The Karen Silkwood Story
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,
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
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
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)