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Rocky Flats was just a “fancy machine shop”. Oh, really??

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on November 22, 2014 at 6:01 am

This article was written by Terrie Barrie, whose husband is a former Rocky Flats worker and who herself is one of the leading advocates for workers in the nuclear weapons industry who find it difficult or impossible to get promised government compensation for ailments likely brought on by exposure to radioactive and toxic materials in the workplace.  I copy it because I too think the statement that Rocky Flats was just a “fancy machine shop” is both false and ludicrous.  Read on to see more of what I’m talking about

Rocky Flats was just a “fancy machine shop”. Oh, really??

Terrie Barrie, June 1, 2014

June 6 will be the 25th anniversary of the FBI raiding Rocky Flats for alleged environmental crimes.  The Arvada Center for the Arts is holding a free, three day event commemorating this event.  http://arvadacenter.org/on-stage/rocky-flats-then-and-now-2014

In anticipation of this event, the Denver Post published an article on Sunday http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_25874064/feds-raided-rocky-flats-25-years-ago-signaling

I am honored to participate in one panel discussion regarding the worker health issue.  So, I was kind of excited about the publicity.  That is until I read this paragraph

 “Rocky Flats was nothing but a fancy machine shop … in what was then the middle of nowhere. But we had machining capabilities that nobody else had,” said Scott Surovchak, Rocky Flats legacy site manager for the Department of Energy.”

Really, Mr. Surovchak?    Just a fancy machine shop?  Do you know what Rocky Flats did for 50 years?

I stewed over this statement all day.  I was furious.  Then the former workers from Rocky Flats and other nuclear weapons sites started emailing me their thoughts on this statement and I decided to write this blog.

Yes, Rocky Flats machined components for a nuclear weapon.  In fact, for those of you who are not familiar with nuclear weapons, they machined the actual plutonium pit.  But the activities at Rocky Flats didn’t stop at machining parts.  There were chemical processes to retrieve the valuable radioactive materials from waste products.  For instance there was a molten salt extraction process to recover americium from Plutonium 241, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bk-1980-0117.ch032.  In the early years there was also a foundry in Building 881. This foundry “cast enriched uranium into spherical shapes that were sent directly to machining.” http://www.lm.doe.gov/land/sites/co/rocky_flats/HAER/base/Buildings/881.htm.

If the statement that Rocky Flats was just a fancy machine shop, I have to ask, what respectable machine shop would not have a Criticality Lab?  Yup, the Rocky Flats fancy machine shop had one.  http://oralhistory.boulderlibrary.org/interview/oh1179/

This statement does a great disservice to the thousands of women and men who worked not only at Rocky Flats but at all of the nuclear weapons facilities.  It trivializes the serious and dangerous work performed by the dedicated employees during the Cold War.

I was a bit hesitant in writing this blog.  Am I sure I want to stir things up right before the Arvada Center’s event?  Will this jeopardize the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups (ANWAG) and DEEOIC Interim Advisory Board (DIAB) working relationship with DOE?  Was it possible that the reporter misstated Mr. Surovchak’s  statement or took it out of context?

As I said, earlier, I received a number of replies from the former workers.  The one that convinced me that this blog needed to be written came from Mr. Maurice Copeland.  Mr. Copeland is a former worker from the Kansas City Plant and DIAB Board member.  He is also the petitioner to have that site included in the Special Exposure Cohort.  He emailed me and stated that the Deputy Site Manager referred to the Kansas City Plant “as just another manufacturing plant.”  Did a memo go out directing the site managers to minimize to the public the type of work performed at these sites and the possible impact?

In 1999, then Secretary Bill Richardson acknowledged and apologized for the harm done to the workers at these facilities.  Is DOE reverting to denying – or at least play down – the serious issues surrounding this program?

I’m a sick nuclear weapons worker advocate and obviously I take this responsibility as seriously as a mother bear protecting her cubs.  There is also the environmental issue involving these sites.  There are plenty of dedicated advocates for those problems.  If we are going to face the problems the sick workers and the communities face in order to resolve them the federal government needs to be honest and open.  It’s that simple.

One of the worst nuclear spills ever

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Policy, Public Health, Race, Workplace exposure on November 12, 2014 at 11:24 pm

The following article from the NY Times describes what happened with a spill of nuclear material in Juarez, Mexico (across the river from El Paso). It’s the sort of accident that could happen anywhere, any time — and harm many people, like this one did.  This is a reprint of an article from 1984, when the spill occurred.

Nuclear Spill

at Juarez

 
By Sandra Blakeslee, NY Times,  May 1, 1984
 

FIVE months ago, a Mexican electrician forced open an unmarked capsule filled with 6,010 tiny, silvery pellets that looked like cake decorations. He paid little attention as they spilled into the bed of his pickup truck, onto the road and later throughout a junkyard in his hometown of Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso.

But at that moment the electrician unwittingly caused what is now being recognized as potentially the worst spill of radioactive material in North American history. Since then, more than 200 people have been exposed to radiation from the tiny pellets of cobalt 60 that had once been the core of a cancer-treatment device.

