Radioactive Iodine and Thyroid Cancer

I posted a commentary about how the State of Colorado has announced they intend to study the incidence of thyroid cancers around the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. The decision was inspired by allegations by people calling themselves “Downwinders.” I speculated that the fears of thyroid cancer were stoked by an autobiography of someone who grew up near the plant and believed the facility was responsible for increased incidence of cancers, including thyroid cancer.

I mentioned in the December 7th commentary that the autobiography, which attracted and continues to attract significant readership, had many technical flaws. I obtained a copy of the book on interlibrary loan from the local library, which has three copies that were all checked out. I don’t intend to do a detailed review, but will reiterate my first reaction to the book was that it contained a complete catalog of outlandish rumors that were spread by critics of the Rocky Flats Plant. The book has too many inaccuracies to have generated the attention it gained, and I only intend to list a few:

  • Page 17 mentions how the workers stand in front of glove boxes to “. .       .mold and hammer the plutonium ‘buttons’ into shape” (That’s just silly!)
  • Page 18 introduces the word “trigger” for the use of atomic weapons to initiate thermonuclear fusion “. . .of a hydrogen bomb—a mushroom cloud, as in the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki.” (That bomb was not a hydrogen bomb. It is mentioned on the same page that the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki was an atomic bomb.)
  • Pages 29-30 summarizes the amount of plutonium released from the 1957 fire in Building 771 as being “. .       .from 500 grams to as much as 92 pounds of plutonium or more.” This is an example of the willingness of the book to publish absurd exaggerations. The 92 pounds of plutonium would equate to about 3000 curies. Add twelve zeros if you want to convert that into the picocurie unit used to monitor air, water, and soil around the plant. That immense amount of plutonium released into the environment would have swamped the many thousands of samples collected around the plant during and after its operations. As the book points out, the half life of plutonium is around 24,000 years, so releases on the order of what the book mentions would have been persistent and easy to detect.

I believe the Colorado study will conclude that the Rocky Mountain region and the Denver metropolitan area had a higher incidence of thyroid cancer than the rest of the nation. There is a discussion on page 89 that snow will wash radioactive particles from the atmosphere, and the area has heavy snowfall. The era of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons resulted in higher incidence of thyroid cancer among youngsters who drank the milk of animals eating grass contaminated by that snow-related fallout. I speculate in the book I’m currently writing that Rocky Flats indeed had an impact on risk of thyroid cancer. Children of people moving to the area to participate in the economic boon created by the plant could be said to have been exposed to higher risk. Note that the increased risk had nothing to do with the operations or emissions from Rocky Flats. That probably wasn’t the intention of the author when she wrote on page 331, “Nearly every family we know in the neighborhood has had some form of cancer or thyroid problems.”

The author mentions that the area around the Rocky Flats Plant is “safe” according to government agencies on page 333. She then dismisses that conclusion in following pages. My conclusion is that you should be careful in selecting what you read about Rocky Flats. There are still people who protested the place and its mission who want you to believe the worst. The truth is that Rocky Flats accomplished its national defense mission and the people who worked there were diligent in assuring that they and their families living near the plant were safe.

Water from the Sky, Water from the Ground


I grew up in New York State. If a stream ran through my property there, I could pump water out of it.

Not so in Colorado or many other states. Every drop of water out west belongs to someone: As it falls from the sky, as it runs across the land, as it sinks into aquifers. There’s a saying in Colorado that “whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting.” In Colorado, people still shoot each other over water. The Great American Desert never disappeared and may be coming back with rising temperatures and increased drought.

I had to learn that it’s illegal to have a rain barrel in Colorado – illegal to collect the rain that fell on my roof. Not that county sheriffs spent a lot of time searching for scofflaws – but it was unexpected for many transplant like myself.

But that’s about to change.

Danielson of Wheat Ridge and state Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo sponsored a bill in the Colorado Legislature, House Bill 16-1005 (pdf), that would allow homeowners to collect rain from a residential rooftop. The bill passed the state House with overwhelming bipartisan support on Feb. 29, and passed the state Senate 27-6 on April 1. It’s now waiting for Gov. John Hickenloope to sign it into law.

Homeowners will be limited to 110 gallons of storage capacity, but this represents a change in the state. It represents some compromises – a bad word in some people’s mind these days. But Colorado is not alone:

Record droughts and a host of other water-supply worries have prompted numerous other states [15!] to enact laws that impact the use of rain barrels

Climate change, drought, and population growth is impacting the land we love. This will force us to confront water issues whether we like it or not. I live in southwest New Mexico now, with no irrigated “yard” at all and only container-raised herbs and one or two tomatoes each year. But I still own Colorado water rights, still marvel at how cheap it is to lease water for alfalfa and how expensive it is to buy water for a home.

