Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

Rocky Flats: Offsite Contamination and Public Health: Remembering the Work of Ed Martell and Carl Johnson

In Democracy, Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on November 9, 2012 at 8:14 am

Two independent scientists did the most to inform people of the Denver area about public health dangers  of plutonium released from the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. After a fire on Mother’s Day 1969 at Rocky Flats, radiochemist Edward A. Martell of the the National Center for Atmospheric Research was the first  to bring to the attention of an unknowing public that their lives were endangered by plutonium released into the off-site environment from the plant. Carl J. Johnson, MD, for several years chief public health officer of Jefferson County where Rocky Flats is located, showed empirically that the Colorado Department of Health was providing misleading data to the public regarding levels of contamination and that there was a link between contamination  levels and cancer incidence. Through the 1970s these two individuals informed and inspired participants in the rapidly growing movement of resistance calling for an end to production at Rocky Flats.

Earlier this year, in a book called Tortured Science: Health Studies, Ethics, and Nuclear Weapons in the United States, I published an article that details the contributions of Martell and Johnson, activity for which each paid dearly. The article explains why what they revealed about contamination from Rocky Flats is still relevant today. It exposes the failure of the government’s cost-benefit risk-analysis approach to public health at nuclear facilities and makes an appeal for a wholly new practice of “ecological democracy.” Entitled “Democracy and Public Health at Rocky Flats,” the article is available on line at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/

Rocky Flats: Plutonium in public water supplies may endanger health

In Environment, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on November 6, 2012 at 3:34 am

The following paragraph is quoted verbatim from  page 7 of a paper by Carl J. Johnson, MD (1), who, for several years was the chief public health officer for Jefferson County where Rocky Flats is located.

“Plutonium is virtually 100 percent soluble in Denver area drinking water because of the presence of carbonate and fluoride in the water.’(1) This was confirmed by the appreciable amounts of plutonium ( 7,000-40,000 times background from world-wlde fallout) found in Denver drinking water as late as 1972. (2, 3)  Concentrations have been smaller since.   The chlorination of water by water districts changes the valency state of plutonium so that its absorption in  the gastrointestinal tract is enhanced by as much as 1750 times (4). In addition, plutonium is absorbed much more readily from the gastrointestinal tract of children, at least 100-fold in children less than one years of age (5), and 1000-fold in nursing animals (6). Moreover, when plutonium is taken up in the food chain and biologically incorporated, absorption is enhanced by  a factor of ten (7).”

The first study Johnson cites (note 2) regarding plutonium solubility was done by J. M. Cleveland, whose authoritative The Chemistry of Plutonium (NY: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1970, was written when he was the chief plutonium specialist at Rocky Flats.

Though, as noted, Johnson had called attention to the problem of plutonium in Denver area public water supplies becoming soluble as early as 1980 and then again in 1987 (see notes 1 and 3), the multi-year Actinide Migration Evaluation conducted as part of the Rocky Flats cleanup concluded that plutonium in the Rocky Flats environment was unlikely to become soluble.  These studies did not consider plutonium in water containing fluoride, carbonate, or chlorine.(8). For a critique of the Actinide Migration Evaluation at Rocky Flats, see my “Science Compromised in the Cleanup at Rocky Flats,” on line at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/

(1)  Johnson, “Some Studies of Low-Level Radiation and Cancer in the United States,” presented at the University of Basel, June 9, 1987; the University of Zurich on June 10, 1987; and the Universities of Bern and Lausanne on June 11, 1987.

(2)  J. M. Cleveland et al., “Plutonium speciation in water from Mono Lke, California,” Science, 1983, vol. 222,  pp. 1323-1325.

(3) Johnson, “Contamination of municipal water supplies in the Denver metropolitan area by the Rocky Flats plant.” Presented at the 146th Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Scnence, in San Francisco, CA, January 4, 1980.

(4)  R. P. Larsen, R. D. Oldham, “Plutonium in drinking water: Effects of chlorination on its maximum permissible concentration,” Science, 1978, vol. 201, pp. 1008-1009.

(5) W. J. Bair, R. C. Thompson, Batelle-Pacific Northwest Laboratories, In Response to Comments: Guidance on Dose Limits for Persons to Transuranium Elements in the Feneral Environment. U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Radiation Programs, Criteria and Standards Division, Washington, DC, 20460 (EPA 520/4-78-010)(1978)

(6) M. P. Finkel, W. E. Kisielsk, “Plutonium incorporation through ingestion by young animals,” in The Health Effects of Plutonium and Radium, by W. S. S, Jee (ed.), Salt Lake City: The J. W. Press, University of Utah, 1976.

(7) M. F. Sullivan, A.. L. Crosby, “Absorption of transuranic elements from rat gut,” in Pacific Northwest Laboratory Annual Report for 1975, Part 1, Biomedical Srvices, BWML-2000, Battelle-Pacific Northwest Laboratories, Richland, WA (1976).

(8) Kaiser-Hill Company, Report on Soil Erosion and Surface Water Sediment Transport Modeling for the Actinide Migration Evaluations at the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site (00-RF-01823) (DOE-00-o3258) August 2000. See also “Approved Modifications to the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement (DOE, EPA, CDPHE, June 9, 2003), Response to Comments, pp. 67-74.


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