Welcome to the neighborhood!
If you are a newcomer to Colorado or the Denver metro area the history of this area may not be fully known to you. If you are a long-timer you may not know what to believe, depending on where you get your information. The issue is the health implications of the radiation legacy of a former plutonium processing plant with (many say) sloppy practices.
The principal health impact of low doses (see the Knowledge Base for what this means) of nuclear radiation is cancer, and the "latency"--loosely speaking, the time between cause (exposure) and effect (disease)--of many cancers is decades. By contrast, the “canary in the coal mine” for a radiation problem (for example, Chernobyl) is leukemia, which emerges in less than 4 years. At and around Rocky Flats there has been no non-anecdotal (that is, confirmed) evidence of a leukemia problem (except in a report by Carl Johnson in 1981 which I have never been able to find). Those who worked at the plant have been repeatedly studied as part of a US cohort of nuclear workers working with plutonium (and with known doses of radiation because they wore dosimeters). The population around and downwind of Rocky Flats has been surveyed repeatedly by the state of Colorado.
It has been more than 25 years since the plant ceased operating and almost 50 since the later of the famous fires in 1957 and 1969, although appalling waste disposal practices persisted until the plant was closed. In effect the question of “Is it safe to live around Rocky Flats?” should be “If it's not safe, where are all the cancers?”
If you don't like this roundabout way of answering the question, this site will cheer you up. It will show you in detail (but as simply as possible) the process by which known radiation contamination levels are translated into cancer risk and reassure you that what the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency has been telling you is correct. It's also important to note that the US is not the only country which has wrestled with the legacy of nuclear weapons manufacture. England, France, Russia, and other countries with nuclear power requirements have all dealt with accidents and radiation releases. All use the same approach in quantifying risk and would reach very similar conclusions. The expected additional cancer risk from living nearby is in the ballpark of 1 in a million. This 'excess' exposure (over and above radiation you are already exposed to from living at this altitude on these soils) are 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 a million times bigger.
If the number of observed cancers among those directly exposed to the fallout of radioactive particles from the fires (and radioactive dust blowing off the site before the cleanup) were well above what is expected statistically in the absence of radiation exposure, we would have to acknowledge a strong impact on those living near or downwind of Rocky Flats during the late 1950s or late 1960s (or both) and even until the site was “cleaned up”. If it is not we would need to consider alternative explanations. These might include (i) the health impact of a well-mapped distribution of Pu isotopes (and other chemical carcinogens) is not as large as expected; (ii) some of the more disturbing possibilities, for example the inhalation of small particles of radioactive material and their lodging in the lungs ("hot particles") may not occur.
In fact work in the 1990s through the present strongly supports each of the possibilities above: (i) the dose-response curve (the so-called linear, no-threshold description) used to estimate cancer rates (the “response”) for a given amount of radiation exposure (“dose”) for low doses (such as those around Rocky Flats) significantly (possibly greatly) overestimates the cancer rate, and (ii) the "hot particle" theory has been discredited since the 1970s.
While this web site does not yet contain lots of information and analysis about the interior of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge (more is coming!), levels within the Refuge are not hugely different than levels outside. This means that cancer risks from visiting the Refuge will be comparable to those from living around the Refuge (such as in Candelas or Leyden Rock), as described above, but reduced by the fraction of time you actually spend within the Refuge. Remember that the Superfund cleanup was designed to make the Refuge completely safe for “wildlife refuge” workers who worked there at least 40 hours per week.
For the impatient: first read the document How people think about radiation and Rocky Flats, radiation and risk. Emboldened, you can read the Executive summary as well.
The list of players (November 2017)
So contentious has been the Superfund cleanup, use of the Rocky Flats site as a wildlife refuge, and the safety of even living nearby that “You can't tell the players without a scorecard” (a phrase attributed to an English-born food concessionaire at baseball games, to whom invention of the hot dog is also credited). This column is intended to help.
Links to information sources are given in green.
7265 people, 2557 households; median age 43
Almost 24% have post-undergraduate degrees; 45% have a bachelor's degree: almost 70% are college-educated or beyond.
Whisper Creek [https://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/CO/Whisper-Creek-Demographics.html]
26,016 people, 20,262 households; median age 43
Almost 18% have post-undergraduate degrees; 36% have a bachelor's degree: almost 54% are college-educated.
Leyden Rock [http://homesourcegroup.com/moving-leyden-rock/ data]
Very little post-2010 census data available except for Leyden itself.