We have some hard choice to make in the future, some choices about priorities – lawns vs food vs hay vs tradition vs cities vs… I don’t know what. There will be losers and winners, but it’s a topic we must address.

Government Support of Rugged Individualism

VillaUncleSamBerrymanCartoonMy recent review of The Oregon Trail couldn’t cover everything – it’s a long and interesting book. But I found this fascinating:

With reference to the Pacific Wagon Road Act of 1857, author Rinker Buck notes that “among other improvements to the trail… [it] became one of the largest government-financed projects of the nineteenth century… This model of government support for a major development project became popular and was accepted as the new norm. Each new phase of frontier growth… was also supported by either outright government subsidies, land giveaways, or federally supported irrigation and bridge-building projects. That was the tradition established by the Oregon Trail and it has always amused me that the myth of ‘rugged individualism’ still plays such a large role in western folklore and American values. In fact, our vaulted rugged individualism was financed by huge government largess.”

I’m no historian, but that resonates for me.

Certainly in my own home area of southwest New Mexico, the federal government conquered Native American and Mexican lands to allow Anglo Americans to move in – perhaps not the history we most wish to brag about. But denying the role of government is simply silly.

We New Mexicans try to come to terms with some of our history – the American town of Columbus recently “celebrated” Pancho Villa’s raid 100 years ago with its Mexican neighbor-town of Palomas. Maybe “celebrated” is wrong because people died – “commemorated”, perhaps – or just found a good reason for a street fair. In 1916, the United States invaded another country to protect its citizens! But today we all remember a freedom fighter for Mexico and our ties across the boarder. BTW – Do you know that American school buses pick up American-born children in Columbus and transport them to Deming every school-day?

When traveling to Palmoas for cheaper drugs or eye-care or dentistry, I always have lunch in Mexico at the Pink Store. If you ever get down here, I recommend it.

Celebrate the rugged pioneers, taciturn cowboys, and self-reliant ranchers – they were all of those things – but remember that without government support, the American West would be a very different place. That’s still true today.

Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks

ranger confidentialEver wonder what National Park rangers talk about when they swap war stories over a beer? In Ranger Confidential, Andrea Lankford offers you a chance to find out with this collection of related stories – a wonderful view into the nitty-gritty of rangers’ lives.

National parks are small, self-contained towns and must provide all the services that implies, from jails to restaurants. As one ranger noted, they are “cops, firemen, EMTs, and game wardens! All of the fun stuff in one job.”

The format allows you to dip in and out of chapters, hearing about the lives and experiences of several rangers, including the author. As you’d expect, these stories are the “most.” Most stupid, most frustrating, most unfair, most drunk.

Park visitors bring all the troubles of society with them.

  • Many of the stories are not G-rated. Early in the book one ranger arrests a man caught masturbating over a woman who was asleep on a beach.
  • There are kidnappings, fights, and nuts trying to blow rocks off Yosemite waterfalls with home made bombs.
  • Bureaucratic frustrations abound – you can’t apply for a full time (with benefits – an important point) federal job unless you have a full time federal job.
  • Climbing accidents can be horrific, and rescue or recovery dangerous.
  • Suicides are traumatic for responders, and there was a flurry of people driving their cars off the edge into the Grand Canyon after a popular movie ended with that very act.
  • “Tombstone humor” is common. Upon finding the decomposing body of a fallen climber after a long search, one ranger comments “I don’t think he’ll make it.”
  • Locals are often angry at rangers for enforcing rules so a night off “in town” can turn unpleasant. “Pine pigs” is one taunt.
  • Concession employees who live in the park can be as dangerous as visitors, with drunken fights and rapes.

Animals figure in stories, too. Continue reading

If Wishes Were Horses… and Merry Christmas

christmas-wreath-mdThis was one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings:

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

According to wikipedia, it comes from a 16th century nursery rhyme and “is usually used to suggest that it is useless to wish and that better results will be achieved through action. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20004.” Who knew there was a Roud Folk Song Index?

An early version was recorded in Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine, printed in 1605. “The modern rhyme was probably the combination of two of many versions and was collected by James Orchard Halliwell in the 1840s.”

Here’s the whole rhyme:

If wishes were horses,
Beggars would ride.
If turnips were watches,
I’d wear one by my side,:
If Ifs and Ands were pots and pans,
There’d be no work for tinkers’ hands.

