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The Karen Silkwood Story

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posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 07:20 AM

The Karen Silkwood Story


Hello ATS,

This is a thread about the death, and potential murder, of a whistle blower by the name of Karen Silkwood, a name I expect not many here have heard of, instead a name I hope people have heard of. You see I came across her story not too long ago now and what I found fascinated me thus I felt the need to write up this thread and share her story with everyone else here. Originally she was working as a chemical technician for a rather large company by the name of Kerr-McGee in 1973 and most of 1974 (of course she didn't make it to 1975), an energy company situated in Oklahoma, Unites States.

Karen's story, and eventual death, is a mysterious one, it's spawned hundreds of newspaper articles, pages in conspiracy websites and even a Hollywood film over the years. It would seem as though this women stumbled across something she perhaps shouldn't have done, and in coming across this rather sensitive information she was determined to tell the rest of the world about it too. Something she came incredibly close to doing if it wasn't for her unfortunate "accident" in November of 1974, which was coincidentally a few hours prior to the meeting with a New York times reporter looking to share her story.

Not long after she began working for the company, she joined the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union and took part in a strike at the plant over rather severe safety concerns involving workers being exposed to nuclear contamination, faulty equipment, the improper storage of dangerous samples, and not enough shower facilities to accomodate everyone, this being one of the major concerns given the hazardous working conditions. It's claimed some were even going home to their families still with harmful material on their clothing.

Karen Silkwood was to quickly rise up and become one of the chief speakers and strike organizers here, and was asked to investigate the safety and health conditions. Shortly afterwards she testified before the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) about all the conditions raised before, alleging that "safety standards had slipped because of a production speed-up which resulted in employees being given tasks for which they were poorly trained." She also alleged that Kerr-McGee employees handled the fuel rods improperly and that the company "falsified inspection records," a claim made which she later said she was able to prove after acquiring a large collection of documents over time, and she was becoming more and more open about what she found at the same time.

Later that year in early November Silkwood performed checks on herself for any harmful chemicals, these being exactly what she was to find. Over 400 times the legal limit for plutonium contamination in fact, plutonium-239 being found on her hands even though she was working in a glovebox in the metallography laboratory grinding and polishing plutonium pellets that would be used in fuel rods. Due to this revelation she was decontaminated and then sent home with a testing kit for "further analysis."

In the evening of November 5, plutonium-239 was found on Karen Silkwood's hands. Silkwood had been working in a glovebox in the metallography laboratory where she was grinding and polishing plutonium pellets that would be used in fuel rods. At 6:30 P.M., she decided to monitor herself for alpha activity with he detector that was mounted on the glove box. The right side of her body read 20,000 disintegrations per minute, or about 9 nanocuries, mostly on the right sleeve and shoulder of her coveralls. She was taken to the plant's Health Physics Office where she was given a test called a "nasal swipe". This test measures a person's exposure to airborne plutonium, but might also measure plutonium that got on the person's nose from their hands. The swipe showed an activity of 160 disintegrations per minute, a modest positive result.

Oddly the gloves were tested and it was shown that there was no holes, or any sign of leaks or failure anywhere other than where she had touched with her own hands. The next day, after being cleaned up, she did nothing but paperwork and a quick examination of prints, making sure not to work at the glovebox or anywhere else which may "contaminate" her. Yet alpha activity was still registered on her hands, forearm, neck and also her face it's claimed. He locker and car were tested with an alpha detector, but no activity was found anywhere.

I believe she was to later claim that she was purposefully being poisoned for whatever reason, most probably due to her being so outspoken about working conditions and safety issues with the company.

On November 7, Silkwood reported to the Health Physics Office at about 7:50 in the morning with her bioassay kit containing four urine samples and one fecal sample. A nasal swipe was taken and significant levels of alpha activity (1,000 to 4,000 dpm on her hands, arm, chest, neck, and right ear). A preliminary examination of her bioassay samples showed extremely high levels of activity (30,000 to 40,000 counts per minute in the fecal sample). Her locker and automobile were checked again, and essentially no alpha activity was found.

