On April 15, 2012, I received a query about the wisdom of buying a house near Rocky Flats. I get several messages like this every year from people I do not know. This one turned into the following wide-ranging exchange. I have edited the messages slightly to protect the identity of the senders:
Dear Dr. Moore,
I would appreciate your advice on the risk of Rocky Flats contaminants in the Superior area. My family (which includes 2 very young children) is currently considering to move to Superior however I read an article on the proposed Jefferson Parkway road and having studied environmental epidemiology I am concerned of a substantially increased risk of plutonium (or other related
contaminant) exposure if my family were to reside toward the south-west corner of Superior. As I am originally from elsewhere I have no local knowledge of this area and information on this topic is difficult to attain.
I get a message similar to this every couple of months. Here is the response I made on April 16 to this one:
In response to your question, I’m attaching an article (“Plutonium is forever,” on line at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/1905-2/ ) that refers to the danger of plutonium released from Rocky Flats. More to the point of your question is the map copied below. produced in 1970 by scientists from the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor to the present Dept. of Energy, the agency that operated the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant). The Rocky Flats site is clearly indicated on this map. The source of the plutonium releases is what was the industrial area at the center of the site, and the map shows the pattern of windblown distribution of plutonium. The southwest corner of Superior is in or quite near the area shown to have some contamination, indeed the least contaminated area near where Indiana St. intersects Hwy. 128 a short distance east of where McCaslin intersects Hwy 128.
No remediation has occurred in this area or in fact anywhere in the eastern side of the Rocky Flats property itself. Plutonium’s long half-life (24,110 years) plus the fact that the most dangerous way to be exposed to it is via inhalation of minute particles such as the ones remaining in the environment of the contaminated area means it will pose a hazard essentially forever from a human perspective. Were I in your shoes I’d not consider purchasing a house so close to the known contaminated area.
If you have further questions, let me know.
Best, LeRoy Moore
MAP TO BE POSTED
Distribution of plutonium contamination from Rocky Flats in becquerels. (one becquerel equals one disintegration or burst of radiation per second).
The original version of this map was prepared by P. W. Krey and E. P. Hardy of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Health and Safety Laboratory, New York City, and published in their 1970 report, “Plutonium in Soil Around the Rocky Flats Plant,” HASL 235. The above adaptation of their map was used to delineate the area of the class of affected property owners seeking compensation for damage to their property in the Cook v. Dow & Rockwell lawsuit heard in Denver federal court and decided against the corporations in February 2006, a verdict reversed by the Appeals Court in September 2010. The case seems likely to go to the Supreme Court. The dotted red line on this map shows the route for the proposed Jefferson Parkway.
Later that same day, April 16, I received the following message:
Dear Dr. Moore,
Thank you for your reply! I am very thankful to have come across your information and as a result we have cancelled our house contract in Superior. I am astounded that development has taken place in such close proximity to the site. In your opinion how far away from the site would be safe to reside? Have there been any studies carried out using electrostatic particle collectors or such that may indicate how far away airborne plutonium etc may have traveled? I also understand that the local waterways were contaminated due to inadequate protection measures.
I responded as follows:
One hates to be a bearer of not happy news, but unfortunately the situation around Rocky Flats is not a happy one.
Air monitoring was done on a routine basis during production years at Rocky Flats, but the adequacy of the equipment used has been sharply criticized by two specialists, one a meteorologist and the other a biologist. If you’re interested in reading a brief summary of their work, go to http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/ and open the article called Plutonium and People Don’t Mix and read the opening paragraphs of section 2. Failure to Create a Reliable Record of Contamination.
Local waterways were indeed contaminated. One stream that drains the industrial area of the site, Walnut Creek, empties into Great Western Reservoir, formerly the source of drinking water for Broomfield. DOE paid for Broomfield to get its drinking water from another source, and this city now uses Great Western water only for irrigation of parkways and parks. The other stream that drains the industrial area, Woman Creek, empties into Standley Lake, water source for several suburban communities. EPA and CDPHE have certified that the water as safe and indeed Standley Lake is a regional park where boating and swimming occur. Because of Rocky Flats, the State of Colorado has the strictest standard anywhere in the country for plutonium content in surface water. The streams are monitored at the points where they exit the site. Because recent samples collected in upstream areas on the DOE-controlled portion of the Rocky Flats site showed levels of plutonium very much higher than the state allows at the points of compliance downstream, there is concern that these high readings may mean that eventually the state standard may be violated at the points of compliance downstream. Just last month I sent a memo about this issue to the DOE site manager; he replied that they have things under control and that there’s no worry, though he admits they cannot identify the precise source of the plutonium found in the high readings.
So, I think there are reasons to be concerned about Rocky Flats, though the regulators, EPA and CDPHE, disagree.
This reply came rather quickly on the same day, April 16:
Dear Dr. Moore,
I read your papers with great interest and am convinced that there is a total lack of epidemiological investigations carried out to ensure the ‘safety’ of Rocky Flats. There would be no study that could prove this area to be safe, even if all confounding factors were controlled for! The more information I find on this topic, the more incredulous it is that any form of human/animal interaction is allowed anywhere near it. I truly appreciate your work on keeping this area guarded and am grateful that my family won’t be moving to a radiation hotbed. Thank you for fighting this never ending uphill battle.
Then on April 19 this came:
Hi, my wife and I found your blog over the weekend, and as a result we backed out of a contract to purchase a house in south Superior. I wanted to thank you personally for the time and effort you are putting into educating the public about Rocky Flats. As a token of our appreciation I wanted to put in a small donation towards the soil testing you have performed by Indiana Street. . . .
In the test results you published recently (Feb or March of this year I believe) the cesium that was discovered in the soil was attributed to Fukushima. But wasn’t there also some strontium and cesium found at Rocky Flats during the FBI raid in ’89? Did none of that go offsite? Admittedly I’ve only been doing research for a couple of days, but there seems to be a dearth of data on that particular topic.
Also, do you have any knowledge of waste from Rocky Flats being dumped outside of the facility? I am aware of the contamination at Lowry Landfill, but was wondering if there were other spots as well. I am trying to find which areas I can locate my family in the Denver metro area which are uncontaminated.
Again, thank you for your efforts.
My response, dated Thursday, April 19:
True, the cesium found with the samples collected along Indiana St came from Fukushima.
There was no strontium in these samples, but strontium was found in the offsite environment at the time of the FBI raid. Jon Lipsky, former FBI agent who led the raid, continues to pay attention to this, as an indication that there was one or more criticalities at Rocky Flats, that is, spontaneous chain reaction that released strontium, etc., material otherwise not present at Rocky Flats.
Other than the illegal dumping of plutonium at the Lowry Landfill I’m not aware of other offsite dumping from RF.
As for settling in the Denver area, Rocky Flats of course is only one of the major sources of contamination. Lowry Landfill, the Lockheed-Martin facility in the far southwest corner of the metro area, and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, where nerve gas was made, are other major polluter sites. I’d at least want to avoid these.
Good wishes, LeRoy Moore