The full dimensions of the spill, which officials in the United States said has released radiation 100 times more intense than the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, are still unknown because the incident was so unusual. Unlike most nuclear accidents, in which one or two people are exposed to a brief burst of high radiation, this one involved scores of people exposed to low but significant levels of radiation intermittently over a long period of time.

Mexican officials say it is too soon to know if the people exposed to the radiation suffered any long-term health effects. But 10 people exposed in Juarez have undergone chromosome tests, and all showed damage, the authorities said.

”In terms of how many people were potentially exposed and the duration of their exposure, it could be the most serious radiation accident” in North America, said Karl Hubner, a leading radiation accident expert at the Oak Ridge Associated Universities in Tennessee.

Most of the cobalt 60 pellets were scooped up by a giant junkyard magnet, mixed in with other scrap metal and taken to two Mexican foundries, where they were melted into steel reinforcement rods and restaurant table legs. Thousands of tons of this ”hot” metal were then shipped throughout Mexico and the United States.

Meanwhile, hundreds of the pellets remained in the back of the electrician’s pickup truck, which sat parked for eight weeks in a busy neighborhood of Juarez. People walked by the truck every day, and neighborhood children played on it.

Mexican public health officials said that about 200 people were exposed, but that most are believed to have absorbed relatively low levels of radiation. The device involved in the Juarez accident was a Picker 3000 cancer therapy unit. Manufactured about 20 years ago, it contained small pellets of metallic cobalt, made radioactive in a nuclear reactor, that were placed in a stainless steel container. This capsule was sealed in a tungsten wheel the size of a tricycle tire, which was then placed behind thick lead shielding. Radiation emitted through a pinhole in the lead was used to treat patients with localized cancers. About 1,000 newer cancer-treatment machines using the same principle are in use today throughout the United States, Dr. H”ubner said.

In 1977 a Lubbock, Tex., hospital sold the unit to an X-ray equipment company in Fort Worth, which in turn sold it to a medical clinic, Centro Medico, in Juarez.

According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the sale was legal even though the clinic in Mexico had no license to receive radioactive materials.

Once in Juarez, however, the machine sat in a warehouse. Doctors at the clinic said they were never able to hire the specialist required to operate the device.

Device Sold to Junkyard for Nine Dollars

Then, late last November, an electrician, Vicente Sotelo, said he was told to go to the warehouse to pick up some material and to take it to the Jonke Fenix junkyard in Juarez. He and a co-worker heaved the radioactive tungsten wheel, which had been removed from its enormous lead casing, into the back of a pickup truck. Mr. Sotelo later told the authorities he forced the unmarked capsule open on the back of his truck.

Doctors at the clinic say Mr. Sotelo was not authorized to take the wheel containing the capsule, which he sold to the junkyard for $9. No charges have been filed, and the Mexican authorities said they were still investigating the incident.

When the capsule was breached it held about 400 curies of radioactive cobalt in the 6,010 pellets. Each pellet, according to Joel Lubenau, a health physicist at the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, produced a radiation dose of 25 rads per hour two inches from the pellet. One to 50 rads per hour is considered a significant radiation dose. In comparison, the highest exposure a bystander could have received from the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island was 100 millirads, or about one-tenth of a rad.

A rad is a unit of absorbed radiation. An average chest X-ray produces 20 to 30 millirads instantaneously. A lethal dose for half the population is 450 rads received instantaneously over the whole body.

”If you sat next to a pellet over many hours, you might several days later develop a reddening of the skin,” Dr. Lubenau said. ”If a pellet became embedded in your shoe you could get localized high exposure to the body.”

Children Played on ‘Hot’ Truck

By Dec. 6, Mr. Sotelo had thrown the capsule off his truck into the salvage yard. The date is known because all paperwork from the junkyard dated Dec. 6 or later is radioactive.
 

About 60 curies of cobalt remained on the truck, which Mr. Sotelo drove home to his neighborhood in another part of the city. It stood parked for eight weeks, most of the time with a flat tire, near a row of back-street houses. Children played on and near the truck. People passed it every day, including Mr. Sotelo’s own family.

The truck was dangerously ”hot.” From one yard away, it emitted 50 rads an hour of radioactivity. ”It was a large source that can give whole body exposure,” Dr. Lubenau said. ”Most people at 100 rads or so will start demonstrating physical signs of radiation injury.” These include a decrease in white blood cells, which protect the body from infection, and blood platelets, as well as temporary damage to the body’s chromosomes.

Meanwhile, the capsule containing the remaining cobalt pellets – 340 curies worth – was contaminating the junkyard. It was dumped near an enormous magnet used to pick up and load scrap metal onto trucks, the metal to be recycled at Mexican foundries.

The capsule was made of nonferrous metal. Every time it was scooped up by the magnet, it eventually fell to the ground, spilling out cobalt pellets like salt from a shaker. The pellets were ferrous. The magnet picked them up and mixed them into the scrap leaving the junkyard. Some pellets were pulverized and thoroughly spread across the huge junkyard, and others are believed to have become imbedded in truck tires and spread along highways.

