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Archive for the ‘Plutonium’ Category

Brief Film on Disabled Rocky Flats Workers

In Human rights, Plutonium, Rocky Flats, Workplace exposure on April 7, 2014 at 4:56 am

Arin Billings worked with us for several months before returning to North Carolina. When she left here she was working on a film about Rocky Flats workers made ill from workplace exposure to toxins. Her excellent 3 minute film is available on line.

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

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.

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;

The Rocky Flats Story Project : A New Public Service

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Workplace exposure on November 5, 2013 at 8:27 am

Kristen Iversen, author of FULL BODY BURDEN: GROWING UP IN THE NUCLEAR SHADOW OF ROCKY FLATS, has just created The Rocky Flats Story Project. The purpose is to pull together stories from people who live near Rocky Flats or grew up near there. She’s especially interested in stories of people who have or know of someone with ailments that may be due to exposure to toxins, including plutonium, released from Rocky Flats. The stories will be categorized according to date, geographic location, and particular disease or ailment.

She and her research assistant, Matt Gallant, also plan to produce a questionnaire to be used in collecting more stories.  She will be assisted as well locally by Michelle Garioloff-Parish. Stories can emailed directly to Matt at <MWGallantis@gmail.com>.

Please help spread the word. This message could be posted on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, web sites.

No actual study of the health of any off-site members of the public who may have been harmed by Rocky Flats has ever been done. Compiling a solid record of people who may have been harmed by material released from the plant is a step in the direction of getting needed medical surveillance.  People who worked at the plant wore badges by means of which it was discerned whether or not they were exposed, but no effort was ever made to determine what members of the public were exposed.

The Recent Flood & Plutonium at Rocky Flats: Is the Current DOE Rocky Flats Manager Confused?

In Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on October 31, 2013 at 1:46 am

See the previous entry in this blog for a Boulder Weekly article about plutonium and the recent flood. This brief letter to the author of that article responds to a quoted erroneous statement made by the current manager of the DOE portion of the Rocky Flats site.

Joel:

Your recent Boulder Weekly article, “Flood Raises Questions at Rocky Flats,” says Scott Surovchak, the Manager of the DOE portion of the Rocky Flats site, disputes claims Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Data Corp. made in a report in early 2012 giving results of soil sampling he had done for the Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center on the eastern edge of the Rocky Flats site along Indiana St. Kaltofen reported that according to his work the plutonium levels in this area were just as high in 2012 as they were 40 years earlier before any cleanup activity had happened at Rocky Flats. He suggested that water leaving the site as a result of the September flood was quite possibly contaminated with small quantities of plutonium. Surovchak disputed this claim, saying (according to your article) that Kaltofen’s sampling “was done with an optical rather than radiological analysis and was therefore inappropriate for determining the true levels of plutonium in surface soil.” Kaltofen responded: “The plutonium was determined by both electron backscatter and gamma spectroscopy. Both are standard methods. Neither is an optical method.”

Clearly, DOE Manager Surovchak either doesn’t know what he is talking about, or he is deliberately demeaning an experienced soil sampler. Neither enables the public to trust what a DOE official says.

LeRoy

September 2013 Flood and Plutonium at Rocky Flats

In Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on October 31, 2013 at 1:29 am

Boulder Weekly, Thursday, October 10,2013

FLOOD RAISES QUESTIONS AT ROCKY FLATS

By Joel Dyer

Photos courtesy of the EPA
Rocky Flats in 1995, prior to being remediated.

Like the rest of the region, the rain started soaking into the ground at Rocky Flats on Monday, Sept. 9. By the following Wednesday night, the ground was fully saturated and the flooding began in earnest, with runoff from the hills, gullies and holding ponds at the site, filling North and South Walnut Creeks as well as Woman Creek beyond their capacities.

As the water finally began to recede, the debris caught in the fences above the usual creek banks bore witness to the unprecedented water levels that had swept through the area between Wednesday night and Saturday morning.

The water washing across the four square miles of land at Rocky Flats had raced down the creeks and dry washes and off the property towards the lakes and housing additions to the east, closing Indiana Avenue and raising concerns and more than a few questions.

Was there contamination in the floodwater and, if so, what kind and at what levels? And is the threat of contamination spreading due to the rains now over?

