The Rocky Flats Plant, located 15 miles northwest of Denver, produced plutonium triggers and other components for nuclear weapons from 1952 to 1992.
In 2005, the Department of Energy, DOE, declared the $7 billion cleanup of Rocky Flats complete. Part of the site has been turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a national wildlife refuge that would be accessible to the public.
Colorado State Representative Wes McKinley says the amount of plutonium found in the samples gathered by concerned citizens could be deadly. He is asking state and federal officials to delay opening the site to the public until further tests are conducted.
McKinley 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."
Local citizen Todd Margulies records data about a sample collected across Indiana Street from the Rocky Flats site. April 14, 2010. (Photo courtesy LeRoy Moore)
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, McKinley said. "This demonstrates that plutonium in breathable form is present on the site where children will be playing," he said.
Citizens gathered samples of dust after government agencies had repeatedly refused to sample surface dust near Rocky Flats for plutonium content.
"The plutonium found at the open space location was probably deposited there quite recently," said 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," he said.
Moore wants government agencies to establish a permanent program at Rocky Flats for periodic testing of breathable dust in surface soil for plutonium content.
Health Department spokesman Mark Salley told the "Boulder Daily Camera" newspaper that samples collected around the site have consistently indicated no or low levels of plutonium that are well below risk levels.
But a child of the chief engineer in charge of operations at Rocky Flats says, "Those of us who had parents who worked there agree that we would never set foot on the property."
This person, who did not give a name in a comment on the "Daily Camera" site, said, "Knowing some of the details of the contamination and mistakes made there, I am appalled that our ignorant government would ever consider allowing humans or animals to come in contact with the area. The half life of the nuclear materials is known to be a very long time span."
Todd Margulies collects a sample of dust from a house about a mile southeast of Rocky Flats. (Photo courtesy LeRoy Moore)
McKinley said, "The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge should be managed as open space that is closed to the public. Or, at minimum, Fish and Wildlife should post signs warning potential visitors to the refuge that risk is entailed in going onto the site."
Moore is concerned about 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.
Boston Chemical Data has tested for radiological contaminants in the Columbia River at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, and also at the Mayak Nuclear Materials Production Complex in Russia's Ural mountains.
Writer Kristen Iversen, who will soon publish a book entitled "Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Shadow of Rocky Flats," said, "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 U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, predecessor to the DOE, "themselves produced a map of the contaminated area downwind of Rocky Flats," Iversen said.
She proposed that the Department of Energy establish a program to analyze indoor dust for plutonium content for anyone who requests it for a building located in the area the Atomic Energy Commission defined as contaminated with plutonium released from Rocky Flats.
"This," she said, "is not only the right thing to do. It's long overdue."
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