Following her cleanup, the Kerr-McGee health physicists accompanied her to her apartment, which she shared with another laboratory analyst, Sherri Ellis. The apartment was surveyed. Significant levels of activity were found in the bathroom and kitchen, and lower levels of activity were found in other rooms. In the bathroom, 100,000 dpm were found on the toilet seat, 40,000 dpm on the floor mat, and 20,000 dpm on the floor. In the kitchen, they found 400,000 dpm on a package of bologna and cheese in the refrigerator, 20,000 dpm on the cabinet top, 20,000 dpm on the floor, 25,000 dpm on the stove sides, and 6,000 dpm on a package of chicken. In the bedroom, between 500 and 1000 dpm were detected on the pillow cases and between 500 and 2,000 dpm on the bed sheets. However, the AEC estimated that the total amount of plutonium in Silkwood's apartment was no more than 300 micrograms. No plutonium was found outside the apartment. Ellis was found to have two areas of low level activity on her, so Silkwood and Ellis returned to the plant where Ellis was cleaned up.

Over those few days It's not quite clear how the contamination, especially at her home, could have gotten so extreme. According to Silkwood she was being poisoned by the company in which they was to counter that she in fact was poisoning herself to blame the plant and then later sue. She also claimed that they had broken into her house and planted equipment to make it look as if this was what she was doing.

She also claimed to have vast amounts of documents with her also, and according to sources which I've listed at the bottom of this thread, she was leaving a union meeting at a cafe on the 12th or 13th of November, and witnesses to this meeting recalled seeing "a binder and a packet of documents" with Silkwood. Unfortunately though she never made it. In fact she was found dead an hour after this meeting in what appeared to be a fatal car accident, no such documents were ever found in her car. The newspapers (as she and her claims were quite public at the time of her death) also, quite obviously, went with the story that she was purposefully contaminating herself as opposed to what she claimed, as can be seen in the newspaper snippet below which I found online:

The official cause of death was "one-car sleeping-driver accident," but surely this is a tough one to believe? I mean she was on her way to quite possibly the biggest meeting of her life, the meeting which would blow this story wide open in fact. How could she simply fall asleep? It makes no sense to me. She was even found at around 8pm so it wasn't exactly late. Bumps to the back of her car (which can be seen in the above image) could also be observed, as well as skid marks on the road indicating she was breaking heavily and was perhaps bumped off the road by another car and thus was not asleep at the time of her death.

The missing documents also provide an interesting twist to the case, if they were indeed present as witnesses claimed. But, we do have to ask.. was her story genuine? Did she really have those documents and was she murdered? Well, I don't know. What I do know however if this company was successfully sued by the Silkwood family for over 1.38 million dollers and according to a source I've found, a year after her death thing's went very wrong for Kerr-McGee..

The conspiracy theory states that there must have been a very good reason for Kerr-McGee to take such a risk in putting a hit out on someone as publicly known by then as Karen Silkwood. A reason better than proof of lax security and occupational hazards. A federal investigation the next year discovered that an amount between 44 and 66 pounds of plutonium-239 went missing from the plant. It is still missing, and the theorists believe that ex-Kerr-McGee chairmen know exactly where it is, or to whom it was sold. The company was shut down in 1975, and the site is still being decontaminated after 30 years.

Anyway, thank you to those who took the time to read this thread - this is the fascinating story of a potential Whistleblower, Karen Silkwood, who was seemingly about to go public with what information she had.. but was then quite possibly a victim of murder.

Thoughts on this case?
edit on 22-12-2011 by Rising Against because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 07:21 AM
Here are some helpful links I found on this case:

- PBS.ORG: The Karen Silkwood Story

- Karen Silkwood

- 10 More Fascinating Conspiracies

- Wikipedia: Karen Silkwood

- FindADeath - Karen Silkwood

I've not seen this yet, but I did come across what appeared to be a documentary on Karen Silkwood. Here it is:

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5
edit on 22-12-2011 by Rising Against because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 07:26 AM
I remember watching the film about her life years ago, very tragic.

Heres an old docu:

edit on 22-12-2011 by PhoenixOD because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 07:30 AM
reply to post by PhoenixOD

Hey there, thanks for adding that documentary. Funnily enough I literally just added it to my last post too.

