AFTER DECADES OF SECRETS, ROCKY FLATS STILL GIVES ME PAUSE
Denver Post -- June 15, 2018
By Mark B. Johnson | Guest Commentary
I most likely owe my very existence to the atomic bomb.
My father was in what was supposed to be the first wave of soldiers to occupy Japan in World War II. Based on the battles of Iwo Jima, Guam, and Okinawa, they had been told by their commanding officers that there was little chance they would survive. It had been estimated that the U.S. would lose at least a million soldiers in the occupation. My father figured he would be one of them.
My father strongly believed that more lives were saved than were lost by our use of nuclear weapons. Over the years he convinced me that was true.
I am, however, opposed to nuclear contamination.
Rocky Flats has become infamous for nuclear contamination. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and anyone else who has studied Rocky Flats admits that there was massive nuclear and hazardous waste contamination at the site. They also admit that the contamination was both inside and outside the boundaries of the plant.
The contamination, mostly from plutonium fires and corroding drums full of nuclear hazardous waste, was kept secret from the public by the DOE and its contractors until 1969. The highly visible billowing black smoke from a fire that year made it obvious to outside observers that nuclear contamination was escaping from the site. Independent tests were performed to assess the extent of contamination. When the civilian monitoring teams challenged government officials with the observed measurements, they were told that actually, most of the offsite contamination had come from a more catastrophic fire in 1957. It was the first time anyone in the public had been made aware of that disaster.
Due to Cold War fears and the growing number of military targets identified behind the Iron Curtain, DOE pushed its contractors hard to produce more and more plutonium triggers faster and faster. Safety for workers and the community was secondary, or an afterthought. The contractors were given blanket immunity by the federal government for most lawsuits, should problems occur. This attitude led to numerous accidents and unnecessary exposures for workers, as well as growing piles of waste that had to be stored onsite. Plutonium was handled in such a haphazard fashion that more than a ton of it was eventually lost, or unaccounted for. This culture led to Rocky Flats being ranked by the DOE as the most dangerous nuclear site in the United States. Two of its buildings made the list of the ten most contaminated buildings in America. Building 771 at Rocky Flats was number one.
In 1989, based on information from a plant whistle-blower alleging environmental crimes, the FBI and EPA raided Rocky Flats. This eventually led to the closure of the site and a special grand jury which, after more than 3 years of testimony, sought to criminally indict three government officials and five employees of the plant contractor. The Department of Justice refused to indict, however, and instead negotiated a plea bargain with the contractor, who was required to pay an $18.5 million fine. This was less than they collected in bonuses from the DOE that year, despite more than 400 environmental violations being identified. The evidence and findings of the grand jury were sealed by court order.
When Rocky Flats closed, the DOE estimated that it would take over $35 billion and 70 years to adequately clean the site. Congress appropriated them only $7 billion, and clean-up began.
All of this is uncontested.
What is contested is how much contamination remains on- and offsite after the clean-up, and what risk, if any, may persist. The government has reams of data and multiple exhibits supporting their claim that the risk is low. Concerned community groups and anti-nuclear activists also have data supporting their claim that the risk is not negligible.
I do not know where the truth lies. There is credible science and support on both sides. What I do know is that two of the men who have seen the most evidence concerning the level of contamination at Rocky Flats, the lead agent for the FBI raid and the foreman of the grand jury, continue to advocate for the prohibition of public access to the site. This gives me great pause.
When I was a kid, I guess I watched too many westerns.
They led me to believe that it was a noble thing to stand up to powerful forces when you thought they may be wrong, or when you felt you needed more information before you could support them. They lied to me. In real life, what I have found is that when I have the temerity to question the government’s claims, or ask for additional, independent information to help me decide where the truth may lie, I am labeled a “general of the scare brigade”, “reckless” and “irresponsible”.
I just wish I had the level of certainty that they have who feel so confident in publicly shaming my search for truth.