In this manner, 300 curies of radioactive cobalt made its way to two foundries. One in Juarez manufactured metal table legs and sent them to the largest distributor of restaurant tables in the United States. Another in Chihuahua produced about 5,000 tons of rebar, or steel rods used to reinforce concrete in building projects.

About 600 tons of the contaminated steel was shipped to the United States in December and January.

Spill Discovered by Accident

When a delivery truck took a wrong turn near the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico on Jan. 17, a radiation alarm was tripped. Thus, by accident, did the American and Mexican authorities learn of the contamination. It was quickly traced to the junkyard, which was closed Jan. 20. Mr. Sotelo’s truck was impounded Jan. 26.

American officials said they tracked down all the table legs and rebar in February and March and have returned the material to Mexico. While there were a few ”hot spots” of up to 600 millirads per hour, most of the metal produced very low levels of radiation and never posed a serious health threat to Americans who came in contact with the metal, they said.

But Mexican officials have had a much tougher job. About 40 curies of the cobalt pellets remained spread around the junkyard. It took two months to mop up there.

Pellets could have been dropped anywhere on the roads between Juarez and Chihuahua. Last month a special reconnaisance helicopter provided by the United States Department of Energy flew over the area and found 22 radioactive sites. Eight pellets were dug out of highway pavement.

Such material, along with the radioactive truck, is now in a special holding area near Juarez, waiting to be buried at a safe disposal site, said Roberto Trevino of Mexico’s National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards.

Thousands of tons of contaminated rebar, however, have spread into four or five Mexican states. Hundreds of new homes built with the rods may have to be torn down, he said.

Chromosome Damage Is Found

The accident has been costly to Mexico. But the greatest toll may be levied on the people who were most exposed to the radioactive cobalt.

The problem, Dr. Hubner said, is to figure how to identify the people who were exposed and what doses of radioactivity they encountered.

One standard method of assessing radiation exposure, which costs about $1,000 per person to conduct, involves looking for chromosome damage. It is controversial because it cannot predict long-term health consequences of radiation exposure.

White blood cells of 10 Juarez residents, four people from the neighborhood and six junkyard workers, were cultured in Dr. Hubner’s laboratory. As the cells were allowed to divide 500 times, the number of broken or aberrant chromosomes were counted. This number was then used to estimate the dose of radiation received.

It appears that several people were exposed to 150 or 200 rads, Dr. Hubner said, which is higher than the doses received by Marshall Islanders who encountered radioactive fallout from United States nuclear tests. Those with the highest exposures included two junkyard workers, one of Mr. Sotelo’s neighbors and the man who helped Mr. Sotelo load the cancer device off the truck. Mr. Sotelo apparently escaped serious contamination.

But ”broken chromosomes only tell us there was damage and nothing about its biological consequences,” Dr. Hubner said. ”It is not predictive in terms of genetic effects or future cancers.”

Meanwhile, the junkyard workers and families are being monitored by Mexican health officials. One man received a radiation burn on his hand, Mr. Trevino said, and others experienced blackened fingernails and reduced sperm counts. But blood counts appear to have returned to normal, he said, and no one seems to have suffered serious health complications.

‘It’s O.K. – We’re Still Alive’

Mr. Sotelo, who has three children, said that he has been dismissed from his job and cannot find another, and that his neighbors are worried and upset. But ”It’s O.K.,” he said. ”We’re still alive. Maybe the doctors exaggerated the danger.”

Concern over the implications of the incident continues. American officials, worried that more contaminated rebar might make its way into the United States, have asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to place scores of radiation detectors at all major border crossings.

The commission is taking a new look at export regulations, according to Richard Cunningham of the agency’s division of materials licensing and policy issues. ”There is no requirement now that we have to know if a person who receives a radioactive material from this country is authorized by their own country to possess it,” he said. ”We sell thousands of radioactive sources to other nations every year.”

Mexican and United States officials are meeting today in El Paso to discuss ways to help one another finish cleaning up the Juarez accident, to monitor the health of people exposed to radiation and how to prevent future accidents.

”There is a growing international trade in nuclear materials used for medicine, research and industrial purposes,” Dr. H”ubner said. ”Although this type of accident is rare, it could happen again anywhere to anyone.”

Rocky Flats Book and Media List

In Art, Democracy, Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Poetry, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge, Workplace exposure on October 21, 2014 at 6:35 am

ROCKY FLATS BOOK/MEDIA LIST

Non-fiction books on Rocky Flats

Len Ackland, Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999). This well-documented history of the Rocky Flats plant during production years and the beginning of cleanup activities was written by the former editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists who now teaches journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Robert Adams, Our Lives and Our Children: Photographs Taken Near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant (Millerton, NY: Aperture, a Division of Silver Mountain Foundation, 1983). This volume consists of images from daily life of people who lived near Rocky Flats at the height of the production years; in a brief concluding essay the photographer says each of the many individuals depicted “refutes the idea of acceptable losses.”

Patricia Buffer, Rocky Flats History (DOE Rocky Flats Field Office, July 2003). This invaluable reference wori provides a timeline of more than 50 years of Rocky Flats history, written from an inside-the-plant perspective. PDF version is available on line.

