Rocky Flats and the Downwinders

As predicted, large numbers of people are lining up to demand more money from the government after DOE agreed to a $375 million settlement of a lawsuit by people near the plant. People in the metropolitan area of Denver not included in the settlement area now want some money for themselves. A recent Denver Post article describes a meeting to describe preliminary results of a survey by the Metropolitan State University of Denver in which “. .  . respondents reported unexpectedly large numbers of cases of thyroid cancer and rare cancers.” The nurse presenting the information probably disappointed a large audience by saying “There is no way currently to determine whether those cancers identified occurred at higher rates in people who lived near Rocky Flats than they do in the general population.”

I became suspicious about the reports of thyroid cancers when I saw a television report of the meeting showing Kristen Iversen addressing the crowd. She published an autobiography of her experiences growing up near Rocky Flats. Her popular but technically flawed book mentions that many of her relatives and neighbors had thyroid problems. The book inferred that Rocky Flats was similar to the Chernobyl disaster, which resulted in numerous children developing thyroid cancer from the emissions of radioactive iodine. To the best of my knowledge, exposure to radioactive iodine is the primary cause of thyroid cancer, although there are undoubtedly some who develop it simply because it is in their DNA. Rocky Flats never had a criticality accident and didn’t process radioactive iodine.

A limited search found numerous articles describing thyroid cancer and the causes. One article had some very interesting observations. “People younger than 15 at the time of aboveground testing (between 1945 and 1963) who drank milk, and who lived in the Mountain West, Midwestern, Eastern, and Northeastern United States, probably have a higher thyroid cancer risk from exposure to I-131 in fallout than people who lived in other parts of the United States, who were over the age of 15 in the 1940s, or who did not drink milk.”

It would be interesting to learn how many of the respondents to the survey claiming thyroid problems and were younger than 15 while aboveground testing was proceeding and drank milk. I’m cynically skeptical that question won’t be asked, since the objective of the study is to blame Rocky Flats for any and all health problems. The reality is that the Colorado nuisance law apparently doesn’t even require actual health effects. All that is required is to prove the mere presence of the Rocky Flats Plant created some sort of concern, irritation, or anxiety. Perhaps doing health surveys and studying the results isn’t need to collect money.

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