Living around the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

Is it safe to live in Candelas? Is it safe to visit the Wildlife Refuge? Who says what and whom should I trust? Why?  Some suggested readings and a List of Players.

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Radiation and risk

There is a huge conceptual gap between the "ground truth" of soil contamination (by known, measured levels of Pu) and the estimates that people living around the Refuge have an additional risk of cancer in the range of 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1,000,000.  These documents fill that gap without being too technical.

PS: This 'excess' exposure changes your lifetime risk of dying of cancer from, in effect, 22.00000% to 22.00001%; changing your diet could change the 22% to 15%, a factor of 1 million times larger.

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The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

As of June 2019 we have geo-tagged direct measurements of the ambient dose equivalent radiation rate (ADER) INSIDE the Refuge on the trails available in April 2019.  It is entirely consistent with ordinary background radiation along the Front Range and varies by not more than 2% from place to place.  A spiffy 2-page flyer summarizes this new information and acts as a current trail map.  An older doc uses a worst-case scenario to estimate the extra radiation dose due to plutonium alone.

Read on for some important remarks and links to documents in the Knowledge Base.

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Why this site exists

How weird is this?  A web site about a wildlife refuge and radiation safety?  If you know nothing about the history of Rocky Flats this will appear a strange combination.

If you live in Candelas, Leyden Rock, Leyden Ranch, Whisper Creek, Five Parks, or Skyestone, you have already made your peace with the legacy of the Rocky Flats plant (and voted with your feet).  Yet you will encounter plenty of misinformation by innuendo, dark hints about the advisability of developing the areas around Rocky Flats, opening the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, and about the risks associated with building the  Jefferson Parkway (which as of late 2017 appears on indefinite hold anyway).

Those who worked at the original nuclear processing plant or lived downwind during the plant's operations (including two serious fires) undoubtedly suffered from the mismanagement of the Rocky Flats plant.  Yet the plant operations and subsequent Superfund mitigation had a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Some of the opponents of visiting the Wildlife Refuge or living nearby use 30-year old data, or lack the quantitative tools to carry any discussion forward.  The net effect is to confuse some people, muddy the waters about the actual risks of Rocky Flats, and to delay constructive use of the land available until every possible issue is clarified.  An excellent, brief introduction to the current status can be found in an overview published by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

This site is intended to fill in a great deal of the science behind the assurances that both the developments around the wildlife refuge and the Refuge itself are safe.  Wherever possible, citations of current (when possible, less than 5 year old) peer-reviewed journal articles are given. Resources for those who wish to delve deeper are in the Knowledge Base (see the menu bar).

Don't trust Department of Energy or Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data? Calm your paranoia.  The dose estimates on this site are essentially independent of these (using only observed radiation levels), yet are consistent with DOE/CDPHE findings.


To those who think Rocky Flats (the area and the Refuge) is dangerous but aren't sure

Welcome to you too!  We may have common ground.  

If you choose to remain in Colorado, have not installed a radon mitigation system, or allow your kids to get medical or dental X-rays or use tanning booths or if your house has smoke detectors, you are complicit in allowing them (and yourself) to be exposed to radiation.  If you get mammograms, or radiation therapy for cancer, or medical diagnostics involving radiopharmaceuticals, same deal.  All raise your chance of cancer.  You can

  1. Assume these are all safe, or you can worry about each individually.
  2. Educate yourself (using this site's sources from the U.S., from international agencies, textbooks, and peer-reviewed journals) about the process by which some radiation doses are regarded as safe. This will in passing reassure you (mostly) about all of the issues above. The risk you take (the price you pay for this reassurance) is that you will probably emerge understanding why RF is considered to be a safe place to live around or visit.
  3. Bail out of this site, having decided that it's all “Department of Energy propaganda”, or that you already know ground truth, or that the entire subject of radiation is disturbing and unknowable.

You have these choices. If you are interested in the second you will find this web site useful and (we hope) sympathetic to your situation. It is designed to “walk you through”, via a series of relatively short and not very technical documents (each annotated with multiple direct links to relevant articles or documents), the biology of radiation damage, the epidemiology of cancer, what is known beyond dispute about the area around Rocky Flats, and the many decades of careful work that allow the scientific and medical communities to relate your chances of radiation-induced cancer to the radiation dose you receive.

Use our resources

We suggest: read the documents in our Knowledge Base and contact us to have your particular questions answered and/or added to our documentation.