Kim S. Cameron and Marc Lavine, Making the Impossible Possible: Leading Extraordinary Performance: The Rocky Flats Story (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006). A business management specialist who teaches at the University of Michigan and a graduate student from Boston College celebrate the “abundance approach,” which, according to them, was successfully employed by Kaiser-Hill in the cleanup of Rocky Flats.

Joseph Daniel (photographs) and Keith Pope (text), Year of Disobedience (Boulder, CO: Daniel Productions, 1979), with preface by Daniel Ellsberg and poetry by Allen Ginsberg. This book is a photo-documentary on the 1978-79 demonstrations and civil disobedience blockade of the railroad tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats Plant.

Joseph Daniel, A Year of Disobedience and a Criticality of Conscience (Boulder: Story Arts Media, 2013), is an updated 35th-anniversary edition of his Year of Disobedience, the 1979 photo-documentary on the 1978-79 demonstrations and civil disobedience blockade of the railroad tracks leading into the Rocky Flats plant. This edition includes all of the original photographs by Daniel (enlarged, with some new ones) and the earlier text and trial transcriptions by Daniel Ellsberg and Keith Pope and poetry by Allen Ginsberg. New in this edition is “Local Hazard, Global Threat,” a historical update and reflection by LeRoy Moore; an Afterword in which Daniel Ellsberg explores the current worldwide nuclear weapons threat, the role of patriotic whistleblowers, and the conflict between national security and government surveillance; and August Freirich’s Activist Appendix, his recent interviews with some who participated in the 1978-79 occupation of the railroad tracks at Rocky Flats.

Allen Ginsberg (editor), Clean Energy Verse: Poetry from the Tracks at Rocky Flats (Woodstock, NY: Safe Earth Press, 1979). Illustrated with photos by Robert Godfrey, this booklet, produced to support the Rocky Flats Truth Force, contains poems by Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman and others.

Jennifer Haines, Bread and Water: A Spiritual Journey (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997). A devout Christian pacifist provides an intensely personal account of how she fulfilled her mission of bearing witness at Rocky Flats by means of daily vigils at the facility’s west gate and repeated acts of civil disobedience trespass for which she spent extended periods in federal penitentiaries.

Farrel Hobbs, Rocky Flats Facts: An Insider’s View Of Rocky Flats: Urban Myths Debunked (2010). This book’s author worked at Rocky Flats from 1969 until plant closure in 2995, except for an interlude of about seven years. He held a variety of positions at the plant but says he made his largest contribution in environmental management. He told me he was head of environmental management for Rockwell when the FBI raided the plant to collect evidence of alleged environmental law-breaking – but in fact he never held this high-ranking post, instead worked for an engineering firm that had a sub-contract at the plant. His several chapters on the raid, the grand jury, the out-of-court settlement and the absence in his view of any real criminality directly counters claims made in The Ambushed Grand Jury, by Wes McKinley and Caron Balkany, another book described in this list. While his narrative is even-tempered, he criticizes a wide range of parties, from outsiders who overstate plutonium’s danger to the media, the union of hourly plant workers, the DOE, Dow Chemical and EG&G. He praises Rockwell for paying fines in the out-of-court settlement for crimes it did not commit. The book is available both on line and in hard copy.

Kristen Iversen, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats (NY: Crown Publishers, 2012). Iversen entwines tales of growing up in what her family regarded as a suburban paradise with her own gradually dawning awareness of what it means that they lived immediately downwind of the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant. Her superbly written narrative includes stories of both workers inside the facility and people in her neighborhood who wonder if their cancers and other ailments are due to contaminants released from the plant. The government which holds the trump card in secrecy as well as in defining “permissible exposure,” says this is only conjecture. Iversen shows why the questions won’t go away. Among book written to provide a convincing account of life in the nuclear era from the perspective of affected people, Full Body Burden sets a very high standard for thoroughness of investigation, clarity of explanation and humane understanding.

Kaiser-Hill Co., LLC, Rocky Flats: A proud legacy, a new beginning: The story of the world’s largest and most complex environmental cleanup project (2005). This booklet, produced by the company that did the Rocky Flats cleanup, tells their story from their point of view.

John J. Kennedy, Jr., “Annihilation Beckons: A Brief History of Colorado’s Nuclear Bomb-Trigger Factory,” Colorado Heritage (Spring 1994). This special issue of the official journal of the Colorado Historical Society is devoted primarily to Kennedy’s informative, very well illustrated article on the history of the Rocky Flats Plant. Attention is paid both to the work done at the plant and to the activities of those who resisted what was done there.

Shiloh R. Krupar, “Transnatural ethics: revisiting the nuclear cleanup of Rocky Flats, CO, through the queer ecology of Nuclia Waste,” Cultural Geographies, May 24, 2012. Krupar, a Georgetown University geographer, critiques the ethic that guided the Rocky Flats cleanup for “eliminating uncertainty” and assuming that nature is “static and separate from the human” and that nuclear waste left behind will stay puyt so that the resultant wildlife refuge can be viewed as pristine rather than as a contaminated zone. Since we no longer experience “pure nature” we must adopt a “transnatural ethic” that “directs attention toward the impurifications already in existence” and grounds responsibility in awareness of a broader human/natre kinship. She cites the antics of Denver drag queen Nuclia Waste as an example of the cognitive transformation required. Online: http://egj.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/05/24/147447011433756.abstract?patientinform-links=yes&legid=spcgi:147447011433756v1.

