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Rocky Flats plutonium in the gonads? Samples collected but never analyzed

In Environment, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on August 22, 2014 at 12:16 am

Very soon after I learned about Rocky Flats in 1979, I attended a seminar on radiation health effects offered by John (Jock) Cobb, MD, of the faculty of the CU Medical School. It was an eye opener. He was a remarkable teacher who brought clarity to complex subjects. And, as the following account makes clear, he was also a very original researcher regarding present and long-term health effects of exposure to plutonium released from Rocky Flats. He first learned details about Rocky Flats in 1974-75 when he was named by newly-elected Governor Dick Lamm and Congressman Tim Wirth to the Lamm-Wirth Task Force, a public group that studied all aspects of the Rocky Flats plant and issued a very influential report that said the plant should never have been built near a major population center and should be shut down and its operations moved elsewhere.

When I first met Jock Cobb he was deeply immersed in an unusual study in which his team of researchers collected samples of tissue from Colorado people who had died and been autopsied. His wanted to see how much Rocky Flats plutonium had been deposited in the bodies of these deceased people. It’s difficult to imagine this happening now, but in the 1970s EPA actually invited him to do this a study that they would fund. This meant of course that the DOE could not control the study. Cobb was doing a study that would show definitively that people who lived downwind of Rocky Flats had taken various quantities of plutonium into their bodies, mainly by inhalation, the worst way to be exposed to plutonium. It is well known that internalized plutonium deposits in the tissue of lung, liver and bone where it will continue to irradiate surrounding tissue typically for the rest of one’s life. So Cobb was studying lung, liver and bone tissues. But he also wanted to study the presence of plutonium in the tissue of the gonads, for plutonium in the gonads would have a genetic effect that could be passed on to future generations. Such a study was far more complicated than analysis of lung, liver and bone. Moreover, it had never been done by anyone, and Cobb wanted to do it.

This is where he came up against political reality. At just the time he was doing this study the EPA, a federal agency, underwent a major transformation. In its early years it was truly an environmental protection agency. But When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 one of his goals was to abolish the EPA. He did not succeed in doing this, but Ann Gorsuch, whom he named head of the EPA, terminated the funding for Cobb’s study of plutonium in body tissue. Thus the crucial study of Rocky Flats plutonium in the gonads was never done. For more details of this little-known story, read the following.

I am in the process of providing a closely documented history of the Rocky Flats plant and public issues. It will be posted on the Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship web site: http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org. The text about Cobb below will be included in this endeavor.

EPA asks John (Jock) Cobb, MD, of the University of Colorado Medical School faculty to do a study of Rocky Flats plutonium in bodies of deceased people who were autopsied: The EPA-sponsored study began in 1975. Cobb’s team of researchers measured plutonium concentrations in samples collected from more than 500 persons who died and were autopsied in Colorado hospitals, 8 or 10 Denver-area hospitals, one in Pueblo. The study compared those who lived near Rocky Flats with those who lived far from the site. The bodies of all these people contained plutonium from bomb fallout, but those who lived nearer the plant had identifiably Rocky Flats plutonium in tissues of lung, liver and bone, with concentrations higher the closer the person lived to the plant. Cobb periodically shared study results with DOE and Rockwell officials. They found the results embarrassing, but they couldn’t stop the study because it was funded by the EPA. So they tried to get rid of Cobb, even sought to get him dismissed from the university. This failed because he had tenure.[1]

The study was well underway when Reagan became president in January 1981. Anyone old enough to recall will remember that his administration tried to destroy the EPA. Ann Gorsuch (later known as Ann Buford, due to marriage), was named head of the EPA by Reagan She terminated the funding for Cobb’s study, so it ended before it was completed. Cobb insisted that the data already gathered be made publicly available, but people at EPA resisted. When Cobb persisted, EPA personnel rewrote the report’s conclusion to say that Rocky Flats harmed no one. In response Cobb appealed to members of Congress to get the report’s original language restored. Finally, the report, more or less in its original language, was made available by the National Technical Information Service.[2] You could get a copy only if you contacted them and paid a fee. Very few people ever saw the report or knew of its existence. Rumors were that Cobb had found nothing worth reporting. But as it finally appeared the report stated clearly that plutonium from Rocky Flats was present in lungs and liver of people who lived near the plant. Results of the study, if not widely available, at least were formally recorded. The report can be read at the Norlin Library of the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Cobb’s original plan was to study plutonium in the gonads, with an eye on the effect on future generations, but it did not happen: In Cobb’s view the most important part of the study was not done. His research team had collected tissue from lung, liver and bone, but also from the gonads. In his Rocky Flats Oral History interview, he said, “It was my hypothesis that the plutonium was being deposited in the gonads, right where it would be affecting the sperm and causing mutations in the sperm, which would then show up . . . in future generations as . . . childhood cancers, deformities, and all that sort of thing.” He agreed to do the study EPA requested only when they agreed to let him analyze tissue from the gonads in addition to lung, liver and bone. He was familiar with studies of plutonium in gonads of rats. These studies showed that plutonium was “deposited in the basement membrane” of the gonads “right near where the sperm were being generated. . . . This would be the worst place to have plutonium in your body, and if it was there in significant amounts that would be not only endangering the present but all future generations, because it would be damaging the genes.”

