Tim Covi, right, spokesman for the activist group "Art and the Revolution," speaks out to CU students in the UMC of the proposed use of toxic sludge from Lowry Landfill as fertilizer for farm crops

Friday, March 03, 2000

Plutonium pancakes? Students protest plan to dump Lowry Superfund sludge on farm land

Colorado Daily Staff Writer

Dressed in mock radiation-protection suits and shouting through a megaphone, a group of protesters on Thursday interrupted students eating lunch at the Alferd Packer Grill in the University Memorial Center to bring them an unsettling message about their food.

Soon, the protesters said, the students' lunches could be laced with plutonium.

"How much plutonium, may I ask, does anyone here want in their food?" asked Tim Covi, one of the demonstrators.

The protesters, members of a newly formed street theater group named Art in the Revolution, were seeking to draw attention to a government plan to pump contaminated groundwater from the Lowry Landfill Superfund Site to the Denver Metro Wastewater Plant and use sludge resulting from its treatment as "fertilizer" on crops in eastern Colorado.

Critics of the plan claim the Lowry site is contaminated with radioactive waste originating from the now-mothballed Rocky Flats atomic-bomb factory south of Boulder. They cite numerous documents and eyewitness reports to support their claims.

This plutonium could end up as part of the sludge used to fertilize wheat crops grown for human consumption, critics warn. In other words, people could soon find "plutonium in their pancakes," Covi said.

"In my mind, not enough of the public has been educated, so they don't really understand what is happening," Covi said.

But government agencies involved in the plan -- including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has approved it -- say the critics' claims are unfounded. A report that concluded high levels of plutonium were present in Lowry's groundwater has since been proven wrong, the EPA maintains.

A spokesperson for the EPA did not return a telephone call to the Colorado Daily as of press time Thursday. However, EPA officials have in the past repeatedly assured the public that the Lowry groundwater has no more than trace amounts of plutonium, attributable to worldwide fallout from nuclear-weapons tests.

Covi and his fellow protesters, however, said they didn't trust the EPA, which is facing accusations of lies and cover-ups from many fronts.

"In my mind, it's absurd that the EPA can declare this a Superfund site and then say it's safe to ship this waste through the sewer lines," Covi said.

Covi and his fellow protesters passed out flyers at the UMC and on University Hill and gathered signatures for a petition urging Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., to push for an investigation of the Lowry plan.

The House Science Committee, on which Udall serves, is in fact scheduled to hold a hearing March 22 to investigate whether the EPA has harassed citizens and scientists who have raised concerns about plans to use toxic sludge as fertilizer throughout the country.

Udall does indeed plan to raise questions about the Lowry plan during the hearing, said his spokesman, Lawrence Pacheco.

Specifically, he said Udall plans to ask for written explanations of tests taken to see whether plutonium exists in the groundwater, and of safeguards that will be in place to prevent the spread of any potential contamination.

Udall has also written to the EPA about Lowry in the past, and has received responses assuring him that the plan is sound. However, Pacheco said Udall would be interested in seeing any evidence that may contradict the EPA's assurances.

"If someone has a smoking gun, the congressman would like to see it," Pacheco said.