National Sludge Alliance

HOTLY-CONTESTED “NUKEWASTE-TO-FERTILIZER” PLAN BEGINS IN COLORADO;

EPA THUMBS ITS NOSE AT ITS OWN NATIONAL OMBUDSMAN’S CALL FOR INDEPENDENT SCIENTIFIC REVIEW

For Immediate Release: Monday, August 14, 2000

Contacts:
Adrienne Anderson (303)321-9178; andersa@spot.colorado.edu
Charlotte Hartman (518)329-2120; hartmannsa@taconic.net

Denver - In one of the nation’s most hotly-contested environmental controversies, polluters at a major Superfund site have begun to flush plutonium and other nuclear waste contaminated toxic water into the public sewer systems in the Denver metropolitan region, be mixed with sewage sludge and spread as “fertilizer” on crops grown for human consumption.

The absurd and nationally precedent-setting Superfund “clean-up” plan is EPA approved, despite unanimous public opposition. Millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic water will be flushed from the landfill over the next several decades, with some of the contaminated water diverted to ”irrigate” public parks and golf courses, and the rest mixed with domestic and industrial sludge and spread as “fertilizer” on eastern Colorado farmland where crops are grown for distribution throughout the nation’s commercial food supply.

Citizens charge that the plan is a thinly-veiled effort to use the EPA’s increasingly controversial sludge policy as a loophole for cheaply ridding the nation of one of its most contaminated nuclear and hazardous waste sites, and to cover up the fact that large volumes of illegally dumped plutonium contaminate the 400+ acre site, without DOE action or clean-up under the Clinton Administration. The City and County of Denver owns the Lowry Landfill, and hired Waste Management, Inc. to manage the dump until it closed in 1980, leaving a massively contaminated nuclear and toxic mess. Over 200 of the region’s major polluters dumped at the site, including Coors, Martin Marietta and the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant’s contractors, Dow and Rockwell International.

City of Aurora officials and developers have targeted the area around the site for intense residential and commercial development, and new subdivisions now are within a quarter mile of the radioactive and toxic mess.

The plan to flush the problem down the drain and into our food supply -concocted in secret deals between major polluters and liable parties at the controversial Lowry Landfill Superfund Site near Aurora, Colorado, outside of Denver - was first uncovered in 1996 by a whistleblower on the sewage plant’s own board of directors, who had been appointed to represent workers’ health and safety concerns, and has since been the focus of investigations by students in the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Environmental Studies Program.

In response to pleas for investigation from thousands of citizens in Colorado and nationwide, the EPA’s National Hazardous Waste Ombudsman, Robert J. Martin, on July 31st called for an independent scientific review of the case, and concluded that the citizens’ claims regarding the presence of radioactive material at the site had merit. The Ombudsman’s Office is already investigating EPA Region VIII’s actions at several other Superfund sites in Colorado, and recently overturned one EPA decision involving a radioactive dump at another site in Colorado.

Despite unanimous public opposition and the EPA Ombudsman’s call for independent review, EPA Region VIII officials allowed the dumping of the Lowry radioactive and toxic discharge to the sewers to begin on July 25th, thumbing their nose at the major public health concerns raised.

EPA’s own files have revealed a cover-up, citizens charge. In one “smoking gun” document - a study by the site’s major polluters (including Coors, Shattuck, and the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District) and obtained in the whistleblower’s investigation - it was concluded that the plutonium at Lowry was dumped there from the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, and was present at levels up to 10 - 10,000 higher than the background of the nuclear weapons plant itself.

Since the document was revealed to the public by the citizens’ investigation, EPA officials have scrambled, claiming variously that there is no plutonium at all at the site, or that any plutonium present there is “cosmic dust”. Plutonium has been found in groundwater at depths of 200 feet at the site, lab reports show.

The EPA has since claimed that equipment at the DOE-certified lab which performed the tests “wasn’t working” during the four years that hundreds of samples were collected and analyzed under Superfund orders, and that none of the 36 radioactive elements detected at high levels during the multi-million dollar investigation are actually there. All have disappeared from the EPA’ s list of contaminants at the site after 1992, when the EPA, DOE and its Rocky Flats contractors cut deals to let the nuclear bomb manufacturer off the hook at Lowry, with no admission of the presence of plutonium or other nuclear wastes.

Nonetheless, the sites’ major responsible parties - the City and County of Denver (owner of the landfill), Waste Management, Inc. (operator of the landfill) - were issued a permit by Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (also a top polluter of the landfill) to discharge as “legal” high levels of radioactive plutonium, americium, strontium-90, radium, cesium, cerium, tritium - in solution with other deadly toxic pollutants, including dioxin, PCBs, rocket fuel propellants and scores of toxic solvents, metals, pesticides and other poisons. The flushing of these polluted wastewaters is expected to take 30-50 years, as over 3 billion gallons of contaminated groundwater have been estimated as a problem underneath the site, and moving.

"On the heels of the US EPA's own Inspector General Report, the Center for Disease Control, and the House Science Committee Hearings, scientists within and outside agency have concluded that EPA's current sludge policy across the nation is not safe. In spite of these findings, EPA in Denver has allowed this outrageous plan to begin. Permitting deadly plutonium and other nuclear wastes to be part of an already dangerous mix demonstrates a total disregard for public health and safety." said Charlotte Hartman, Coordinator of the National Sludge Alliance, one of the citizen groups trying to stop the plan. "If they get away with this in Denver it will happen around the country; nuclear waste will be added to the rest of the toxic soup that characterizes EPA-approved sludge. EPA attempts to disguise contaminated sludge by renaming it "biosolids" and touting it as a so-called "beneficial use". Farmers and citizens all over the country are becoming alarmed about the risks of this EPA policy and are fighting sludge dumping operations all over the country. As far as we are concerned, this case in Denver is "Ground Zero" for the permitted reuse of radioactive wastes.”

According to published reports, up to 2 tons of plutonium is “missing and unaccounted for” at the Rocky Flats Nuclear weapons plant, northwest of Denver.

“Our investigation reveals that a lot of the missing plutonium was dumped in and around the Lowry Landfill, but the government wants to deny it’s there and flush their liability for this illegal dumping down the drain,” said Adrienne Anderson, the sewage board whistleblower and a University of Colorado at Boulder environmental ethics teacher. “Instead of cleaning it up, disposing of it properly, and holding the government and its nuclear contractors and their waste haulers criminally liable for their misdeeds, they want to flush it onto public parks where our children play, spread it on productive agricultural fields where our food is grow, and let new subdivisions and shopping centers spring up around this radioactive and toxic mess,” she concluded.

A growing local and national coalition of outraged and alarmed citizens plan to continue their fight to expose and stop the plan.

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This will be discussed on Hightower Radio on Friday, August 18th, at 11:20a.m. Mountain Standard Time, see website at www.jimhightower.com