The research Cobb was most eager to do had never been done with humans, and, so far as I know, has not yet been done “It takes a whole lot more finesse,” he said, “to find the amount of plutonium in the gonad, which weighs only 5 or 6 grams, maybe, than it does in a lung, which is maybe a thousand grams.” So the samples from the gonads “were left for last.” One of his colleagues in the study was a man named Wes Efurd, who undertook the task of developing a method for measuring the very tiny amounts of plutonium deposited in the gonads. His success in doing this was a major breakthrough for studying the gonads, but it happened just as funding for the study ended. Thus Cobb and Efurd never got to take advantage of Efurd’s innovation. With the end of the study, all the gonads samples, which remained unexamined, were “sent to Los Alamos by the EPA.”

There the gonads samples sat in a freezer for 20 years. Then Shawki Ibrahim of Colorado State University’s nuclear research program, learned about the samples and asked Los Alamos to send them to CSU. He designed a study that would have government support. Cobb had intended to find out how much plutonium was in the gonads of individuals and to show on a map where each person lived and how much plutonium was present in that person’s gonads. This would show where genetic problems might appear in later generations, a type of research that, as pointed out earlier, had not previously been done anywhere. Ibrahim’s plan, by contrast, “would have negated” what Cobb had hoped to find out. “He was going to take all the gonads [samples] and put them into one big pot and analyze the whole thing and then get a figure from that of how much [plutonium] was in each gonad on average.” Ibrahim sought Cobb’s blessing for this approach, but Cobb didn’t give it, because only separate analysis of individual samples would provide the important results he wanted. Ibrahim’s approach would totally destroy the very possibility of learning about the presence of plutonium in the gonads of specific persons. Cobb did not know whether Ibrahim ever used the samples for what he proposed.

[1] Most of the information in these several paragraphs on Cobb is drawn from the interview with John Cobb, Rocky Flats Oral History project, Maria Rogers Oral History Program, OH1180V.

[2] Cobb et al., “Plutonium Burdens in People Living Around the Rocky Flats Plant,” March 1983, EPA-600/4-82-069, Springfield, VA: National Technical Information Service.

Western slope water to Candelas? Your comments needed now

In Democracy, Environment, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Uncategorized on May 2, 2014 at 8:58 am

“Hot particles forever,” an article by Robert Del Tredicei and me, published in the Boulder Camera under a different title, was posted on this blog in January 2012.  The latest in a string of comments comes from Justin Marble of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He raises an important point on which comments by the interested and affected public are needed now. Read on for more details on this urgent matter.

The Army Corps of Engineers is now receiving comments on an Environmental Impact Statement on the project to move water from the Fraser River on the Western Slope through the mountains in the Moffat Tunnel to provide water for the huge Candelas development hat runs across the southern edge of the Rocky Flats site. Mr. Marble recognizes that the soil in the area where Candelas is being built is contaminated with radioactive material. Therefore, he says,  “Maintained lawns will be necessary [at Candelas] as a buffer for radioactive soils and dust. Consequently, this development can never convert to having arid climate landscaping. When (not if), outdoor use of water is outlawed in this semi-arid environment, this development will have to be abandoned or exempted.”

His point is important and certainly should be communicated to the Army Corps of Engineers. Comments can be mailed or emailed (moffat.eis@usace.army.mil) to the Army Corps of Engineers. Information on how to comment can be found here: http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Media/NewsReleases/tabid/1835/Article/23306/moffat-collection-system-project-final-eis-available-for-public-review.aspx

Video on ailing former Rocky Flats workers

In Art, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Rocky Flats, Workplace exposure on March 19, 2014 at 2:17 am

The Denver Post produced a very unusual video of ailing former Rocky Flats workers after recent meetings in Denver about their efforts to get government compensation for ailments from workplace exposures to which they feel they are entitled. Go to http://photos.denverpost.com/2014/03/17/video-stories-from-colorados-rocky-flats-workers/

Read about the Candelas residential development adjacent to Rocky Flats

In Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on March 6, 2014 at 1:23 am

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 Landill

In 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.

