National Sludge Alliance

News Release


For immediate release: Friday, August 25, 2000


In an astounding development, citizens who went to court to stop the discharge of plutonium-contaminated Superfund waste into Denver sewers - and from there onto local parks as "irrigation water" and farm fields as "fertilizer" - have been threatened with over $200,000 in sanctions by the landfill's owner, the City and County of Denver, and other parties to the plan - the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, and the City of Aurora.

At issue is the clean-up of the infamous Lowry Landfill Superfund Site, southeast of Denver and near rapidly encroaching subdivisions in Aurora, Colorado. According to the deal, concocted in secret, billions of gallons of radioactive and toxic contaminated water under the infamous Lowry Landfill Superfund Site (southeast of Denver and near rapidly encroaching subdivisions in Aurora, Colorado) will be pumped into public sewer lines. From there, the plutonium and hundreds of other radioactive or toxic substances will be dispersed onto public parks and recreation areas, and into our food supply, instead of containing it and cleaning it up properly under Department of Energy guidelines for handling the most dangerous substances on the planet.

The citizens, represented by Walter Gerash, pro bono, in their defense to the sanctions claim (typically called SLAPP claims - Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) contend that the sanction claim is simply an effort to intimidate them into dropping their opposition to the controversial and precedent-setting scheme for nuclear and toxic waste disposal.

Instead, the citizens fought back.

Gerash wrote the governmental entities and advised that unless the claim for sanctions were immediately dropped, the citizens would file a SLAPP-back claim, arguing that Denver, Metro Wastewater and Aurora's sanctions claims violated their constitutional rights to petition the courts for judicial intervention. Denver, Metro and Aurora agreed within the week to drop their sanction claims if the citizens would drop their SLAPP back claims. Negotiations are pending.

The citizens - including farmers in eastern Colorado whose agricultural land abuts the toxic sludge dumping grounds, union workers who risk exposures to the mix on the job, students and other concerned citizens- plan to continue their fight against the Lowry discharge plan in federal court.

According to Charlotte Hartman of New York, Coordinator of the National Sludge Alliance and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, the Lowry polluters are using a growing loophole in federal law to skirt liability for their toxic mess, and shift the burden - and related health risks - onto the public. According to Hartman, "In Colorado, polluters plan to include nuclear waste in an already toxic sewage sludge mix that is threatening farms and neighboring communities all over the country. If this absurd and dangerous plan isn't stopped dead in its tracks, we can expect nuclear waste from other sites across the country to be "fertilizing" our food supply. Now that's food for thought!

The EPA and DOE have simply denied the plutonium and other nuclear wastes are there, despite reams of evidence uncovered in a four-year investigation by a sewage board whistleblower and Environmental Studies students at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who charge that the plan is a massive cover-up - embroiled in conflicts of interests, political pay-offs and silence agreements by the polluters and liable parties at one of the nation's worst Superfund disasters. For over 15 years, Coors, the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Martin Marietta and 200 other polluters and government agencies dumped millions of gallons of liquid hazardous wastes there, now threatening regional aquifers used as drinking water for surrounding suburbs.

A discharge permit issued by Metro Wastewater to the owners and operators of the Superfund site - the City and County of Denver and Waste Management, Inc. - approves as "legal" the flushing of plutonium and other nuclear wastes into public sewers traversing the Denver/Aurora metropolitan area. Some of the radioactive and toxic water would then be diverted to irrigate local parks, golf courses and other public recreation areas, used as "process water" at local utility companies and refineries, and then piped further to the sewage plant where remaining contaminants would be added to domestic and industrial sewage sludge. The toxic sludge, which EPA and the sewage industry terms as "biosolids", is bagged and sold to the public as "MetroGro" fertilizer for home garden use, used to "remediate" another Superfund site in Leadville, Colorado, and trucked in huge volumes to Eastern Colorado farmland, where crops are then sold for distribution throughout the nation's commercial food supply for human consumption.

Colorado District Judge Steven Phillips ruled in June that the case could not be heard in state court despite the citizens' appeals that the permit violated the state's radiation regulations which prohibit discharge of non-soluble, non-biologic radioactive material to public sewer lines.

Jed Gilman, President of PACE-5-477 - the union representing workers who would be exposed to the radioactive and toxic discharge at many points along the process, another plaintiff group in the action and himself a neighbor of the Lowry Landfill - says that the Lowry plan is continuing the disastrous legacy of nuclear mismanagement in the United States. "Our workers (the former OCAW) have already been the victims of pathetic practices at DOE nuclear facilities all over the country in the past. We are certainly not going to continue being guinea pigs for absurd government plans such as this one, where we will pay for their nuclear liability and the mess they've made. We will keep on fighting."

Despite the EPA's National Hazardous Waste Ombudsman's recent call for this controversial nuclear and toxic waste discharge plan to be examined by an independent scientific team - in response to petitions from thousands of citizens and preliminary evaluation of documents uncovered in the citizens' investigation - EPA's Region VIII officials and Metro Wastewater have thumbed their nose at this recommendation, allowing the radioactive and toxic pumping to proceed.

The flush - expected to take place over the next 30 to 50 years - began on July 25th, 2000.