Rocky Mountain National Park's famed Trail Ridge Road closed due to visitor risk
Peculiar thought. But the risk of being killed by lightning increases above treeline since a 6 feet tall human being is a better ightning rod (pointier and more conductive) than a low-lying rock outcrop. In assessing the wisdom of such the policy above, a visitor might plausibly ask
- How probable is being killed by lightning?
- What can I do to mitigate risk?
- Very unlikely: certainly less than 1 in 100,000. What does this even mean? It might be that out of every 100,000 people walking on the Trail Ridge Road, 1 is hit by lightning. Most people would unconciously compare this with more plausible ways to be injured.
- I can watch the weather cautiously and minimize time exposed to the risk, or stay below timberline (and miss the scenery)
Any action entails risk, even if we are not fully aware of it. More generally, we might ask
- Are the risks to me or to my children significant on the scale of other risks I already choose to ignore?
- Should I choose not to visit (and miss possibly rewarding outcomes)?
Visiting the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is not so different (logically speaking). Although an adult's lifetime risk of dying of cancer is around 22% [and a child's may be more or less, depending on how prevention, diagnosis, and oncology progress], the added risk of cancer due to radiation within the Wildlife Refuge is in the range of 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1,000,000. Thus one's lifetime risk of cancer has been changed from (to make a point) 22.00000% to 22.000001%. (This is before compensating with the relatively small fraction of his or her time a visitor would spend there.) This sort of quantitative thinking is crucial to understanding very very small risks.
Egad, where's the info?
As we warned you, our information specific to the Refuge itself is pretty sparse at the moment. This will change as DMW has time to examine RESRAD output from various DOE Legacy Management reports, do some of his own, and do some additional estimates. Meanwhile, ponder the following:
Radiation levels within the Refuge (part of the "Peripheral Operating Unit", not the "Central Operating Unit") were never considered high enough to require mitigation. They are only moderately higher than around Candelas or Leyden Rock, whose radiation levels (and their health consequences) are covered in the documents in the Knowledge Base.
Contamination levels within the refuge were designed to be safe enough that a full-time employee would not exceed radiation exposure levels no different than the population at large.
The main concern we perceive about the Wildlife Refuge is that the Fish&Wildlife has been inhibited from doing its job by external political pressure by groups intent on delaying or stopping its opening. They raise issues such as the (by now, quite unlikely) possibility of cancer clusters around the Refuge, the "dangers" of controlled burns by F&W, and the importance of animal burrows transporting plutonium from highly contaminated soil (if any exists that was not already carted away) to areas where humans could be exposed.