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.

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.

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.

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

Judge Approves Rocky Flats Settlement

U.S. District Judge John L. Kane has given preliminary approval to the $375 million settlement between nearby residents of the Rocky Flats Plant and the plant operators, Rockwell International Corp. and the Dow Chemical Company. “The allocation for the $375 million settlement, according to the Kane’s order, is 81.5 percent for residential properties, 15.3 percent for vacant land and 3.2 percent for commercial properties. Up to 40 percent of the total — or $150 million — could be awarded as fees to the attorneys in the case.”

There are 13,000 to 15,000 households that may be eligible for payments. There is a website where people can check to see whether their property is in the area involved and make them eligible for payments. There is a map showing the area involved. The property has to have been owned by the claimant or their family members on June 7, 1989, the day the FBI raided the plant “…to look for environmental crimes.”

I’m not going to celebrate this, because I believe it to be a miscarriage of justice. A previous ruling by a three judge panel found that no actual damage had occurred. This ruling is apparently based on a “nuisance law.” The total amount of $375million for the plant creating a “nuisance” seems to me to be extremely excessive considering the huge economic boost the plant gave to the area over decades of operation, which of course involves the area of the settlement.

FBI Ruling on Hillary Clinton

The determination that no charges will be brought against Hillary Clinton for using a private email server that could have (and probably did) result in compromising highly classified material bothers me on several levels. I and others at the Rocky Flats Plant were required to carefully protect classified information. It was made abundantly clear that carelessness with classified reports could have dire consequences, to include loss of your clearance (and therefore your job) and possible criminal charges. I’ve never believed Ms Clinton’s assertion that she had never sent classified information on her private server and that nothing ever sent was marked classified. We were briefed on what would be classified, and we treated incomplete reports as classified from the moment we began drafting a report. It was deemed “born classified.” I’m confident Ms. Clinton didn’t need a secret or top secret stamp on much of the information to know it was classified and should be treated as such.

On another level, it is easy compare this situation to the FBI raid on Rocky Flats that found nothing alleged in the search warrant. The Justice Department persisted in continuing the investigation with a Grand Jury in a desperate search for why they conducted the raid. They refused to give up and admit they were wrong. They eventually forced Rockwell to plead guilty to crimes that would not have been crimes anywhere else. Almost all of the items in the plea bargain referred to environmental issues that had been reported in detail by the plant well before the raid and, in the words of the plea bargain, had no negative offsite effects. All the raid accomplished was frightening local citizens, but the Justice Department persisted in forcing a guilty plea that helped save their reputations. Apparently Clinton’s reputation was judged to be more important than the reputation of the FBI.

Why did the FBI not find a “Martha Stewart” type of violation in Hillary’s case? Stewart had been accused of insider trading, no evidence was found to support the claim, but she was convicted of lying to federal investigators (or at least giving them conflicting information). Why was Hillary given a pass despite the fact she repeatedly lied? The only logical answer is that Hillary was treated differently because of her political position.

This makes me very sad for the country. The laws are apparently really only for the “Little People.” To paraphrase Orwell’s Animal Farm, we “Little People” have naively believed all people are equal. We now know that some people are more equal than others.

Rocky Flats Museum Meeting

There was a commentary last week discussing the most recent Rocky Flats Museum Newsletter and how that newsletter rekindled my interest in the museum. I sent some emails and was invited to a lunch meeting with “Murph” Widdowfield, President of the museum. He bought my lunch at Nancy’s on 7120 Federal Blvd. He brought me a packet of information that I intend to very briefly summarize. The first thing that was obvious was the list of the Board of Directors has a heavy influence by Rocky Flats alums and is missing the people who once served on the board to make certain the anti-Rocky Flats perspective had a heavy influence on anything the museum did. I had ended my volunteering at the museum because I became tired of getting openly frustrated that I believed the desire was to present a negative desription of the plant. One article in the packet describes how “Rocky Flats spawned many rumors and misconceptions over the years. These misconceptions have grown in some people’s minds into reality.” I believed the anti-Rocky Flats group working on the museum was working to encourage those kinds of misconceptions, and I ended my participation when I failed to convince them they would kill the museum with that approach. Listening to Murph and his interesting presentation about what is happening now makes me want to get back involved.

The packet of information included a history of the finances of the museum and how the rental fees and other operating costs effectively ate up the initial “seed” money from a Kaiser-Hill LLC grant and congressional appropriation arranged with the help of then Senator Wayne Allard. A problem surfaced when DOE directed that none of that appropriation could be used for fund raising, which resulted in the money being drawn down without mechanisms being developed to replace it. To get to the point, funding of a permanent museum is the overreaching problem. There are large amounts of artifacts that could be used to build something that would be worthy of the value the plant had in helping defend the nation during the Cold War while also helping to build the communities in the Front Range that would not be as vibrant if there had never been a plant.

Murph gave a passionate description of the governmental agencies and people he has contacted to help with development of a viable museum. He convinced me I should participate in some form. My initial reaction is to offer research support that will be useful to understanding why the country decided the Rocky Flats Plant was needed to develop a nuclear deterrence to the risk of Soviet aggression. I intend to offer to provide segments of the book I’m drafting about the history of nuclear weapons and why the country decided Rocky Flats was needed for the monthly newsletters. I’ll be interested in what happens next.