I'm going to give it a watch later on when I have the time. What did you think of it out of curiosity?

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 07:39 AM
Great OP by the way

Its a very very sad story. .

I found the film on youtube staring Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell and Cher. The first 4 out of 15 parts are missing but you dont really miss anything important. Warning this film can be quite upsetting for some people.


edit on 22-12-2011 by PhoenixOD because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 07:47 AM
reply to post by Rising Against

Thanks for posting this, I believe I encountered this story on one of the various conspiracy forums out there, but you've pulled all the information into an easy to digest post.

Personally, I believe her and I believe she was killed.

the question for me is, who exactly got that plutonium? Around 50 pounds of the stuff?

Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24200 years and is one of the primary isotopes used for nuclear weapons. So, mid 70s (who knows when it actually disappeared though) you've got around 50 pounds of highly fissile material used for nuclear weapons production that just up and disappeared.

And around the same time you've got a clandestine nuclear weapons factory in Israel building weapons from plutonium and I believe uranium, some of which came from the US.

Is this a link? At the time, Israel surely didn't want anyone knowing about their nuclear weapons program, not even the US. Could there have been a paper trail detailing the transfer of this material into Israeli hands?

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 10:49 AM
reply to post by phishyblankwaters

Personally, I believe her and I believe she was killed.

Well, if what I found is true then it seems as though she was killed as opposed to this being a mere accident like it was originally claimed. The fact that she had a bunch of incriminating documents with her then the fact they disappeared literally hours before she was about to show them to a reporter willing to write this big story and the fact they disappeared after her accident where she was found dead is, if true, quite telling really. It certainly doesn't sound like an accident to me at least. It would seem like this reporter would be the only person who could've informed anyone else of the story also, perhaps someone who didn't want it out there.

Also it has to be said as well, this story really does remind me of the murder of Dorothy Kilgallen when I think about it. Honestly, they're soo similar in the sense that both were about to break, or claimed they were about to break, a story wide open. 2 huge stories in fact. And then both were found dead hours later in rather unusual circumstances. Both were actually quite famous also, this being why we know about them today... So I wonder how many similar victims there really is.

Interesting link you brought up there as well btw. I think I have some reading to do.

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 11:42 AM
reply to post by PhoenixOD

Thanks for posting that film too.

A friend of mine was telling me about it today after I mentioned Karen Silkwood and this entire case so as well as that documentary you posted I'll have to take some time out to watch the film as well.


posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 01:30 PM
In an effort to keep this thread going, I'll post another interesting article I just found on this case.

Here's a snippet of interest:

By November 13th, she had decided to go public with her story. She gathered evidence documenting the plant’s wrongdoing and was enroute to meet a national representative of her union and a New York Times reporter in Oklahoma City when her car went off the road and struck a culvert, killing Silkwood. She was 28-years-old.

Quaaludes were found both in her car and in her bloodstream, and the Oklahoma State Troopers ruled that she had fallen asleep at the wheel. But her family and supporters noted there were skidmarks in the road – how could she have hit the brakes while asleep? Dents and paint scrapes on her rear bumper lead her supporters to believe that she was deliberately forced off the road by a trailing vehicle. The documents she’d planned to share with New York Times reporter were never found.

The publicity surrounding the case led to a federal investigation of the plant, where many of Silkwood's allegations were proven true. Kerr-McGee closed Cimarron in 1975.
The Mysterious Death of Karen Silkwood
edit on 22-12-2011 by Rising Against because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 03:00 PM
Wow. Great thread. Sad story, the worse thing is I think these "accidents" are still happening to all kinds of whistleblowers everywhere. The way the accident was described doesnt sound right. The skid marks and bump on her car give away the story.

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 03:22 PM
So they didn't find any evidence in her vehicle, yet she was supposedly taking this from the plant and poisoning herself?
How did they get such high readings in the apartment, and nothing in the car? The simple fact that her car was clean tells me that she wasn't the one responsible for it being found in the apartment.

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 03:28 PM
I worked for Kerr-McGee and was exposed to dioxin.

When i put up s handbill at some local stores looking for others that had worked in the same plant unit some one from Kerr-McGee tried to hack the email address that was posted.

Lucky i used a throwaway email address that was not traceable to me.