Mark B. Johnson, MD, MPH, is executive director of Jefferson County Public Health.
My response: There was no remediation - no cleanup of the Refuge. The cleanup was entirely of the plant site, which remains a Nuclear Superfund Site. The Refuge was virtually untouched. And there has been no testing of the Refuge in over a decade. Remember the floods of 2013? Did they affect the Refuge? The protective covering over one of the plutonium processing building's foundation cracked in that flood. The statement that "Rocky Flats was all cleaned up" is extremely misleading, since the cleanup on the plant site itself was only a cover-up, with building foundations, process lines, and landfills left on site. The only stipulation for plutonium limits on the plant site is fairly clean for the first three feet, more allowed three to six feet, then unlimited plutonium under six feet. This is not protective of the Refuge, which had no cleanup.
Presentation by Randy Stafford at our April meeting.
Thorough and Understandable.
Take time to view this video. Thankful to Jeff Gipe for making this possible.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment made a presentation at the February 5th meeting of the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council. The title was "Myths and Misunderstandings."
Please watch the presentation here, or on the Rocky Flats Right to Know FB page, where you can comment.
Clip 1 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_v9wIGvC3Sk&t=21s
Clip 2 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxvYwze6eT0
Clip 3 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsIEnbPVbT4&t=688s
Clip 4 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkkU5VX1TjM&t=2s
Clip 5 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9vziwvB5kU&t=5s
Clip 6 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoPVta34StY
Clip 7 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6V01XlxZFUw
The recent Rocky Flats Stewardship Council meeting included a presentation by Carl Spreng and Lindsay Masters from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. They titled their presentation, "Myths and Misunderstandings." One such "myth" they addressed is in fact true, the DOE does pay their salaries. According to Lindsay Masters, this is common practice in many states. Conflict of interest, you say? How can this be? At the time of the plant closure, the State of Colorado felt the state health department would be stretched thin trying to cover the health concerns regarding Rocky Flats, and this agreement was made. Interestingly, the same agreement stands with the EPA; the DOE pays the salary of Vera Moritz of the EPA.
This conflict of interest is not allowed in the State of Washington, where the health department is holding the DOE accountable for human health regarding Hanford. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4364011-DOH-Letter-to-DOE.html
I am deeply disappointed in my state's attitude regarding the health risks from the contaminants at Rocky Flats.
Many thanks to the professional, pro bono work of Jacob Gabriel, who made the live-stream possible and has now presented us with this video, complete with Dr. Ketterer's slide show.
This is a letter that was sent to David Lucas, manager of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Randy Stafford sent the letter several months ago, but there has been no response.
Mr. David Lucas
Manager, Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge
United States Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, CO 80228
It was a pleasure to meet you and speak with you at Rocky Flats National Wildlife
Refuge “Sharing Sessions” numbers 3 and 4 over these last couple of months.
As I stated, I respect the good men and women of the United States Fish and Wildlife
Service, having had two uncles who spent their careers in the service as refuge
managers most of the time. My earliest memories of my uncle Ned Peabody were on
the refuge in Valentine, Nebraska. He finished his career at the Federal Center in
Lakewood, after long stints in Pierre, South Dakota and Brigham City, Utah.
And my uncle John Martin was the first manager of the Alaska Maritime National
Wildlife Refuge (AMNWR) and held that position for 20 years, from 1980 through
2000 (see https://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ref=new-manager-foralaska-
maritime-national-wildlife-refuge&_ID=5568). Prior to taking that position,
my Uncle John lived on Adak Island beginning in 1976, and I actually visited him and
my Aunt Donna there in 1977.
David, I understand that you are in a tough position. You are trying to dutifully
implement a decision that was made by act of Congress in 2001 and passed down to
you through your agency and the sequence of decisions made in the 15 years since.
