Objectivity of Rocky Flats Reporting

A recent Denver Post article by Bruce Finley has some interesting information about plans for opening twenty miles of hiking, cycling, and horseback riding and a visitor center on the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge in 2018. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding public meeting to solicit public input. They undoubtedly will have the usual activists show up to warn of the supposed dangers. Dave Lucas, The refuge manager mentions in the article, “Downwind of the plant there’s residual contamination. Plutonium is one of the contaminants, but it is at levels that were determined to be acceptable.” As I understand the plans, the trails being considered are on the dominantly upwind side of the plant where plutonium concentrations are about the same as fallout levels all throughout Colorado.

One paragraph in the article discusses “…the apparent end of litigation with surrounding suburbs over roadways has the cleared the way for work on relatively undisturbed wildlife habitat that extends into the mountain foothills.” I was unaware that the litigation had ended, but that is good news.

There are some inflammatory comments scattered through the article. For example, it says the “…feds…hope to tell the Rocky Flats story of evolution from American Indian hunting grounds through the Cold War military activities that ruined the environment and workers’ health to the current open oasis amid dust-churning monster house development.” Another short sentence proclaims, “Plutonium-tainted and other radioactive waste was buried at Rocky Flats causing an environmental disaster.” It’s no wonder why some people might avoid going to the refuge when it opens to take a beautiful and safe hike.

Make Ends Meet

In current political discussions, this phrase refers to people’s efforts to pay all their bills with inadequate funds. World Wide Words says the exact origin is unknown.

The oldest example I can find is from Thomas Fuller’s The History of the Worthies of England of about 1661: “Worldly wealth he cared not for, desiring only to make both ends meet; and as for that little that lapped over he gave it to pious uses”, but the fact that Fuller is making a little joke using it suggests he already knew of it as a set phrase.

One suggested origin refers to columns of bookkeeping numbers where credits and debits must match, or where end-of-year numbers must balance. Another suggestion is the phrase refers to having enough fabric to complete a dress.

English Language and Usage adds the possibility that the phrase comes from ropes on a sailing ship or wearing a belt that is too short, but without any references it’s speculation.

Better Cruel Truth, Darn It

In my years at Rocky Flats, I occasionally heard rumors that low levels of radiation were good for health – that Rocky Flats workers were healthier than they “should” be, that workers in the plutonium area got very few colds. One friend suggested it was because smoking was banned in so many places, while others said it was just because you had to be healthy to hold down the job. I shrugged it all off.

Now I’ve run into a Skeptiod episode by Brian Dunning entitled “Radiation Hormesis: Is It Good for You?” Dunning was, as you might guess, skeptical, in part because

“Those trumpeting the benefits of radiation hormesis the loudest are often the same ones who deny anthropogenic global warming. This may be the result of people getting their information from political sources rather than from science sources”

and cited other warning signs that the position may not be science

Dunn provides background, explaining the difference between ionizing vs non ionizing radiation and a dose-response curve. He notes that the “linear no threshold” approach used with radiation, which assumes there is no safe level of exposure, has been adopted to be “prudent.” Since we all live bathed in background radiation, “it seems reasonable to infer that very low doses of even ionizing radiation are harmless.” Even the Health Physics Society has stated “no threshold” is an oversimplification.

The hypothetical radiation hormesis says the actual dose-response curve is U-shaped, starting at zero response to zero exposure, but then dipping down below the zero-risk line

“indicating radiation at that dose actually reduces the risk of cancer, less risk than you’d have with no radiation at all — and then, as the dosage increases, the curve comes back into the increased risk zone, and continues curving upward as the dosage increase.”

After a literature review, Dunn says hormesis

“is one claim of a pattern that some say can be found in the data, but that most dismiss because the data is simply far too noisy at that low level to support the drawing of any conclusions at all.”

So there may be a positive effect, a negative effect, or no effect – all tiny responses lost in the noise of the data. I’m not surprised – though maybe a little disappointed. With so much hyperbolic criticism of Rocky Flats, it would be ironically delightful if working there improved my health. Too bad the science isn’t there. I do believe, as Edward Abbey said, better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.