Then when Kerr-McGee corperation broke up they sold the non oil parts of the company in a way that they went broke fast and i don't expect to get my company retirement that i worked for.

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 03:53 PM
reply to post by stonebutterfly

Agreed, and It's quite a worrying thought really, knowing that this kind of thing could be happening all the time, perhaps every single day to someone somewhere out there. And all because they know something we should all know. Quite a sad thought as well.

What's even more amazing is this kind of thing seems to be happening to those "in the public eye" as ell as those hidden away, and in an almost blatant way. I'm sure everyone remembers Dr David Kelly after all..

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 04:16 PM
Thats the thread I was looking for thanks

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 05:31 PM
reply to post by ANNED

I worked for Kerr-McGee and was exposed to dioxin.

Wow, sounds like an "interesting" company alright.

What did you think of the claims make by Silkwood out of curiosity, particularly about safety conditions and the like?

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 06:22 PM
reply to post by Rising Against

I remember her quite well. i was 13 years old then and i was listening to my radio and they broke in and said this woman had died under strange circumstances. I had no idea who she was but they were saying she was to meet a reporter and was working in a nuclear facility. Then later on the movie came out about her and I remembered thinking 'what did happen to her?' it was all so strange when it happened and still is.

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 08:57 PM
reply to post by Rising Against

S+F! I remember hearing about this briefly a while ago, but had no idea about much of the details. This is indeed a scary and awful story. No person in their right mind would poison themselves with radioactive material, especially someone who works with the material and is aware of the awful health risks involved. Imo even suggesting this is totally ludicrous. Also the fact that there seems to be many legitimate health and safety concerns anyway makes it seem crazy that she would go to this length when she didn't even need to.

I wonder if she was offered money to shut up and that she was going to also tell the paper this as this could well be reason enough to have her killed because such a thing would surely make the story 100 times worse as it would prove that they were knowingly putting people at risk and trying to pay her to be quite to allow these practices to continue.

On a side note reading Motley Crues fantastic multi-autobiographical book 'The Dirt' the singer Vince Neil buys a mansion in Malibu and his young daughter develops a massive tumour in her stomach that sadly leads to her death. They later find out that the house was built on land owned by a chemical company that was illegally dumping all sorts of material across the hills. I can't remember the companies name but many people got together to sue them, I will find out and make a serperate thread. It goes to show how bad things really are. With our governments filling up hollowed out mountains with nuclear waste and scuttling ships loaded with hazardous materials to keep them 'safe and sealed away' it's no surprise that these companies seem think that they can also follow this irresponsible lead. I have no idea how these scum sleep at night.

It angers me that lawsuits happen and families get large compensation payouts but nobody has to do prison time,. IMO its still at the very least manslaughter and at the worst murder and people should be treated the same as any other unlawful killing. We may never know the truth about this, but I for one think that this is one very brave women who deserves a lot of praise and remembrance.

RIP Karen Silkwood your death was not in vain x

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 09:07 PM
I want to point out that I don't know the details at all so I'm not jumping to conclusions, but in general with these cases it seems common that the family of the deceased receive a large payout and nobody does prison time. I don't know about any of you, but if it were one of my loved ones who dies then I would think of this as a total insult. I would demand that those responsible for dangerous working conditions that resulted to injury or death serve an appropriate prison term and were forced to account for their actions. If they could not reasonably justify them then they should be treated as if they knew they were responsible for the death/injury. The least they could do was admit that they were more concerned about profit than safety and imo doing so should be equal to admitting to a murder or manslaughter case so that it encourages them to tell the truth about what happened, ignorance is not an excuse in these cases as well!

I know that accepting the compensation alone is often the best a family can hope for, but they should still be outraged that those responsible are not punished and this should always be the first priority. The deceased would feel used if they simply pursue a large compensation payout, making money from a tragic death seems immoral in some ways even, but unfortunately has become the norm.

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 10:59 PM
fascinating, very sad too, another thing, watching those videos, how could she leave her children like that.

posted on Dec, 22 2011 @ 11:04 PM
this story has always facinated me. and it still facinates me today.

has there been any follow up on the company since her death?
safety investigations?
records investigations?


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