I’m writing to share with you that there is a precedent for operating a wildlife refuge
on a former nuclear site, and it didn’t turn out well in the long run, health-wise, for
the USFWS employees involved. That precedent is Amchitka Island in the Aleutians.
As you probably know, Amchitka Island was the site of underground nuclear bomb
testing by the Atomic Energy Commission in the late 1960s and early 1970s (see
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amchitka). Amchitka was part of the Aleutian
Islands National Wildlife Refuge since 1940, which was included in the AMNWR in
1980. Consequently my Uncle John had oversight responsibility for USFWS
operations on Amchitka as AMNWR Manager, and he and my Aunt Donna knew the
USFWS employees who worked on Amchitka because, frankly, there just aren’t that
many USFWS employees in the Aleutians. Furthermore those employees probably
reported up through my Uncle John once he became AMNWR Manager.
I asked my Aunt Donna whether she knew of any USFWS employees who had
worked on Amchitka and had developed cancer. This was her response:
Sometime you asked me if I knew any of the folks who got cancer on
Amchitka. The answer is yes. [name elided] ran the power plant there for the
USFWS for probably 20 years when we had the goose raising project out
there. He and his family lived at the old airport terminal and kept things
maintained and the power on. He got cancer and, sadly, so did his wife and
daughter. We lost touch with them when they moved away, but John heard
about some kind of investigation on the high cancer rates.
[name elided], who was the biologist-goose keeper out there, and lives here
now also got cancer, and his wife got breast cancer. We don't know if it is
related. I think he was contacted during that investigation. Maybe John can
add more knowledge when he gets this CC. So far, the previous goose keeper
has stayed healthy.
The investigation to which my Aunt Donna refers is most likely the Amchitka
Medical Surveillance Program (see
I wrote to that program’s Principal Investigator, Dr. Knut Ringen, to ask whether he is
aware of any USFWS employees affected by radiation on Amchitka, and this was his
I am aware of several US Fish and Wildlife Service workers who have spent
time on Amchitka. Unfortunately there are too few in number in our medical
program to make any kind of determination about cancer risk, and because
of the small number I cannot discuss any medical findings we have on them
without risking a violation of their privacy.
Amchitka is still under the stewardship of DOE, but is monitored by a
consortium led by the the Alaska Department of Environmental
Conservation, in which USFWS participates. DOE has provided funding for
I am sorry I cannot provide additional information.
Knut Ringen, DrPH, MHA, MPH
That response suggests to me that Dr. Ringen is aware of the cases my Aunt Donna
reported to me.
I wanted to share this precedent with you because it is not likely a coincidence that
five out of six USFWS employees and / or their family members stationed on a
former nuclear site developed cancers later in their lives. It’s more likely causal.
Though I have not discussed this with him directly, I imagine my Uncle John may
carry that fact on his conscience, as a former manager of those employees. Would
you want to be in that position someday? Of knowing you had exposed USFWS
employees in your charge to cancer risks on a former nuclear site, which eventually
materialized into cancers?
I also asked my Uncle John for his thoughts on the federal government turning
former nuclear sites into national wildlife refuges, and this was his response:
You have hit a pet peeve of mine. The USFWS always was in the market for
getting more land to put in refuges. However, I felt we were dealing with the
devil when looking at DoD or DoE lands. Their idea was to do the minimum
cleanup and then transfer to the USFWS. Liability went with the land, of
course. I always thought the land should be “cleaned up” and kept by the
agency that screwed it up. They should be required to fence it and patrol it.
Of course, cleanup is the wrong term. We are really talking about risk
assessment and how much can you reduce the risk. One can never get it
down to the same risk level that existed before contamination.
Many people think that wildlife can get along with a higher risk than people.
That is not true since wildlife is mobile and they could carry some of the risk
across boundaries. I believe that land such as the flats should be cleaned up
to the lowest risk, fenced, and patrolled to keep people out. It should not be
transferred to another agency. These fenced plots of land would then become
reminders to the public that they need to know what the government is
doing on their lands with radiation, chemical and biological weapons testing,
etc. We don’t need to put refuge signs around it since to most people that
would indicate beautiful pristine lands and would be an attractive place to
live next to. It is counter- productive. Like a playground built on an old dump.