At least some of the answers to these questions will likely come sometime around Oct. 11, when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) estimates that it will get back test results from two labs that examined samples from the 10 surface-water monitoring stations at the Flats, most of which are located along the Walnut and Woman creeks. But will these test results answer all the questions being raised? Considering the long history of Rocky Flats and the ongoing, 30-plus years of controversy surrounding its contamination and cleanup, it seems unlikely.

Rocky Flats is a former nuclear weapons production facility just south of Boulder that operated from 1952 to 1992.

At one time, prior to its closure and remediation, the former plant and the lands surrounding it were considered one of the most contaminated places in the world. The area’s ground and surface waters are still being monitored today for radiation, and there are measurable levels of plutonium, Americium and uranium in some locations at the site that exceed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

Other contaminants at the Flats include PCBs and carcinogenic BTEX contaminants, named for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

In addition, groundwater recovery systems designed to capture uranium and nitrate contamination that has leaked into groundwater are in place to strip out the contamination before allowing the groundwater to be released into the area’s creeks and lakes.

And finally, critics of the government’s remediation of Rocky Flats, including the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, claim that plutonium contamination well above normal background levels can still be found in the surface soils at Rocky Flats in widespread locations across the area, including, according to tests commissioned by RMPJ in 2012, outside the site’s eastern boundary along Indiana Avenue, where a privately funded toll road, the Jefferson Parkway, has been proposed for construction.

The following is an overview of what is known to have occurred at Rocky Flats due to the flooding, concerns about what may have occurred, and possible future problems that could arise as a result of the September floods.

* * * *

Shortly after the flood, several news outlets, including Denver television station Fox 31, reported that a cap covering a landfill at Rocky Flats had cracked due to the flooding and that emergency repairs were under way even as the rain was falling. No further details were offered.

RockyFlatsJune2007.jpg

Rocky Flats in 2007, after cleanup. | Photo courtesy of the EPA

The station, aided by Dr. Jeffrey King of the Colorado School of Mines, later tested for radiation along the creeks where the water coming from the Flats had passed and reported that nothing alarming was found.

As for the cracked landfill cap, there are two former landfills at Rocky Flats. One is known as the original landfill (OLF) and the other is referred to as the present landfill (PLF).

According to Carl Spreng, Rocky Flats coordinator for the CDPHE, both of the landfills are capped, but with differing types of caps for different purposes.

The PLF cap is a combination of clay and waterproofing materials designed to prevent rainwater from infiltrating the landfill beneath the cap, an outcome that would likely cause groundwater contamination that could spread from the PLF, eventually making its way into area surface waters.

The primary contaminant of concern in the PLF, according to Spreng, is benzene, one of the BTEX compounds. As a result, a waterproof cap is needed because BTEX contaminants are easily transported long distances in groundwater. Spreng says that no plutonium or other radioactive contaminants are in the PLF, and that the cap on the PLF was not the one breached during the flood.

The top of the OLF is what actually cracked. Although news reports referred to a “cap on a landfill,” what actually cracked was not a cap but the cover over the OLF, which is made of earth. According to the Department of Energy’s Rocky Flats Site Manager Scott Surouchak, “cap” is a term describing a federally required waterproof covering under the RCRA laws such as the one over the PLF. He says that the dirt top over the OLF predates the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and can only be referred to as a “cover.”

Spreng says the OLF cover is made of dirt and was not designed to be waterproof. The primary contaminants of concern in the OLF are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are not easily soluble in water and tend to cling to soil. They can migrate, however, in water along with soil that is being swept away. They are also easily re-emitted to the air and can travel long distances before settling or being driven down by rain, according to the EPA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

This explains the need to quickly repair the OLF cover following the flood. Spreng says that the OLF cover will likely be re-engineered in coming weeks because it was already sagging in some spots.

Surouchak says that the Department of Energy has no plans to test for potential PCB releases because the levels in the OLF years ago were already very low and looking for PCBs would be pointless.

Another potential, but by no means substantiated at this time, source of contamination resulting from the floods could be the release of sediments from the three remaining holding ponds at the Flats, which are located on North Walnut, South Walnut and Woman Creeks.

According to a 1996 technical report titled Characterization of Releases to Surface Water From the Rocky Flats Plant, in 1972-73 the three holding ponds were drained and reconstructed. During this draining process, the levels of radioactivity found in the creeks increased 80-fold as a result of sediment-heavy waters containing plutonium being released from the ponds to the creeks.

Plutonium is heavy and not particularly water-soluble, so it tends to collect in sediment at the bottoms of ponds and creeks, or in the sediment of the lakes where the creeks eventually deposit their waters.

