More from Marco Kalthofen:
- Scientist Marco Kalthofen’s Presentation To The American Public Health Association: Americium (A Byproduct Of Plutonium Decay) Hot Particles Detected In Tokyo – ‘My University Is Annoyed With Me’: Auto Air Filters From Fukushima City (65 Km From Nuke Plant) So Radioactive Have To Be Buried At Radioactive Waste Disposal Site In US
- Scientist Marco Kaltofen’s Presents Data To APHA Confirming Hot Particles – Highest US Topsoil Radioactive Cesium Findings Over 10,000% Higher Than Highest Findings By UC Berkeley – ENORMOUS Radiation Exposure To The Population In Japan After The Earthquake
- Study: Rocky Flats area still as contaminated with plutonium as 40 years ago (Daily Camera, Feb. 18, 2012):
Boulder’s Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center hires contractor to test soil for plutonium
Driven by concerns that running the Jefferson Parkway across a strip of land along the eastern edge of the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge would stir up clouds of plutonium-laden dust, Boulder’s Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center commissioned a study last fall to gauge contamination levels in the area.
The newly released results show the area is as contaminated by radioactive plutonium now as it was 40 years ago, before the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, which operated on that site, was closed and cleaned up.
“The material is still there; it’s still on the surface,” said Marco Kaltofen, president of Boston Chemical Data Corp., the contractor hired by the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.
Still, officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment insist the amount of plutonium contamination at the eastern edge of the site is well below levels that would be dangerous to human health.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, which manages the refuge, agreed in December to a land swap that would add 617 acres to the refuge’s southwest border in exchange for giving up a 300-foot-wide right of way along the refuge’s eastern edge, adjacent to Indiana Street. The right of way would be used to build the proposed Jefferson Parkway, which would nearly complete a beltway around the Denver metro area.
Though the land swap is now being held up by several lawsuits — including one filed by the cities of Golden and Superior, and another, filed last week, by two environmental groups — Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center officials fear that any construction in the area could be dangerous.
The center joined other concerned citizens in asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to test the soils on the strip of land that would be used for the parkway.
When federal officials said they planned to rely on testing of the area that was done in the past, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center hired its own contractor to test the soils. But after being denied access to the refuge for testing, that contractor was forced to take samples from just outside the fence along Indiana Street.
The results show that the plutonium contamination in the area is roughly the same now as it was four decades ago, according to Kaltofen.
“Essentially, what people found back in the ’70s is still true,” Kaltofen said. “There is a locus of plutonium contamination on the eastern side of the Rocky Flats site — this is material beyond the fence line that pretty much follows Indiana north and south — that hasn’t changed.”
Kaltofen said the finding is surprising because he would have predicted that weathering over the decades, especially from the area’s stiff winds, would have dispersed the particles over time.
“One explanation is that there’s as much material coming from the central part of the site that’s replacing any material that’s eroding or blowing away,” he said.
Kaltofen’s results showed levels of plutonium isotopes in the area ranged from 0.019 picoCuries per gram of soil to 1.579 picoCuries per gram. By contrast, Kaltofen said the background plutonium contamination in the West tends to be no more than 0.01 picoCuries per gram.
But the question of how much background radiation is “normal” is contested, according to LeRoy Moore, a longtime nuclear watchdog with Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. He says the baseline background radiation level that set the standard for the Rocky Flats cleanup was 0.04 picoCuries per gram of soil, four times the amount that Kaltofen believes is the average for the West.
“If the average background really should be lower, then maybe the cleanup is not as protective (as it should be),” said Moore.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the amount of plutonium contamination found in the soil in the right of way is not at unsafe levels.
The agency based its statement on older measurements — which Kaltofen and Moore agree are similar to recent observations — and sought expertise from both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
In a joint letter written last September, officials with the EPA and Colorado’s health department say that the risk of excessive cancer incidence for people who work at the refuge is below standards set by the state and the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.
The two agencies point out that a construction worker might have a greater exposure to the plutonium through inhaling dust than an average refuge worker, but they also note that construction workers will be exposed to the contamination for much shorter periods of time.
“Due to the very short exposure duration, the very low levels of residual plutonium on the strip of land proposed for transfer and the calculated low radiation dose, the risk to a construction worker would be at or below (that of a regular refuge worker),” the letter reads.
Risks of exposure
David Lucas, chief of refuge planning for Rocky Flats, said the agency took the possible risks of plutonium contamination very seriously and that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to reach out to the EPA and the Colorado health department reflect that.
“At the end of the day, the Fish and Wildlife Service gave this a hard look,” he said. “We didn’t rubber stamp anything. I think our comfort level is where it needs to be.”
Moore said he disagreed with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s standards for how much plutonium exposure is safe.
“I don’t think the standards that exist protect the public or protect the workers,” he said.
Moore said he has shared his recent testing results with the Fish and Wildlife Service, and he’s calling for the government to take a closer look at what background radiation levels should really be set at.
And in the meantime, he’s also considering what the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s next move should be if the pending lawsuits fail to stop the project from going forward.
“We’re watching the situation with the Jefferson Parkway closely, and we’re working with other people and other organizations to think about the best approaches we need to take to make sure the public is well-informed about the danger of plutonium,” Moore said.