Geiger counter.

The Canonsburg mill site was designated in the 1978 Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act as eligible for federal funds for cleanup. It was the only uranium mill east of the Mississippi River to receive funds.

A recent article told of children and young adults contracting Ewing’s Sarcoma, a very rare form of cancer. Very rare. The random diagnosis of at least ten children with this extremely unusual form of cancer in one school district is statistically impossible. With 200 cases annually among 74 million children nationwide, the odds of contracting Ewing’s Sarcoma are approximately 1 in 370,000. In in the Canon-McMillan school district… it is 1 in 530.


Other sites can be found Towanda, New York, and Sellersville, Pennsylvania where the U.S. Gauge plant, which at one time manufactured airplane instrument dials coated with radium and worked on the Manhattan Project as well, had been using a local site as a dump for about 50 years.

From Staten Island to the Delaware Bay, From Lake Erie to Bucks County, PA, Mysterious America is all around us… and it is still very hot. ~ O’Life out!

Some like it hot, but you can't tell how hot 'til you try

Some like it hot, so let's turn up the heat 'til we fry

~ Robert Palmer

It was the late 1940s and a Catholic Church in Middlesex, New Jersey, Our Lady of Mount Virgin, needed some fill for the yard of its new rectory. A local driver was hauling dirt from a now-defunct local weapons plant used back in the war. Surely no one would miss a few loads – especially going to help the local church.

HeatRadiumCansSome 30 years later someone did - The Department of Energy. They came in, fenced off the church’s Rectory and took the lawn away – the entire lawn.

The Middlesex plant where the fill had originally come from had been used to process uranium ore for the Manhattan Engineering Project that created the first atomic bomb.

The dirt, lawn and probably some of the parishioners, were hot with radioactivity.


In the 1980s, 35 years after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the government finally began to clean up the bomb's birthplaces. It turned out there were tons and tons of hot material spread out around some 30 World War II-era atomic research sites in 13 states, some right here in the Backroads’ region.

According to information uncovered by investigative reporters N.S. Happy and Pepe LeMonkeh, “The radioactive trail starts at the Bayonne, N.J., docks where uranium ore was unloaded and leads to a Staten Island, N.Y., warehouse where ore was stored.”HeatCurieStandard

Have you ever crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridges, at the bottom of the New Jersey Turnpike? Well, not a mile or so away you will find the old DuPont Deepwater Works. They, too, developed uranium, among a laundry list of other really bad stuff. How bad? So bad that the town is suing DuPont for a billion dollars plus.

Some of the radiation at these sites may seem small when first observed, as they are measured in microcuries and picocuries - just millionths and trillionths of the material is actually radioactive.

But, even at these minute levels, the radioactivity can build up to dangerous levels. At one basement of a building, erected atop one of the Manhattan Project sites, the radioactive radon gas accumulated to radiation levels higher than in a uranium mine.