Shiloh R. Krupar, Hot Spotter’s Report: Military Fables of Toxic Waste (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). In this erudite volume Georgetown University geography professor Krupar explores three examples of the U.S. permanent war economy: the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (nerve gas), Rocky Flats (plutonium pits) and the compensation program for ailing nuclear weapons workers. The chapter on Rocky Flats looks at the post-Cold War period when production ceased and what she calls “green war” (militarized green-washing) prevailed, accompanied by denial of the site’s contamination amidst its transition into the “romanticized” nature of the wildlife refuge which humans, especially children, are expected to enjoy as if it poses no danger. Her writing combines biting satire (including an account of the antics of Denver drag queen Nuclia Waste) with densely documented academic analysis. Hot spotting cultivates an ethic of seeing the unseen radiation effects in slow violence and death and rejects the myth of a pure nature reserve.

Clayton Lagerquist, The Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant I Remember: Its Rise and Fall (Morrisville, NC: Lulu.comm 2009). The author of this highly opinionated book was a health physicist at Rocky Flats from 1963 till 1988. Alongside his descriptions of individuals and the radiation detection world at the plant, he levels harsh criticisms at elected officials, the plant union, the media, the Federal Government (for supervising all activities at Rocky Flats, then suing Rockwell International for environmental misconduct), and, not least, “the anti-Rocky Flats movement that ultimately caused its closure” and who were “nothing but terrorists without guns.” “Safety of the employees,” he says, “was never a problem at Rocky Flats.” These are clearly not the words of an exposed production worker. When a colleague urged him “to reduce radiation exposure by a certain percent each quarter,” his re ply was that he couldn’t because “any reduction would have to be accompanied by a reduction in production.”

Lamm-Wirth Task Force, Final Report (Denver: The Task Force, 1975). Convened by newly elected Governor Dick Lamm and Representative Tim Wirth, the Lamm-Wirth Task Force concluded that Rocky Flats should never have been located in a major metropolitan area and that it should be closed and its work moved to another location.

Brian Lipsett, “Rocky Flats: A Plea Bargain in Public View,” in Mary Clifford (editor), Environmental Crime: Enforcement, Policy, and Social Responsibility ((Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers, 1998), pp. 397-412. Lipsett focuses on issues raised by the out-of-court settlement of the federal case against Rockwell precipitated by the FBI raid on Rocky Flats in 1989. The special grand jury convened to review evidence in the case wanted to indict several Rockwell and DOE officials. Lipsett shows that the Department of Justice settled the case without indicting these individuals because their illegal behavior was part of a “DOE culture” of law-breaking. The DOJ settlement allowed these individuals to act above the law. Lipsett praises the grand jury for daring to go public with their rejection of the settlement.

Local Hazard, Global Threat: Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant (Denver: Rocky Flats Action Group, 1977). This 20-page handbook, the first such guide published by activists, contained most of what was publicly known about Rocky Flats at the time of publication.

Wes McKinley and Caron Balkany, The Ambushed Grand Jury: How the Justice Department Covered Up Government Nuclear Crimes and How We Caught Them Red Handed (N.Y.: Apex Press, 2004). The foreman of the grand jury convened after the 1989 FBI raid of Rocky Flats to investigate environmental wrongdoing at the facility and attorney Balkany reconstruct the tale of high-level deceit and denial at Rocky Flats.

LeRoy Moore et al., Citizen’s Guide to Rocky Flats: Colorado’s Nuclear Bomb Factory (Boulder: Rocky Mountain Peace Center, 1992). A comprehensive account of what was publicly known about Rocky Flats at the time of publication, this work became an essential handbook for many people dealing with the Rocky Flats issue.

LeRoy Moore, “Democracy and Public Health at Rocky Flats: The Examples of Edward Martell and Carl J. Johnson,” in Diane Quigley, Amy Lowman and Steve Wing (editors), Tortured Science: Health Studies, Ethics, an d Nuclear Weapons in the United States (Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company, Inc., 2012), pp. 60-97. More than any other scientists in the Denver area, Edward Martell, a radiochemist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Carl Johnson, then Director of the Jefferson County Health Department, alerted the public to dangers posed by releases of plutonium from the Rocky Flats plant. This articl assesses their work and shows that for their contribution to public awareness, they were made to paid dearly. Available on line at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/democracy-and-public-health-at-rocky-flats-11-6-12/

Theresa Satterfield and Joshua Levin, “From Cold War Complex to Nature Preserve: Diagnosing the Breakdown of a Multi-Stakeholder Decision Process and Its Consequences for Rocky Flats,” in Barbara Rose Johnson (editor), Half-lives & Half-Truths: Confronting the Radioactive Legacies of the Cold War (Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2007), pp. 165-191. The authors are social scientists who spent several months closely observing public participation related to the cleanup at Rocky Flats. They praise the process for producing well-informed stakeholders at Rocky Flats, but say it ultimately failed because the evident intent of DOE and the regulators was less to involved the public in decision-making that to convince them that already made decisions are in their best interest.