Village of Five Parks Very little post-2010 census data available.
The point of the remarks above about educational levels is to show that those who live near the former Rocky Flats plant are in general well-educated and “voted with their feet” about how safe they feel in the new developments.
New residents need to accept their role as new stakeholders in what happens to the RF Wildlife Preserve and begin to exert their political influence. Reminder: We hugely outnumber those opposed (see below), but until we our voices are heard they will be drowned out by very opinionated people with no 'skin in the game'.
U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Legacy Management (DOE/LM) [https://www.lm.doe.gov/rocky_flats/Sites.aspx]
The Department of Energy subcontracted the management of the Rocky Flats plant and thus bears partial responsibility for gross safety infringements and sloppy practices there until the famous FBI raid of 1989. The DOE continues to subcontract management of nuclear facilities to large for-profit military contractor corporations and continues to suffer safety-related blunders as a consequence. [See ongoing reports under the heading 'National Security' at the Pulitzer Prize-winning Center for Public Integrity https://www.publicintegrity.org].
However, the Office of Legacy Management should not be tarred with the same brush. Its goals include (from their web site) to:
Protect human health and the environment
Preserve, protect, and share records and information
Safeguard former contractor workers’ retirement benefits
Sustainably manage and optimize the use of land and assets
Sustain management excellence
Engage the public, governments, and interested parties
Most documents it publishes are technical and not readily digestible by citizens who do not know the history and nomenclature of the site. The last few goals may not have the funding they would like.
The DOE Legacy Management Support Contractor for Rocky Flats is Bob Darr of Navarro Research and Engineering, Inc., an actual small subcontractor of the DOE.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [https://www.fws.gov/refuge/rocky_flats/]
Now manages the part of the Rocky Flats that is not part of the off-limits DOE “Legacy Site”. See a clear map of proposed use of the Preserve at https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/RockyFlatsNWR_ProposedVisitorFacilitiesMap.pdf
David Lucas is the current manager for the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [https://www.epa.gov/co]
This appears mostly useful as a repository of documents related to Rocky Flats. Want to know about radioactivity levels around Rocky Flats in 1970? This is the place for you.
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment [https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/rocky-flats]
This is perhaps the best source of comprehensible, comprehensive, and up-to-date documents about the history of the site and ongoing research. The current state project manager is Carl Spreng.
Rocky Flats Stewardship Council [http://rockyflatssc.org]
Meets at least four times per year. Membership consists of `local stakeholders': Jefferson and Boulder counties, City and County of Broomfield, and the cities of Arvada, Boulder, Golden, Northglenn, Thornton, Westminster.
The current members of its Board of Directors is available at the URL http://www.rockyflatssc.org/board_of_directors.html
David Abelson is the current director and principal contact for the RF Stewardship Council.
Non-governmental web sites
Opposing use of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Preserve:
LeRoy Moore blog https://leroymoore.wordpress.com
Candelas Glows https://candelasglows.com
The Ambushed Grand Jury https://rockyflatsambushedgrandjury.com
Rocky Flats Downwinders http://rockyflatsdownwinders.com
Rocky Flats Right to Know https://www.rockyflatsrighttoknow.org
RMPJC/Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.orghttps://rockyflatsglows.com
Candelas Concerns http://www.candelasconcerns.com
Public Health 199, UC Irvine; http://uniquehazardsrockyflats.weebly.com[Note: On their front page: a photo of students and: Jon Lipsky and Spokeswoman for the Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Group Mrs. Terrie Barrie]
Rocky Flats Glows...and so do the surrounding neighborhoods: Whisper Creek, Leyden Rock, Candelas, Skystone, Standley Lake
Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association http://rockyflatsneighbors.com [this is a satirical and sardonic joke, not our web site of course]
http://www.kristeniversen.com Influential book about Rocky Flats.
Websites supporting active use of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Preserve by the public
https://rockyflatsneighbors.org [OUR web site, set up April 2016]
http://www.candelasrockyflats.com/index.html Set up by Candelas developers, January 2013.
https://www.sandrabornstein.com/assessing-risks-living-near-rocky-flats/ An ongoing blog about why the author chooses to live near Rocky Flats.
No known statement on the subject
http://rockyflatsfacts.com A book on Rocky Flats by a former employee. Dubious about motives of Jon Lipsky.
Please bring overlooked web sites devoted to Rocky Flats issues to our attention!