That is from a man who spent his career in the USFWS (he's long retired) in Alaska
and had oversight responsibility for AMNWR operations on Amchitka. He also
testified before Congress when the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened.
David, I know you are just trying to do your job. I respect that, and I respect your
career choice and professional field. I really do admire the USFWS and its mission
and its people.
But in the case of Rocky Flats, I believe as a concerned citizen that the potential
consequences of exposing humans to the soil on the refuge grounds are too grave to
justify any amount of risk-taking. We’re talking about human lives here. Maybe
your employees’ lives, or even your own life or your family members’ lives. We’re
talking about suffering. My relative was diagnosed with breast cancer this year
(incidentally she grew up in Arvada, downwind of Rocky Flats), and I personally
took her to two surgeries to excise malignant tissue from her body, and I personally
took her to her radiation therapy appointments. Why take any action that might
cause anyone to go through that kind of suffering, that they otherwise might not
have to go through? It’s just not right; it’s not humane; it’s not reasonable.
If you have not already done so, I would urge you to read the books about Rocky
Flats. I’m referring to The Ambushed Grand Jury by Wes McKinley and Caron
Balkany, and Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen. I think you will see that there is
much to be concerned about. In Full Body Burden, for example, there is an account
of controlled burns of grasses on the Rocky Flats site which drastically increased
offsite radiation counts for several weeks. That would seem to suggest that the
plant materials contain radioactive particles, either on their surface in dust, or
perhaps brought up through their roots from the subsurface soil, which becomes
airborne if they burn. It just does not make any sense for humans to disturb the soil
at that site – at all.
Thank you, David, for taking the time to read what I wanted to share. I don’t want to
see anybody suffer ill health or death as a result of the decision to turn Rocky Flats
into a wildlife refuge. The only precedent we know of didn’t turn out well for the
USFWS employees involved. It’s not too late to change the decisions. The soil does
not have to be disturbed. Humans do not have to visit the site.
With Best Regards, and Most Sincerely,
The DOE would like to save money by eliminating the dam that keeps contaminated run-off from the contaminated Rocky Flats plant site from flowing downstream. Not a good idea. Please read this article. Remember, the plant site is still a Nuclear Superfund site. This is where the "clean-up" occurred. The land surrounding the plant site was given to US Fish and Wildlife Service to open as a Wildlife Refuge. Weapons to Wildlife ... however, the technology to make nuclear debris harmless to humans and other life does not exist anywhere on our planet. So, lots of room for action here, say NO to breaching the dam, and say NO to opening the first plutonium contaminated wildlife refuge to the public.
This is a very long article. But please don't postpone reading it. Instead scroll down to THE FIFTH RISK and read that part. This explains the long talk by David Abelson at the RFSC (Rocky Flats Stewardship Council) meeting about DOE funding. If DOE funding to Rocky Flats is cut, the 15 or so full-time DOE workers will not be there to monitor and contain the contaminants on the Superfund Site. If the "Refuge" is opened to the public, it will surround an un-monitored Nuclear Superfund site that contains plutonium and other contaminants.
ROCKY FLATS STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL
P.O. Box 17670 (303) 412-1200
Boulder, CO 80308-0670 (303) 600-7773 (f)
Jefferson County ~ Boulder County ~ City and County of Broomfield ~ City of Arvada ~ City of Boulder
City of Golden ~ City of Northglenn ~ City of Thornton ~ City of Westminster ~ Town of Superior
League of Women Voters ~ Rocky Flats Cold War Museum ~ Rocky Flats Homesteaders
Monthly Status Report – June 2017
Board Meeting Summary
2016 Stewardship Council audit
The auditor did not find any material deficiencies and issued a clean audit. The Board voted to accept the audit.
