Another feckless public servant suckered by conspiracy theory

The Peace & Justice Center has claimed another feckless bureaucrat. Another public servant who should know better has permitted himself to be used as a political tool by a savvy set of activists. I had hoped to see in Dr. Carl (oops—Mark B) Johnson's Denver Post guest commentary of 17th June [see ]
a thoughtful analysis of the actual data about the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge—plutonium levels and how they translate into excess cancer risks for visitors, based on his executive role at Jefferson County Public Health since 1990, one year after the Rocky Flats FBI raid. Instead we got platitudes and a rehash of Jon Lipsky's raison d'être, the `ambushed grand jury'. I'm happy to learn Dr. Johnson is opposed to nuclear contamination. Me too. Where was Dr. Johnson when citizens groups in the 1990s were hashing out what contamination levels were acceptable for various use scenarios for the Refuge?

It is Dr. Johnson's job to have identified—on behalf of the public in Jefferson County—whether a health threat exists. He has had almost 30 years to do so. Why now—months before the Wildlife Refuge is to open—develop scruples about an old issue? It is much easier to claim “not enough is known” and call for an “independent analysis” than to do the homework, of course. For Jeffco residents, if and when a new, actual health threat is identified, can we trust Dr. Johnson to accept science and/or the measurements? Or will he listen to noisy and uninformed “concerned citizen” groups? Remember the anti-vaxxers.

Yes, the sequestering of Grand Jury findings was a politically a very bad idea. Yes, the built-in conflicts of interest due to how the DOE subcontracts management of weapons facilities is an ongoing problem, but the data within the Refuge has not changed. Measurements of contamination levels should not be a matter of dispute. Since the 1950s a reasonable scheme to relate radiation exposure to excess cancer risk has been used; the DOE's tools for risk estimates are sophisticated and comprehensive. Dr. Johnson states “Concerned community groups and anti-nuclear activists also have data supporting their claim that the risk is not negligible.” I have seen no such data, apart from hearsay and anecdotal evidence, almost entirely among those working at or living downwind of the nuclear plant while it was operating. Risk is never negligible, but can be quantified to make public health decisions—Dr. Johnson should not need to be told this. If he or his friends can provide estimates or calculations, I'd love to see them. Portentous statements that there “could be” or “may be” risks or that “not enough is understood” are delaying tactics used to forestall the inevitable—the opening of the Refuge based on reliable, reproducible science. Those who don't believe the DOE can go through the radiation biology and recent cancer epidemiology to reproduce—independently of the DOE—risk estimates very comparable to DOE figures; see for all of the science with peer-reviewed journal citations and current developments, including dose estimates from visiting the Refuge.

Commentators less charitable than Mr. Carroll might label Dr. Johnson a political opportunist jumping onto the Rocky Mountain Peace&Justice bandwagon. He has been unable or unwilling to follow decades of straightforward science on how to radioactive contamination to epidemiological data. He can be trusted only to take the politically expedient path of least public noise instead of a principled stance based on measureable quantities and science. He has allied himself with the alarmist stance and what is effectively a conspiracy theory of former FBI agent Jon Lipsky, enthusiastically endorsed by the Peace & Justice Center and its fellow travelers.

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