NO to Jefferson Parkway

In Democracy, Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on January 28, 2014 at 6:24 am

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

“1945-1998″ by Isao Hashimoto (Video of all the nuclear detonations)

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Public Health, Uncategorized on December 7, 2013 at 8:50 am

This video by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto shows all nuclear detonations from 1945 through 1998, year by hear, country by country.  http://www.upworthy.com/an-artist-counted-every-atomic-explosion-on-earth-and-shows-them-all-in-a-matter-of-seconds-3?g=2

Mushrooms and Radioactivity

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear powere, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on December 6, 2013 at 10:40 am

A friend  recently suggested planting mushrooms at Rocky Flats. She said they will absorb and neutralize the radiation in the environment at that site.

This claim has been around for years. It has resurfaced recently in part due to an article entitled “How Mushrooms Can Save the Planet,” published in the July-August DISCOVER magazine. The article is about Paul Stamets who says “fungi can clean up everything from oil spills to nuclear meltdowns.”

Stamets statement is partially correct but unfortunately not absolutely so.

I asked members of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability about mushrooms and radiation. Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, located in the DC area, replied:  “The mushrooms can absorb certain radioactive isotopes at a high rate. But then the mushrooms’ flesh becomes highly radioactive. The mushrooms are not able to eradicate the radioactivity.”

He adds:  “This has become tragic in the Chernobyl region, as the surrounding Slavic cultures treasure edible mushrooms as a delicacy.”

What Kevin didn’t say is that the mushrooms themselves become radioactive waste. That is, they become part of the problem. It’s an old story with radioactivity. It can’t be seen, tasted, smelled, heard or felt. But some of it, especially the plutonium at Rocky Flats, will be around for a very long time, and everything it touches becomes radioactive.

World Bank doesn’t do nuclear energy

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear powere, Public Health on November 29, 2013 at 11:21 pm

‘We don’t do nuclear energy’

By Agence France-Presse, United Nations, November 28, 2013
<http://tinyurl.com/kmktdtf>http://tinyurl.com/kmktdtf

The World Bank and United Nations on Wednesday appealed for billions of dollars to provide electricity for the poorest nations but said there would be no investment in nuclear power.

“We don’t do nuclear energy,” said World Bank president Jim Yong Kim as he and UN leader Ban Ki-moon outlined efforts to make sure all people have access to electricity by 2030.

Kim said $600-$800 billion a year will be needed to meet the campaign target of universal access to electricity, doubling energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy by 2030.

In some countries, only 10% of the population has electricity.

So far, the campaign has a pledge of one billion dollars from the OPEC Fund for International Development, Bank of America has raised $500 million through the world’s first ‘green bond’ and Norway has committed to spend two billion krone ($325 million) on renewable energy efforts in 2014.

Kim said the World Bank is preparing energy plans for 42 countries that would be ready in June, but said any money raised would only go to new power sources.

“Nuclear power from country to country is an extremely political issue,” Kim told reporters.

“The World Bank Group does not engage in providing support for nuclear power. We think that this is an extremely difficult conversation that every country is continuing to have.

“And because we are really not in that business our focus is on finding ways of working in hydro electric power in geo-thermal, in solar, in wind,” he said.

“We are really focusing on increasing investment in those modalities and we don’t do nuclear energy.”

Kim highlighted private financing for power expansion in Nigeria and Ivory Coast and said efforts were being made to launch a similar deal for Myanmar, where the government has launched major reform efforts.

“We are working and moving very quickly to try to ensure that Myanmar experiences a clear democracy dividend,” Kim said.

The World Bank chief said it had been difficult to find long term capital for poorer countries but insisted: “We will show investors that sustainable energy is an opportunity they cannot afford to miss.”

Ten Most Radioactive Sites on the Planet

In Environment, Human rights, Nonviolence, Nuclear powere, Plutonium, Workplace exposure on November 28, 2013 at 7:45 am

Take a look at this excellent article. I’ve actually visited several of these places. <http://climateviewer.com/2013/11/24/10-most-radioactive-places-on-earth/&gt;

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