DOE Annual Meeting
The Stewardship Council hosted DOE’s annual update for 2016. Updates included:
• groundwater monitoring;
• surface water monitoring;
• ecological monitoring; and,
• surveillance, maintenance and site operations.
DOE’s presentation can be found at: http://www.lm.doe.gov/Rocky_Flats/Documents.aspx
(click on link titled: “Overview of the Annual Report of Site Surveillance and Maintenance Activities at the Rocky Flats Site.”)
Legacy Management Monthly Site Activities Summary
DOE reports site personnel conducted the following activities in May.
Groundwater Treatment Systems
• East Trenches Plume Treatment System (ETPTS): DOE reports the system, which now includes treating contaminated water that was previously treated by the Mound Site Plume Treatment System, is working as designed.
• Solar Ponds Plume Treatment System (SPPTS): DOE reports the system is working as designed.
Original Landfill (OLF)
• Installed seven geoprobe wells on the OLF hillside and on the pediment above the OLF.
• Replaced five existing piezometers that had steel pipe screens with PVC prepacked screens. The goal is to increase their effectiveness.
• Water level measurements in the new piezometers just upgradient and downgradient of the OLF East Subsurface Drain (ESSD) indicate that the ESSD is functioning well. There is approximately a 12-foot drop in water level from the upgradient side to the downgradient side.
North Walnut Creek Slump
• Installed four geoprobe wells along the SPPTS collection trench to evaluate groundwater levels near the North Walnut Creek slump.
Page 2 of 2
• Regraded the slump behind the A-series pond road.
• Started re-grading and crack repairs at the North Walnut Creek slump.
• Conducted erosion control and wetland water level surveys.
• Installed wattles along the ETPTS at selected locations. The purpose is to reduce the width of the road.
• Conducted prairie dog surveys of current and previously occupied prairie dog town. Only the one town north of the A-4 pond outside the Central Operable Unit on the Rocky Flats refuge had any prairie dogs.
• Counted spring survival of woody plants at habitat enhancement locations.
• Conducted nest survey of general project areas. No nests were found. Installed coyote cutouts and reflectors to deter nesting birds from using the area
Stewardship Council Update
Upcoming 2017 Board meetings: September 11, October 30
Thank you so much to the scientists and other experts who volunteered their time to come and speak. Thank you to all who attended. Remember, when searching for the truth, follow the money. Carl Spreng, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is not a spokesperson for the people. His salary paid by the Department of Energy, and these officials would like you to believe nuclear debris can be cleaned up and the remains are safe. Unfortunately, the technology for dealing with nuclear waste does not exist. The "cleanup" of Rocky Flats included a coverup - many building foundations were buried (look at our logo). There are no safe levels of plutonium.
There has been no testing, in spite of massive amounts of water from the plant site pouring over Indiana during the 2013 floods. But the CDPHE spokesperson assured me that no testing is needed, since everything was shown to be fine over a decade ago. Please call or email Lindsay Masters and explain that proper testing needs to occur before any soil is disturbed along Indiana.
Please email the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners and ask them to say no to relocating a Longmont Prairie dog colony to Rocky Flats. At several Rocky Flats Stewardship Council meetings, the DOE contracted worker in charge of the environment has reported that the prairie dogs are not thriving at Rocky Flats. Not only would the relocation be harmful to the prairie dogs themselves, but the prairie dogs would almost certainly spread contamination around the site and offsite. http://jeffco.us/bcc/contact/
Rocky Flats produced plutonium pits for decades, but production ceased in 1989. Currently, Los Alamos, New Mexico is the only place where production can take place, but due to safety violations, no plutonium pits are being made. http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/repeated-safety-lapses-hobble-lanl-s-work-on-u-s/article_f45dd72a-d6f6-580c-97af-8ffcb9fe8364.html