Rocky Flats critics want radioactive material testing before Jefferson Parkway construction

A group of local residents have just sent a letter to officials in Arvada, Broomfield, Westminster, Golden and Superior, urging them to request that the Environmental Protection Agencies and the state's health department test airborne dust in the area of Rocky Flats that could become part of the Jefferson Parkway.

Rocky Flats, a former nuclear weapons plant, processed plutonium, and although it's being turned into a wildlife center by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, critics point out that the soil is still contaminated with radioactive materials -- materials that could be stirred up by the construction of the Jefferson Parkway on the eastern edge of the site under a proposed land swap that Superior and Golden have already sued to stop.

"It's no secret that the Rocky Flats site is still contaminated with highly toxic radioactive materials like plutonium and americium," says LeRoy Moore of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center about the letter, which was sent earlier this morning. "Some of us are concerned that constructing a highway at Rocky Flats would endanger people's health. We decided to send a letter urging officials of the cities most affected to get EPA and CDPHE to do needed air sampling so we can all better understand conditions out there."

Here's the letter -- signed by Moore and a dozen others, supported by many more, and copied to still more:

February 21, 2012

Building the Jefferson Parkway along the contaminated Indiana St. edge of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge would endanger public health by stirring up clouds of dust laden with plutonium, americium and other radionuclides.

In 1970 Atomic Energy Commission scientists showed that the area now intended for the proposed highway was contaminated with plutonium released from Rocky Flats. Recent citizen sampling shows that plutonium contamination in the soil in this same area at present is roughly equivalent to what it was in 1970. See: http://leroymoore.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/pusamplingjeffpkwyrfnwr/

Highway construction in the area therefore would stir up clouds of breathable particles of plutonium and other alpha-emitting radionuclides. DOE and EPA state that inhalation is by far the worst way to be exposed to such highly toxic material, since particles that lodge in the body continually irradiate surrounding tissue. The result years later could be cancer and immune suppression, leading to other chronic illnesses.

This reality, plus the documented deficiency of historic air sampling at Rocky Flats (see Nichols on Air Sampling and Biggs on Airborne Emissions at http://rmpjc.org/rocky-flats/ ) forced us to consider setting up our own project to sample airborne dust for radionuclide content along Indiana St. adjacent to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. This would provide baseline data for airborne dust along the proposed route. But we think private citizens should not have to cover the costs of needed sampling; it is the responsibility of the affected communities to safeguard the health of their populations.

If the Jefferson Parkway were to be built, the most affected people, aside from highway construction workers, would be residents of Arvada, Broomfield, Westminster, Superior and Golden. We therefore propose that elected representatives of these cities request jointly or as separate bodies that EPA and CDPHE sample airborne dust on both high-wind and low-wind days at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge area intended for the Jefferson Parkway, with the samples to be analyzed for plutonium and other radionuclide content. The proposed EPA/CDPHE sampling must meet the following conditions:

1. EPA and CDPHE's sampling protocols and procedures will be transparent and will be monitored and approved by independent specialists designated by the authors of this message. CDPHE sampling will be conducted separately by both its Air Pollution Control Division and its Radiological Division.

2. The sampling will begin without delay.

3. EPA and CDPHE will issue bi-weekly reports of their sampling results, providing a baseline for airborne radionuclide-bearing dust in the area.

4. If highway construction begins along the eastern edge of the Wildlife Refuge, sampling by EPA and CDPHE of dust for gross alpha content must occur in this area around the clock with computerized real-time report of gross alpha measurements to be disclosed immediately to the public. Gross alpha measurements are important because both thorium and uranium, also alpha-emitters, are present in this soil and thus pose additional inhalation danger, though less than plutonium or americium.

5. All costs of sampling, analysis, reporting and monitoring are to be borne by the Jefferson Parkway Authority or by some party it designates, such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. In December 2011 USFWS issued a "Finding of No Significant Impact," giving itself permission to transfer land to the Jefferson Parkway Authority.

Finally, the parties to whom this message is addressed are asked to provide the signatories of this message a definitive yes or no answer to our proposal within 45 days, that is, by April 6, 2012.

Thank you for your attention to this proposal. Comments or questions can be addressed in writing to LeRoy Moore at [email protected]

Just two months ago, it looked like the Jefferson Parkway might have an easy ride -- but then Superior and Golden started kicking up dust. Read more in the Patricia Calhoun column "Dust Up."