The State of Colorado Department of Health has announced they intend to “. . . study the incidence of thyroid cancer in neighborhoods around the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, after a survey backed by a community group raised concerns.” I think that such a study is completely justified, since the group, called the “Downwinders,” is alleging that there is a higher incidence of that cancer in neighborhoods near where the Plant operated.
An article in the Denver Post points out that a 1998 Colorado Department of Health “. . . study using a statewide cancer database concluded that those near Rocky Flats didn’t suffer from cancer rates higher than people in the metro area. But that study didn’t look specifically at incidence of thyroid cancer or other rare cancers. . . . . “
I think I know why this has become an issue. An autobiography, which has many technical flaws but attracted significant readership, raises the issue of thyroid cancer in association with Rocky Flats. I need to get a copy of the book from the library, but, as I recall, the allegation is that Rocky Flats was somehow equivalent to Chernobyl. The book ignores many technical facts, and one is that youngsters in the Rocky Mountain region who drank milk were more likely to develop thyroid cancer because of radioactive iodine in fallout (accumulated in the milk) from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. One area where that was identified as more prevalent of a problem was the “Rocky Mountain West.”
I’m in favor of the study that Colorado has announced, and I predict the Downwinders will be disappointed in the results. Rocky Flats did not process radioactive iodine that is commonly associated with thyroid cancer. However, I understand there are many who continue to be influenced by the sadly flawed raid of the Rocky Flats Plant by the Justice Department in 1989 that understandably worried people who lived nearby. My reassurance to those people is simple. Those of us who worked at Rocky Flats and lived nearby with our families did everything possible to protect them and ourselves.