There are lots of these sorts of phrases:

If ‘if’ was a skiff we would all take a boat ride.
If we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had any eggs.
If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his ass a-hoppin’.

I think people enjoy making them up. I’m reminded of one that goes like this:

If Ands and Buts were fruits and nuts
We’d all have a Merry Christmas.

Some versions use “candy and nuts” or “ifs and buts.” I saw it attributed by stackexchange and Phrase Finder bulletin board to Don Meredith (football player and commentator.)

Since the phrase has been used popularly of late – by John Boehner and Sheldon Cooper for example – a google search for the origin is rather overwhelmed by pop references. I’d rather do something else today.

So – Don Meredith- you get the credit!

Merry Christmas.

Fifth Anniversary of RockyFlatsFacts

insiders-viewIt has been five years since we launched this site to provide the book titled, “An Insider’s View of Rocky Flats:  Urban Myths Debunked.” Many have elected to buy the book despite the fact it was available to be downloaded free. My opinion is that pictures in the Kindle version, including pictures of two types of plutonium ingots, make that version worthwhile. The controversies about the Plant are reflected in the 24 reviews of the book, which range from a one star review titled, “Political Parlance!,” to a five star review beginning “Great book.” (The average is listed at 3.9 stars, but of course I think the five star reviews are the most accurate!)

Getting some statistics about the web site out of the way, the current counter indicates there have been just under 1.5 million visitors, with the average being about 500 visitors a day. There will have been 806 postings when this one is added. Those postings have been just about equally divided between commentaries, book reviews, and expressions. Frequent readers know that there is no way to predict the subjects, since we write about whatever attracts our interest on a given day. RF Alum continues to read and post reviews of books that provide information for the quest to write a book about nuclear deterrence during the Cold War and the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. Ponderer adds diversity to the reviews and commentary with a wide-ranging mix of subjects. We continue to marvel at the wealth of new expressions despite the fact we’ve posted descriptions of the origins for almost 270. The first one posted five years ago was “Hog on Ice & Other Curious Expressions” from Charles Earle Funk’s book with that title. That expression came from Funk’s mother. She had a thing about “cockily independent, supremely confident” people who were actually just as helpless as a hapless hog sprawled on ice and unable to stand.

The two frequent contributors also have been busy writing and publishing books. Ponderer (Kate Rauner) has published two new books. The first is “Glory on Mars: Colonization Book 1” The second book is titled “Born on Mars: Colonization Book 2.” Check out all four of her books on Amazon.  RF Alum published a sequel to “Angry Pigs Organized Against Gerbils:  The Farmer Island War,” titled “Farmer Island Magic.” The four grandchildren once again served as “Creative Staff and Illustrators.” You can check the Amazon page listing my three books and, strangely, a science report written when I was attempting to be a science researcher. Even stranger is that there are six used copies of “Insider’s View” beginning at $30.12 and six new offered beginning at $36.89. You might want to check the $9.95 paperback or $3.99 Kindle instead. I’m hoping to have the nonfiction book about the early history of Rocky Flats published before our sixth anniversary. As the expression goes, time will tell.

Indian Summer – Can We Be Offended If We Don’t Know?

Recently on Weather Underground, a show on the Weather Channel, the host said management had decreed they no longer use the phrase “Indian Summer” for a warm autumn day, but rather “Second Summer.” He went on to say some Native Americans find the phrase offensive but others do not, and left the impression he disagreed with his management – I don’t know how brave or foolish that may be for an employee on cable TV.

My Google search provided this as its top link: “Although the exact origins of the term are uncertain, it is thought to have been based on the warm and hazy conditions in autumn when native American Indians chose to hunt.”

While that certainly refers to Native Americans, it hardly seems offensive. Though I doubt warm fall days were the only time to hunt!

Phrase Finder says

Indian summer is first recorded in Letters From an American Farmer, a 1778 work by the French-American soldier turned farmer J. H. St. John de Crèvecoeur…[It arrived in England] during the heyday of the British Raj in India. This led to the mistaken belief that the term referred to the Indian subcontinent.”

No one knows why the phrase refers to Indians, but Phrase Finder lists several theories. The one that may lead to offense is:

In a parallel with other ‘Indian’ terms it implied a belief in Indian falsity and untrustworthiness and that an Indian summer was an ersatz copy of the real thing.

Since no one knows the source of the term and there are many “harmless” theories, I’m surprised the phrase is falling into disrepute.