Summary of Findings: Historical Public Exposure Studies on Rocky Flats (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, August 1999). This work summarizes the findings of the nine year dose reconstruction study for the Rocky Flats plant. The study estimated the quantities of radioactive and toxic substances released from the Rocky Flats plant to the off-site environment during the production years of 1952 to 1989, on the basis of which it also estimated increased cancer risk to residents living or working in surrounding areas during the period of the plant’s operation. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment administered the study. Oversight was provided by a 12- member Health Advisory Panel appointed in 1999 by former Governor Roy Romer.

Anne Waldman, “Rocky Flats: Warring God’s Charnel Ground,” in Waldman and Andres Schelling (editors), Disembodied Poetics: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994). Poet Anne Waldman’s essay on Rocky Flats, like most of the contents of this volume, was presented as part of the 1993 summer writing program at Naropa Institute (now University) in Boulder. She also makes brief reference to Rocky Flats in a long interview with her conducted by Randy Roark, also included in this book. Director of the Poetics and Writing Program at Naropa, Waldman wrote poetry expressing her opposition to what was done at Rocky Flats when she sat on the railway tracks there in 1978.

Eric Wright and Judy Danielson, Songs to Convert Rocky Flats (Denver: Rocky Flats Action Group, 1979). This small booklet ofsongs was widely used for years by Rocky Flats activists.

Non-fiction works in which Rocky Flats receives significant attention

Len Ackland, “Open Wounds from a Tough Nuclear History: Forgetting How We Made Ourselves an Endangered Species,” in Remedies for the New West: Healing Landscapes, Histories, and Cultures, edited by Patricia Nelson Limerick, Andrew Cowell and Sharon K. Collings (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009). In this article, Ackland, retired professor of journalism at the University of Colorado and author of Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West, looks at the task of remembering our nuclear history being taken on by museums in various places, He cites the bad example of the Smithsonian being prevented from telling the full story of the Hiroshima bombing on the event’s 50th anniversary in 2005. Closer to home, he says the DOE “is discouraging the public from remembering and considering the broad historical legacies of Rocky Flats,” preferring instead a one-dimensional “Cold War Hero” narrative, as if there had been no global threat, no contamination, no ill workers. He advocates a shared storyline of “unacceptable risk.”

David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities and Policies (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997). This volume, a project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), provides details on the inventories of weapons-grade nuclear materials on hand or “unaccounted for” at Rocky Flats in 1996.

Tad Bartimus and Scott McCartney, Trinity’s Children: Living along America’s Nuclear Highway (NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1991). The authors interviewed dozens of people who live near or work at sites involved with the nuclear enterprise along the broad swath of Interstate 25 from the Trinity bomb site in southern New Mexico to the MX missile silos near Cheyenne, Wyoming. Included along the way is Rocky Flats.

Thomas Bullock’s Diary of a Cold War Patriot (Smashwords, Inc., 2011) narrates the career of a retired nuclear engineer. He reports on three activities in which he was involved at Rocky Flats while employed by Parsons Corp., an engineering firm located in Pasadena, CA. The first was development of “more stringent fire protections systems” after the 1969 fire at the plant. The second was the effort to correct design problems that plagued Bldg.371, which he calls a $250 million white elephant” (that’s 1980 dollars). Intended as “a state-of-the-art” replacement for the outmoded and quite dangerous Bldg. 771 plutonium processing facility, Bldg. became contaminated throughout soon after startup. Bullock was brought in from the outside to lead a $60 million ultimately unsuccessful effort to get the building back into operation. Thus the newest, most robust, most expensive building in Rocky Flats history was never used for the work for which it was created. The third Rocky Flats activity mentioned by Bullock was the little-known highly secret “black budget” project to develop depleted uranium armor plating for U.S. Army tanks. Initially deployed in West Germany during the 1980s, tanks with this DU armor became notable for their use in the 1991 and 2002 U.S. wars in Iraq. On line at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/74199

Thomas C. Cochran, William M. Arkin, Robert S. Norris, and Milton M. Hoenig, Nuclear Weapons Databook, Vol. II: U.S. Nuclear Warhead Production (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1987). The multi-volume Nuclear Weapons Databook series, produced as a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council, is the most comprehensive description of all aspects of the nuclear weapons enterprise in the US, the former Soviet Union, France, Britain, and China, at the time the only declared nuclear weapons states. Rocky Flats is covered in the volume mentioned here.

Robert Del Tredici, At Work in the Fields of the Bomb (NY: Harper & Row, 1987). This book documents the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise with photographs and interviews with key people. It includes a photograph of Rocky Flats as well as an interview with Kay Gable, widow of Don Gable, a Rocky Flats worker who at age 30 died of brain cancer due to on-the-job exposure to plutonium, according to a court decision. The interview explains how after his death his brain disappeared as did all records regarding his workplace conditions.

Jack Doyle, Dow Chemical and the Toxic Century (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004). This study of Dow Chemical as a major polluter includes a chapter on Rocky Flats.

