After several people expressed concern online over a lid with a radioactivity warning label found in the crawlspace of a Cache Valley home, officials say upon investigation no dangerous material was found.
Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control Director Ty Howard said inspectors detected no abnormal radiation in the home.
“It ended up really being nothing in the end,” Howard said.
On Saturday morning, pictures of a metal cover with brass-colored handles and a radioactive label were posted on Reddit by Harper Berrett. Berrett said the cover was found in a quirky crawlspace of a friend’s newly purchased home atop a concrete box containing three small, red card-catalog-esque drawers. Harper said the lid wasn’t covering the opening in the concrete box, and experts suspect it is unrelated to the vault.
“I had no thoughts that it would have been that dangerous considering how old everything in the house was,” Berrett said, explaining he was mainly curious about the lid’s origin. “That’s why I decided to post it on Reddit.”
Berrett said the post got traction on the “WhatIsThisThing” subreddit almost immediately. Berrett said he warned his friend that some commenters were saying the lid or the vault’s contents could be dangerous and that he should consider calling authorities, but ultimately didn’t take the concerns too seriously. Shortly thereafter, Berrett went to spend time at Beaver Mountain. When he got back, the post had exploded.
“By the time I came back there was, like, well over 4,000 comments of people saying that they had contacted the FBI and the NRC and the local police department and the fire department,” Berrett said. “It just blew out of proportion.”
Berrett said the homeowner contacted the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was told the NRC had already received multiple reports of the post.
By Wednesday evening, the post had received nearly 50,000 upvotes, making it the second-most popular post of all time on the popular “WhatIsThisThing” subreddit. The Reddit thread was locked down by subreddit moderators.
After being bounced around to several bureaus and divisions, the homeowner ultimately got in contact with the Division of Waste Management and the crawlspace was inspected Monday.
Uranium Mills and Radioactive Materials Manager Phil Gobel, one of the inspectors of the crawlspace, said the lid with the radioactivity warning label appeared to be from the 1950s and may at one time have been used to transport radioactive material. Gobel said nothing significant was found in the red boxes and speculated the vault was some kind of makeshift safe for a previous homeowner.
Though he was happy the incident was reported, Howard said the event probably generated a lot of hysteria for nothing.
“Even if it was a radioactive source at one time,” Howard said, “with that amount of time passing, you know, it would have basically disintegrated.”
Berrett said he certainly never anticipated people from across the nation would notify the government about the findings in a peculiar crawlspace.
“I think it’s wild how crazy social media can cause something like that to escalate,” Berrett said.