This explains why there are still low levels of plutonium in the top 12 inches of sediment in both Stanley Lake, which receives water from Woman Creek, and Great Western Reservoir, which gets its water from the two Walnut Creeks. Neither reservoir has been used as a city water supply since the 1990s due to the discovery of contamination originating from Rocky Flats.

During the September floods, the water levels in the three current holding ponds rose extremely fast and approached overtopping the spillways but did not do so, according to Spreng.

“It reached up to the overflow but then drained off quickly without ever going over. But it doesn’t really matter, the water all goes to the same place anyway. It was drained off into the channels to the creeks where it is monitored,” he says.

The question of whether or not the rapid rise and equally quick draining of the holding ponds could have caused the release of sediments from the ponds and whether there was any contamination in that sediment could be answered by the upcoming release of the CDPHE’s creek monitoring results.

Surouchak says that while it’s certainly possible that plutonium in the pond sediments could have been released by floodwaters, he doesn’t believe that it is of much concern because the levels of plutonium in the sediment have been tested and are near or even below background levels. But the ponds are not the most likely area to have released plutonium into the watershed.

The easiest pathway for plutonium to have left the Rocky Flats site during the flood was simply by way of surface soils being washed away by the incredible amounts of rain that fell over the five-day period. That’s because, according to a recent test, plutonium levels on top of and in some of the soils at the Flats are just as prevalent today as they were decades ago.

In 2012, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, which has been monitoring the operation and cleanup at Rocky Flats for the past 30 years (see related story, page 15), commissioned a study to determine how much plutonium was still in the soil at the site.

Because they were not allowed to sample on the site itself, the samples were actually taken outside of the fence line on the east side of the Flats, along Indiana Avenue. According to RMPJ, the plutonium levels were just as high in 2012 as they were 40 years earlier, before Rocky Flats had ever been cleaned up.

If true, this would mean that nearly all of the water leaving Rocky Flats during the flood was quite possibly contaminated with small quantities of plutonium.

Surouchak disputes the claims of the 2012 RMPJ study, saying that it was done with an optical rather than radiological analysis and was therefore inapropriate for determining the true levels of plutonium in surface soil.

He does say that the rains left “two inches of sheet water just flowing across the prairie” during the floods.

But when it comes to measuring any contaminant in moving water, the more water that’s flowing, the more diluted the contamination becomes, and the less likely it is to be measured as it passes by a monitor. For that reason, it is quite likely that the CDPHE monitoring stations along the creeks, which saw unprecedented water flows, will find no increase in contamination at the time of the flood, even if the amount of contamination leaving the site had actually increased during the flood.

In fact, it’s quite possible that even the lone monitoring station that, for some still unexplained reason, frequently shows spikes in both plutonium and Americium levels in surface water may well show a decrease in contaminant levels during the flood event itself.

Because of the obvious, temporary dilution from flood waters, the time for accurate testing to determine if contamination was released is actually now, after the flood, under more normal conditions. If plutonium was being transported in floodwaters, the evidence of such movement could likely be found today in the area’s creek and lake sediments or even the drainage ditches along Indiana Avenue.

Surouchack says the DOE has no plans for any additional testing because the levels since the completion of the Cleanup have been so low.

Uranium is another issue at Rocky Flats. While plutonium is heavy and not likely to travel far in groundwater, uranium is the opposite. Uranium is quite soluble and is already contaminating groundwater at Rocky Flats, groundwater that has to be captured and cleaned by way of an expensive, ongoing remediation process.

There is no question that the long, lingering rains of September and the subsequent floods have caused a flushing of sorts in our groundwater aquifers. For that reason it is imperative that the groundwater uranium capture system at Rocky Flats should be rechecked to determine that groundwater pathways weren’t temporarily shifted during the rains and floods, allowing contaminants to bypass the system.

And finally, any massive infiltration of rain such as what occurred in September has the potential to drive old contamination to groundwater, whether it is by getting under caps/covers over pits and landfills or simply by leaching through long-ago-contaminated soil on its way to the underlying aquifer.

Considering that such groundwater normally only moves towards its eventual connection to surface water at a rate of a few feet per year at Rocky Flats, according to the CDPHE, some contamination resulting from September’s rains and floods may not show up in the groundwater and surface water monitoring systems at the site for quite some time.

What happened at Rocky Flats has been called a 1,000-year event. So it’s not likely that we will know or understand all of the implications of such an event for quite some time.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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