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Plutonium contamination at Rocky Flats

How Colorado’s nuclear past is affecting its future, Colorado Springs INDY, GONE FISSION, by Heidi Beedle  25 Mar 20, IT WAS FEB. 25 AND BROOMFIELD City Council was done. It unanimously voted last month to withdraw from the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA), a proposed north-south toll road that would ostensibly help mitigate traffic congestion in the Northwest Metro Denver area. The route would have taken the road through the eastern edge of the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge, just south of the Boulder County line, bordering Arvada and Broomfield. The council vote was influenced by preliminary soil samples taken by the JPPHA in July 2019, specifically one sample that showed plutonium levels more than five times higher than the acceptable standard (the rest of the samples taken at that time were within acceptable standards). Before its current existence as a wildlife refuge, Rocky Flats was the site of a nuclear weapons plant, which has caused concern about plutonium contamination in the area. Forty-eight subsequent samples taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, showed levels well below cleanup standards of 50 picocuries per gram.

The city council vote is the latest installment in the ongoing conflict between concerned residents and public officials, and Rocky Flats and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). For decades, residents and at least two directors of Jefferson County Public Health, have claimed that plutonium released from the plant is responsible for the high rate of cancers in the area. These claims have been consistently disputed by CDPHE and the Department of Energy (DOE). ……..

Johnson was concerned about the instances of cancers in Jefferson County and questioned the official measurements of plutonium in the soils around Rocky Flats, finding in his own testing that plutonium levels in the soil were 44 times higher than reported by the Department of Public Health. Johnson grew increasingly concerned about an increase in cancer deaths in Jefferson County, and in a paper published in 1981, noted that a rise in certain kinds of cancers Johnson was seeing in Jefferson County, such as leukemia, “supports the hypothesis that exposure of general populations to small concentrations of plutonium and other radionuclides may have an effect on cancer incidence.” Johnson noted that “plutonium concentrations in the air at the Rocky Flats plant are consistently the highest (1970-1977) in the US DOE monitoring network,” based on his studies of the DOE’s own data. He also asserted that the DOE’s measurements were likely an underestimation.

Almost 40 years later, and the current head of the Jefferson County Public Health Department, Dr. Mark Johnson (no relation) has come to the same conclusion. In 2018 he spoke outagainst opening the wildlife refuge to the public, and he thinks the recent discovery of plutonium near the proposed parkway site should give people reason to reconsider. “

“There are clear studies that have shown there is an increased risk or rate of plutonium in the dirt there,” agrees Mark Johnson. “I have concerns already about the digging around with the subdivisions and the commercial enterprises that have gone into that area that were basically kicking up a lot of stuff — and we don’t know what is there.”

Carl Johnson was fired in 1981 for his persistent, outspoken criticism of the plant, but won a subsequent whistleblower lawsuit. Partly due to Johnson’s criticism, the FBI and the EPA began looking into operations at the Rocky Flats Plant starting in 1987. The investigation was aided by Jim Stone, an employee at the plant who also became a whistleblower over what he saw as grave safety violations……..


THOUGH EXHAUSTIVE DOCUMENTATION
 of waste sites and deposits exists, questions remain as to the effectiveness of the now-completed cleanup. Jon Lipsky, a former FBI agent who led the raid on Rocky Flats in 1989, criticized the decision to open the refuge to the public in 2016, and has claimed there is still work to be done. Originally, the DOE estimated it would take 65 years and $37 billion to clean up the site. It was completed in 2005 for $7 billion.

During the process, there were still surprises to be found. ……..

The questions of the lasting effects from the operations at Rocky Flats may never be answered to the satisfaction of residents like Hansen, who are dealing with serious health issues. Jeff Gipe, the artist behind the Cold War Horse memorial that was erected in 2015, is currently working on a documentary about the plant, Half-Life of Memory, which may draw more attention to the issue.

President Donald Trump, who has a good shot at re-election, has reduced the effectiveness of agencies like the EPA while also advocating for an increase in nuclear arms development.

In 2019, the federal government proposed a new plutonium pit production facility near Aiken, South Carolina. But that is presumably not our problem.  https://www.csindy.com/coloradosprings/how-colorados-nuclear-past-is-affecting-its-future/Content?oid=21526239

March 26, 2020 - Posted by | - plutonium, environment, Reference, USA

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