The Rocky Flats nuclear weapons site ceased manufacturing operations in 1992, but controversy still remains about its legacy of contamination. In July 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy transferred nearly 4,000 acres of land on the Rocky Flats site to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, which is scheduled to open to the public in 2018.
Groups that have been working to block the opening of the refuge say federal agencies are not monitoring the ongoing pollution from plutonium and uranium, and they say the public is not being given adequate information about the ongoing dangers in the area.
Jon Lipsky, a former FBI agent who led a raid on the Rocky Flats plant in 1989 that ultimately resulted in the closure of the facility, says that this site is so contaminated it should remain permanently closed to the public.
“The Superfund site was left with sub-surface structures, footprints of old contaminated ponds, landfills and pits and they’re leaching and DOE (Department of Energy) as of today cannot control uranium that is leaking on Walnut Creek, and that’s a head-water situation, as well as Woman Creek and Rock Creek, and they’re picking up contamination at their point of compliance and having to report it to the health department.”
Lipsky is a member of several groups that are continuously monitoring the Rocky Flats Site, including the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s Nuclear Guardianship Program. He says that because federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy and US Fish and Wildlife are not giving correct information to the public, it is left to the public to find information for themselves.
“If right now the Department of Energy is saying that the Rocky Flats Refuge is essentially uncontaminated, look into it. Find out…there is (sic) materials, contact our groups and we’ll be glad to point to you that it is contaminated, inherently contaminated.”
In addition to the opening of the wildlife refuge, Lipsky and others are concerned about the proposal to extend the Rocky Mountain Greenway Trail from Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City into Rocky Flats.
Bonnie Graham-Reed and Marian Dancing Water Whitney are both long term residents in the area downwind from the Rocky Flats site. “We’re about, both, about 7 1/2 miles downwind, and we are in the prevailing wind pattern.” Whitney has lived in that area for 50 years and she says that when her family were buying their home, nothing was said to them about the Rocky Flats plant. “We did look at properties up closer and nobody said anything. ”
Whitney says she never would have bought a house in that area if she’d known about the exposure to the environmental contaminants from the site. Graham-Reed who has lived downwind from Rocky Flats for 40 years and says that if she had known about the plant, she also would have chosen to live elsewhere. She is concerned about the new housing developments being built in the area and the new families moving in who have no idea about the nuclear legacy. “I’m just heartbroken…I speak to people and they don’t even know that it existed.”
Graham-Reed and Whitney are part of a group that seeks to get more information to the public about the contamination at the Rocky Flats site. Rocky Flats Right to Know meet on the 3rd Thursday of every month at the Trinity Presbyterian Church on Vance Drive in Arvada.
Those living downwind from Rocky Flats, collectively known as downwinders, are participating in a public health study by Metro State University which released preliminary findings in December 2016 that identified clusters of illness in communities near the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. Their findings contradict another study by the Colorado Department of Health that in January 2017 found no evidence to conclude that contamination from the plant has caused a cancer epidemic.
On Wednesday February 22nd from 6.30pm to 8.30pm, the US Fish and Wildlife will hold a 3rd public meeting, called a sharing session about opening the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge to public recreation. The meeting takes place at the Broomfield Community Center, Lakeshore Room, 280 Spader Way.