One of the current controversies regarding Rocky Flats is the development of a very large residential-commercial community called Candelas across the whole length of the southern edge of the Rocky Flats site. See the following for an excellent well documented article on Candelas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candelas_%28Master_Planned_Community%29,_Arvada,_CO
Biggest environmental scandal in Colorado history? The little known dumping of plutonium from Rocky Flats at Lowry LandillIn Environment, Plutonium, Rocky Flats on February 11, 2014 at 4:14 am
In 1994 then-Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary revealed that 1.2 metric tons (2,460 pounds) of plutonium, enough to make more than 400 bombs, was missing from Rocky Flats. Studies by various parties say some of it is in the environment on and off the site. A recent DOE report claims that the missing plutonium is buried at DOE’s Idaho National Engineering Lab. But this claim isn’t credible unless confirmed by an independent scientist with access to all pertinent data, because DOE earlier insisted that shoddy records made it impossible to estimate the quantity of plutonium in Rocky Flats waste buried in Idaho.
DOE’s claim to have found the plutonium O’Leary said was lost is countered by a series of three articles published in Westword in April 2001, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eileen Welsome. Working closely with environmentalist Adrienne Anderson, Welsome showed that a large quantity of plutonium waste from Rocky Flats was illegally dumped at the Lowry Landfill southeast of Denver (http://www.westword.com/authors/eileen-welsome/). She is quite familiar with plutonium, having received the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for reporting in The Albuquerque Tribune on an Atomic Energy Commission program to determine the health effects of plutonium by injecting it into the bodies of unwilling and unknowing people, most of them “poor, powerless and sick.” Her later The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War (1999) provided more information on this secret program.
Rocky Flats plutonium was dumped at the Lowry Landfill from the early 1950s until about 1980. During this period, according to Welsome, most of the large corporations in the Denver area and many smaller ones, disposed of many kinds of waste there. After Lowry Landfill became a Superfund site in 1994, the major polluters formed the Lowry Coalition and worked together to avoid high costs for the Superfund “cleanup.” Much of their activity was purposely off the record to avoid publicity. Lowry Coalition was ready to make Rocky Flats operators pay a high fee to clean up the radioactive materials. But, with the complicity of the EPA and the City of Denver (which for years owned the site), they reversed themselves, paid fees to get immunity from future charges related to the radionuclides, and worked out a “cleanup” scheme to reduce the quantity of plutonium and other toxins buried at the site by moving the toxins in liquid form through city sewer lines more than a dozen miles to the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District plant on the banks of the South Platte River in north Denver.
At Wastewater this sewage is treated, the cleaner water is released into the South Platte, the heavier plutonium-bearing sludge (“biosolids”) is trucked 50 miles east and spread as fertilizer on farmland, and mildly contaminated water is piped to irrigate city parks, parkways and school yards. Among the large polluters of the Lowry Coalition are the two major newspapers, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, neither of which ever carried any story critical about the contamination at Lowry Landfill. .
In the summer of 2000 the plutonium-contaminated waste began flowing from the Lowry Superfund site at a rate of 20 to 25 gallons a minute. It will continue for 50 years or longer. Rocky Flats authorities denied that radionuclides from the plant were ever dumped at Lowry. But several drivers of tank trucks testified that they delivered liquid waste from Rocky Flats to Lowry Landfill, police officers said they saw some of the deliveries, and trucking company records confirm that the transport happened. A letter addressed by the Lowry Coalition to EPA shows alarmingly high levels of plutonium and americium at numerous wells drilled at the site and concludes that this material could only have come from Rocky Flats. The level of denial about what’s present at Lowry Landfill is high, well nigh universal among the polluters. But when denial meets documentation, documentation prevails. Welsome and Anderson provided the documentation. The extent of the denial makes this perhaps the greatest single environmental scandal in Colorado history.
Published in the Boulder Daily Camera, 1-26-14
A December 28 Camera article suggests that the proposed Jefferson Parkway is moving ahead. This toll road would add about ten miles to C-470, almost completing the loop around Denver. Some call it the “plutonium parkway,” because it would be built on the contaminated edge of the Rocky Flats site, where for four decades the explosive plutonium pits for nuclear warheads were made.
Plutonium released from Rocky Flats is present in soil on and off the plant site in the form of particles too small to see but not too small to do harm. Plutonium emits a type of radiation that cannot penetrate skin but that may wreck one’s health if it is inhaled or otherwise taken into the body. Lodged in the body, it continually irradiates surrounding cells, probably for the rest of one’s life. The result may be cancer or other ailments, including harm to offspring. Because it remains dangerously radioactive for a quarter of a million years, it poses an essentially permanent danger.
In 1970 P. W. Krey and E. P. Hardy, scientists with the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor to the Department of Energy), sampled soil on and off the Rocky Flats site to a depth of 8 inches and analyzed it for its plutonium content. The heaviest concentrations were in soil along the eastern edge of the site in the area now intended for construction of the highway. In September 2011 Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Data Corp. collected soil samples along Indiana St. precisely where the proposed road would be built. He found plutonium concentrations roughly equivalent to what Krey and Hardy found in 1970.
Sampling done as part of the Rocky Flats cleanup on what is now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge showed only a scant presence of plutonium near where the highway would be built. But these samples were collected in shallow surface soil, not at the deeper levels analyzed by Krey and Hardy.
Building the road would affect the environment. In 2004 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service performed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to create the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. But this EIS did not analyze the effect of construction of a highway in an area known to be contaminated with plutonium. Fish and Wildlife nevertheless provided land for the road.
The Camera article says proponents of the highway “cite a letter written by officials with the EPA and the Colorado health department in late 2011 stating that the risk of excessive cancer incidence for people who work at the refuge is below standards set by the state” and the federal government. This letter is meaningless, because there’s a latency period of 20 to 30 years before plutonium taken into the body produces cancer. Not until refuge workers have been at the site without interruption for at least this long will we have a better sense of the incidence of cancer among them.
People who live or work near the Rocky Flats site or who visit there may be unwittingly exposed to plutonium left in soil by those responsible for the ten-year Superfund cleanup completed in 2005. They made no effort to clean the site to the maximum extent possible with existing technology. Assuming incorrectly that plutonium left behind would remain in place, they willingly allowed an unknown quantity of plutonium to remain in the soil, with no limit on the amount allowed below six feet.
Plutonium particles brought to the surface by burrowing animals will be carried hither and yon by wind. They can be readily inhaled. The result decades later may be cancer or some other illness. Children are without question the most vulnerable. There is no certainty that any of us will be exposed or will become ill. But it is a definite risk. The inadequate cleanup done at Rocky Flats gambles with peoples’ lives. Constructing the Jefferson Parkway would up the ante on the gamble. The wise move is to avoid the site and to abandon the highway.
LeRoy Moore, PhD, is a consultant with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. For more on Rocky Flats, see www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org