Allen Ginsberg, Plutonian Ode and Other Poems, 1977-1980 (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1982). “Plutonian Ode,” the poem that gives this book its name, comes from the time when Ginsberg sat on the railway tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats Plant in 1978. Among other poems in this small book are several short verses written as part of his experience related to Rocky Flats of civil disobedience, arrest and trial.

Sam Kashner’s When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School (NY: Harper Collins, 2005) narrates his experience as the first student of Allen Ginsberg and others at the Jack Karouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa College in Boulder. In one brief chapter he tells of going to Rocky Flats in 1978 when Ginsberg, Daniel Ellsberg and others were arrested for civil disobedience on the tracks leading in to the plant. Hopefully the bulk of Kashner’s narrative is more accurate than his report that someone occupying the tracks at Rocky Flats lost his legs when a train ran over him. Nothing like this ever happened at Rocky Flats. Kashner may be misremembering what happened with Brian Wilson, who in 1987 lost his legs blockading a train at a US Navy base in Concord, California, from which arms were being sent to Central America.

Judith A. Layzer, The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy (2nd edition, Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2002). CQ Press, a subsidiary of SAGE Publications, specializes in publishing analyses of actions and policies of the federal government. Chapter 4 of this book, “Government Secrets at Rocky Flats,” explores the government’s role in polluting the environment around Rocky Flats. The author demonstrates that scientific experts rarely can resolve environmental policy controversies: they may in fact make them worse.

Arjun Makhijani, Howard Hu, and Katherine Yih (editors), Nuclear Wastelands: A Global Guide to Nuclear Weapons Production and Its Health and Environmental Effects (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995). Produced by a special commission of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, this volume is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons production globally.

Peter Metzger, The Atomic Establishment (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1972). The author, a former Rocky Mountain News journalist, brings together a great mass of little known detail about the whole nuclear enterprise in the USA in the quarter century following the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1946. In looking at problems like nuclear waste, contamination, and penalties for whistle blowers, Rocky Flats is one of his topics.

Charles Piller, The Fail-Safe Society: Community Defiance and the End of American Technological Optimism (NY: Basic Books 1991). An assessment of opposition by community groups to scientific and technological enterprises that present hazards to the communities where they are located, this book includes a chapter on Rocky Flats.

Max S. Power, America’s Nuclear Wastelands: Politics, Accountability, and Cleanup (Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 2008). From 1988 to 2004 Power was the Senior Policy Advisor to the Nuclear Waste Program in Washington State. This very informative book is a helpful guide to laws and regulations that apply to nuclear waste and cleanup of nuclear sites. The author draws on his extensive experience with these issues at Hanford to look at other DOE sites, including Rocky Flats. He regards the cleanup of Rocky Flats as a success due to DOE’s openness and the decision to turn most of the site into a wildlife refuge. Some involved in oversight of the cleanup would disagree. A positive feature at Rocky Flats, he says, is having damned holding ponds that prevent potentially contaminated water from being released off the site. But DOE has decided to breath all of these dams by 2020. Power seems prescient when he questions the viability of long-term stewardship at sites that have been cleaned up because there’s no guarantee that funding will continue. Might the breaching of the dams at Rocky Flats be a first step in the elimination of stewardship funding at this site?

Robert Rapoport, The Great American Bomb Machine (NY: Ballantine, 1971). This book looks at the whole US nuclear weapons complex as it existed at the time of publication. Chapter 3 deals with Rocky Flats.

Stephen I. Schwartz (editor), Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940 (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998). This thoroughly documented and well-indexed volume is the most comprehensive study of the costs of the US nuclear weapons enterprise yet done.

Bryan C. Taylor, “Radioactive History: Rhetoric, Memory and Place in the Post-Cold War Nuclear Museum,” in Places of Public Memory: The Rhetoric of Museums and Memorials, edited by Greg Dickinson, Carole Blair and Brian L. Ott (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010), pp. 57-86. In this demanding and dense article Taylor, who teaches at the University of Colorado and was formerly on the board of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum, assesses the difficulty of creating viable nuclear museums, given the “entangled discourses of nuclear history, memory and heritage.” Most nuclear museums present “the dominant narrative of Cold War patriots” whocelebrate the nuclear weapons enterprise rather that the “less-popular but also persistent” antinuclear narrative. In the post-Cold War era, however, three parallel trends appear: “new stakeholder identities, the ongoing struggle for control of the nuclear-historical narrative, and the growth of a nuclear heritage apparatus.: How those responsible for museums handle these themes will determine whether museums serve a more inclusive vision.

Bryan C. Taylor, William J. Kinsella, Stephen P. Depoe and Maribeth S. Metzler (editors), Nuclear Legacies: Communication, Controversy, and the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007). This book includes a brief discussion of the origins of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum, including controversy over whether the federal government should fund the museum and others like it at other sites within the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. The volume’s lead editor, Professor Bryan Taylor of the University of Colorado, was formerly chair of the Board of Directors of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum.

