DENVER -- Citizens recently found plutonium in breathable form at two locations near the site of the shuttered Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant. Their sampling effort responded to repeated refusals of government agencies to sample surface dust at Rocky Flats for plutonium content. What the citizens found with their unofficial project counters U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service plans to open a big portion of the Rocky Flats site – the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge – to public recreation.
The wildlife refuge is important to State Rep. Wes McKinley, who was Foreman of the grand jury that reviewed evidence of environmental lawbreaking at Rocky Flats after the 1989 FBI raid of the plant. “The grand jury,” he said, “reviewed a lot of damaging data about Rocky Flats, but it got sealed in the grand jury vault and I’m not allowed to tell people about it. Since DOE is hiding its damaging data, I figured we’d just collect data ourselves.”
The plutonium contained in a sample collected in open space across the street from the Rocky Flats site was delivered by wind to this location. According to McKinley, “This demonstrates that plutonium in breathable form is present on the site where children will be playing.”
“The plutonium found at the open space location was probably deposited there quite recently, “ observed environmentalist LeRoy Moore, who organized the sampling project. “Burrowing animals on the site bring buried plutonium to the surface, and the winds that scour Rocky Flats scatter plutonium particles near and far, with the risk of sending some of it into the lungs of people using Rocky Flats for recreation.”
Moore wants government agencies to establish a permanent program at Rocky Flats for periodic testing of breathable dust in surface soil at for plutonium content. McKinley adds, “The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge should be managed as open space that is closed to the public. Or, at minimum, Fish & Wildlife should post signs warning potential visitors to the refuge that risk is entailed in going onto the site.”
At least equally significant, according to Moore, is the indoor sample. Hot particles with high concentrations of plutonium were found in dust collected in a crawl space under a house where it had accumulated for 50 years. Specialist Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Data Corp., who did the technical analysis of the samples, pointed out that this plutonium laden dust certainly endangered the health of anyone who spent much time in this crawl space.
Writer Kristen Iversen, who will soon publish a book entitled Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Shadow of Rocky Flats, commented, “If there’s plutonium in the dust at one house downwind of Rocky Flats, there’s probably plutonium in dust in many other homes, or perhaps even schools or libraries, located in the area known to be contaminated with plutonium released from Rocky Flats.”
Scientists from the Atomic Energy Commission, predecessor to the DOE, she emphasized, “themselves produced a map of the contaminated area downwind of Rocky Flats." She proposed that the DOE establish a program to analyze indoor dust for plutonium content for anyone who requests it for a building located in the area the AEC defined as contaminated with plutonium released from Rocky Flats. “This,” she said, “is not only the right thing to do. It’s long overdue.”
Moore thinks that within the contaminated area plutonium-laden dust could be present in any indoor space where dust collects, such as in refrigerator coils, ventilation systems, ceiling fans, etc. “Its presence poses a risk to people who occupy, use or work in these indoor spaces,” he stated. “So far as I know, sampling indoor dust for its possible plutonium content has never been previously done in offsite areas around Rocky Flats.”
Iversen said she’d also like to see thorough and consistent health testing and monitoring for people who live near or grew up near Rocky Flats. “No one’s health,” she said, “was ever studied.”
Kaltofen pointed out that the plutonium present in the two samples was in the form of very tiny particles. Such particles can be inhaled, ingested or taken into the body through an open wound, such as a child’s scraped knee or elbow. For as long as the plutonium is lodged in the body, it continues to bombard surrounding tissue with radiation. This may result in cancer, harm to the immune system or genetic defects that can be passed on to future generations.
“This small sampling project,” Moore observed, “indicates that Rocky Flats is a local hazard forever.”
Photos and maps of the sampling sites are available from Dr. LeRoy Moore, 303-447-2779 or firstname.lastname@example.org