A Bridge Too Far

I’ve heard this phrase bandied about as pundits discuss the latest political gaff of this year’s sorry presidential election. It means an action or step that is too ambitious or overreaching. I have the impression that it implies something that cannot be accepted or accomplished after a series of successful actions – and now I know why.

This is a fairly recent phrase coming from Operation Market Garden, an Allied airborne military operation of 1944 designed to strike at the heart of Nazi industry. Securing bridges for advancing ground forces was an essential part of the plan. Several brides were captured, but the operation failed to capture the main road bridge over the river Waa.

The specific phrase A Bridge Too Far is a 1977 epic war film, based on the 1974 book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan.

There’s No Place Like Home

joys of travelI recently heard an interview with Thomas Swick, a long-time travel writer who has a new book out – Joys of Travel. This isn’t a travel guide to finding restaurants and cathedrals; it’s about the experience of traveling.

Luckily my husband enjoys travel, which has allowed me to be a tag-along. Personally, I’m a home-body. The idea of a travel bucket list makes me envision racing through famous places. 1,000 Places See Before You Die tires me out just thinking about it, so I appreciated Swick’s opposite advice. He says, the less glamorous the location, the more rewarding it can be. Don’t simply be a tourist looking for the “best” hotels, restaurants, and museums. Try to live, if only briefly, the life of a local. He made one specific suggestion: go to the local post office, stand in line, hopefully chat with people, and buy stamps.

In Europe, 71% hold passports. Only 36% of Americans hold passports. That doesn’t count non-citizens, of course, who live in the US with their own country’s passport, so the total number of residents with passports is 42%, but that doesn’t mean many of us travel every year. William Chalmers figures that in 2009, just 5% of American residents traveled outside North America.

The size of the US must be considered – we can travel vast distances without ever “leaving home.” I’ve seen mountains, deserts, and oceans; museums and historical sites; bustling markets and live theater – all without leaving home. But none of the deep-seated cultural differences that world-travelers experience.

One of Swick’s “joys” is appreciating home. Whenever you travel, you’re learning about home. He says the multi-cultural make-up of the US is something he has come to appreciate.

Maybe that makes up a little for what this home-body has missed.

BTW – Swick’s seven joys of travel are: anticipation, movement, break from routine, novelty, discovery, emotional connection, and appreciation of home.


There is an internet rumor that the word originated from politicians sending assistants to taverns to sip drinks and learn the opinions of people. They were told, “You go sip here and you go sip there.” The instructions were merged to form the word “gossip.” According to the Snopes message board, the word actually came from the old English “godsibb” or “godparent” and refers especially to women invited to attend a birth and engage in casual conversation. It eventually transitioned to “anyone engaging in idle talk.” There are several references to that origin dating back to 1014.

Rocky Flats Lawsuit Settlement

A friend loaned me a pamphlet he received about the settlement, which had been sent from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. The proposed $375 million dollar settlement involves people who owned property near the Rocky Flats Plant on June 7, 1989 or are heirs to someone who did. A rough area of the settlement area begins from the plant and extends to slightly below 120th on the north, a bit beyond Wadsworth but not to Highway 36 on the east, and more or less to 72nd on the south in a sort of circular outline. There is a website that allows you to enter an address to see whether it is included in the area.


The class action lawsuit was originally filed January 30, 1990 under the Price-Anderson Act and under the Colorado state nuisance and trespass law. The jury found for the plaintiffs, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment in 2010. “The Tenth Circuit held that the Price-Anderson Act required Plaintiffs to prove additional and more severe harm than would be required under Colorado state nuisance law.” My interpretation of the ruling was that Price-Anderson required actual damages to have occurred and that perceived damages were inadequate to justify an award. It was also ruled that jury instructions were correct for some aspects but incorrect in others.

The complicated legal tussles continued with the plaintiffs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Tenth Circuit’s action. I thought the Court had decided not to hear the case, but the pamphlet states that the settlement was reached “…before the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the petitions… The plaintiffs asked the Tenth Circuit to consider an award under the Colorado nuisance law, and the Court agreed, ruling “…that Plaintiff’s nuisance claims were not preempted by the Price-Anderson Act.” Continue reading