Anne Waldman, Vow to Poetry: Essays, Interviews & Manifestos (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2001). This collection of writings of poet Anne Waldman, director of the summer writing program at Naropa University in Boulder, CO, contains numerous well indexed references to Rocky Flats and plutonium. Waldman’s references to Rocky Flats show that over the years since the 1970s she has been both a person of words (in poetry and in testimony at public hearings) and a person of action (most notably her civil disobedience on the tracks at Rocky Flats in 1978). Her “Warring God Charnel Ground: Rocky Flats Chronicles” consists of a series of brief essays from different periods.

Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon, with Robert Alvarez and Eleanor Walters, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experiment with Atomic Radiation (N.Y.: Delacorte, 1982). A critique of all aspects of the US nuclear enterprise, this book focuses on public health, environmental contamination, and workplace exposure. The authors devote a full chapter to Rocky Flats.

Paul Wehr, Conflict Regulation (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1979(, This book by Paul Wehr, Emeritus Professor of Siocology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, examines nonviolent ways of regulating or containing conflict. One chapter is devoted to nonviolent direct action at Rocky Flats, with primary focus on the 1978-79 occupaton of the railroad tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats plant by the group that took the name, Rocky Flats Truth Force.

Jon Weiner, How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012). Professor of history at the University of California at Irvine, the author discusses U.S. museums and memorial that commemorate aspects of the Cold War. A brief chapter entitled “Rocky Flats: Uncovering the Secrets” is devoted to the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum. Unfortunately, it contains a few minor errors of fact. The museum story is “an inspiring one,” says Weiner. “Instead of an omniscient voice of authority instructing visitors about the one true history of this place, the museum will present a variety of voices. It’s almost like democracy at work.”

Fiction on Rocky Flats

Mario Acevedo, Nymphos of Rocky Flats: A novel (NY: Rayo, 2006). This debut comedy novel features an ex-soldier turned into a vampire while serving in Iraq who came to Rocky Flats at the invitation of a friend from DOE to look into an outbreak of nymphomania among female guards.

Ron Olson, Half Life (Wellington, CO: Bannack Publishing Co., 1984). This work of fiction is about Rocky Flats, Its author, a deceased former Rocky Flats employee, says his purpose is “solely to provide an item of thoughtful entertainment.”

Films on Rocky Flats

Dark Circle (1983). Feature-length film produced by Judy Irving, Chris Beaver, and Ruth Landy. This documentary, premiered in Denver, focuses primarily on Rocky Flats, secondarily on the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant then under construction in California.

Secrets of a Bomb Factory (1993). Produced for Frontline by Oregon Public Broadcasting; WGBH Educational Foundation: 1993; produced and directed by Michael McLeod [Alexandria, Va.]: PBS Video, c1993). This 55-minute documentary focuses on the grand jury investigation that followed the 1989 FBI raid on Rocky Flats.

(List compiled by LeRoy Moore, updated 10-16-14)

A little humor about the gonads samples that were never studied (see my blog entry of August 21, 2014)

In Art, Environment, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Uncategorized on August 24, 2014 at 2:07 am

The following is “Dave’s Handy, Dandy Guide to a Vacation of a Lifetime,” written by Dave Barry, a humor columnist for the Miami Herald, published in the Seattle Times on Monday, June 3, 1996. The article explains that in 1996 the gonads samples were at Colorado State University. Read on.

 

FORT COLLINS, COLO. – Why Fort Collins? I’ll answer that question by quoting, verbatim, the first paragraph of a story from the Feb. 22 Fort Collins Coloradoan, written by Dan Haley and alertly sent in by Glenn Gilbert:

“About 200 human gonads are sitting in a freezer at Colorado State University as researchers wait for funding to test them for plutonium.”

I called Colorado State (“Home of the Frozen Gonads”) and spoke with Dr. Shawki Ibrahim, an associate professor in the Department of Radiological Health Sciences. He told me that the gonads were removed during hospital autopsies; researchers want to find out if their plutonium levels correlate with how close their former owners lived to the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. (The researchers need money for this project, so if you’re a wealthy organization, please send them some.)

Dr. Ibrahim told me that the gonads are very valuable, and are kept in a locked freezer in a secure area.

“We are sitting on a gold mine here,” he said. (Really.)

I definitely see the need for security. You cannot have unsecured gonads in an environment frequented by college students; the potential for pranks is too great. This means you will NOT be able to actually see anything during your visit to Fort Collins. You will, however, be able to say, “Kids, we’re standing within a mile or so of about 200 frozen human gonads!”

Trust me, it will be a vacation memory that will remain in their minds for the rest of their lives. Even after electroshock therapy.

 

End of Dave Handy’s column

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

In Environment, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Uncategorized 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 researchers routinely sought permission from the closest of kin to take the samples. 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. When Shawki Ibrahim of Colorado State University’s nuclear research program learned about the samples, he 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 information 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. According to Cobb, Ibrahim “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. In August 2014 Ibrahim and I had a couple of email exchanges. I learned from him, first, that the gonads samples were sent from Los Alamos to CSU; second, that he never did a study with them; and third, that, though the samples were kept securely in a freezer at CSU, they were destroyed by a weekend power outage. Thus ended what could have been the first study of plutonium in human gonads anywhere. 

[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

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