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Dr. Mark Johnson, Jefferson County Colorado Department of Health Director on Rocky Flats

November 30, 2018

And on that point, Mark Johnson is onto something…He’s explained why the federal government has been so adamant about pushing through a shallow, sloppy clean up at Rocky Flats that would be comical if it weren’t so serious. They simply cannot afford to, or not willing to shell out the money necessary to do the kind of clean up that is necessary, not at Rocky Flats nor at the other Superfund site clean ups to follow. A Rocky Flats, they’ve done less than the bare minimum.

Public relations demanded that the federal government go through the motions and that they did, knowing exactly how to repress any information, studies that would get in their way. Instead of a serious clean up they offer us a scaled down, cheaper version, declare “success” ruthlessly disregarding the remaining dangers involved, the unanswered questions. And then they use this hollow victory (over what? – the public interest?) as a model to market similar prescriptions to Hanford and other radioactive contaminated sites giving us short-term, band-aid like solutions.

These folks are messing with plutonium…not a good idea.

1. A full house at Arvada’s Trinity Presbyterian Church

The audience was surprisingly large…even Dr. Mark Johnson noted it. “I thought we’d have a little intimate group, that we could have something of a dialogue, I didn’t expect so many people” he said. And people were there and in large numbers. Don’t know who was more surprised, the event’s organizers or Dr. Johnson. Could suggest a new level of interest in the continued impact of Rocky Flats on the surrounding area – burgeoning with growth and the new social cancer called “development.”

The event was sponsored by “Rocky Flats Right To Know,” a local community group “devoted to educating the public about Rocky Flats.” The group is organizing a series of public forums on the continued dangers of Rocky Flats radioactive contamination, the next program scheduled for February, 2019.

I estimate between 200 and 250 who filled the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada, suburb northwest of Denver and in the proximity of the closed down Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. Not a Brown or Black soul among them, a reflection of the ethnic and racial composition that experienced exponential growth as are result of white flight to the suburbs in the last 1950s through 1980s,  but overwhelmingly people from Jefferson County. They were in attendance to listen to Dr. Johnson, the County health officer talk about what the county knows – and mostly doesn’t know – about what is left of radioactive contamination from the closed down Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons plant.

The audience – which was quite vocal throughout – included:

∙ some people who had come down with different forms of cancer, anti-immune conditions, former Rocky Flats employees whose health had been sacrificed in the name of national security needs for increased plutonium trigger production,
∙ the FBI agent who led the historic raid on Rocky Flats in which one agency of the federal government (the FBI) investigated another (Department of Energy),
∙ several people who claimed to know former Rocky Flats employees who had told them that spent plutonium was buried all over the facility’s property,
∙ a homeowner who had carefully read the Department of Energy reports claiming buying property near Rocky Flats was safe, (He looked a little concerned listening to Dr. Johnson)
∙ and a few wayward Denverites whose homes are in the direct path of the winds whipping down from the Rockies through Rocky Flats to northwest Denver sixteen miles to the southeast (of which I am one)…

The area just south of the plutonium trigger manufacturing plant, within the confines of the Rocky Flats campus has recently opened as a national wildlife preserve. Both state (Department of Health) and federal (Department of Energy, and the Fish and Wildlife Service) authorities insist that the site is safe and that levels of radioactivity are not a risk to the public. They have a number of studies to prove their point. Unfortunately there are other studies that take issue with the federal and state findings. Add to this that a many scientists have blown holes in the federal and state analyses

2.  Johnson calls for an independent scientifically rigorous study of radiation dangers at Rocky Flats

Bonnie Graham Reed, organizer for Rocky Flats Right To Know

The essence of Dr. Mark Johnson’s talk that evening was to the point: given that the contradictory nature of the studies on Rocky Flats-related radioactive contamination – with the federal and state investigations suggesting the area/region is safe, studies like Kristen Iversen’s book “Full Body Burden” and Wes McKinley’s “The Ambushed Grand Jury” arguing to the contrary, the site and surrounding area remain toxic and extremely dangerous – that what is needed is an independent scientifically rigorous investigation.

…Of course Johnson did note that given that most of the nuclear laboratories in the country are funded by the Department of Energy – one of the main culprits in the Rocky Flats story – an independent study becomes that much less like.

Far from giving a radical analysis, Mark Johnson makes it clear that from his research and that of others that the actual dangers posed by Rocky Flats remain unknown, and that given the contradictory evidence combined with the known dangers of radioactive pollution from plutonium, americium and other radioactive toxic isotopes used at Rocky Flats, wouldn’t it be better to put on a break on transforming the grounds into nature preserves and opening both Rocky Flats grounds and neighboring lands to housing development is imprudent to say the least. Better to hold off on such activities until such time that independent studies substantiate that the area is safe.

A year ago when interviewed by a local CBS affiliate, Johnson was asked if he would buy a home near Rocky Flats. He answered point-blank, “No.” This remark created a firestorm for Johnson. The director of the Colorado Dept. Of Health and Human Services, Reggie Bicha, one of the state’s great administrative bumblers, (himself knee-deep in administrative caca for his mishandling of the state mental hospital in Pueblo – among other bureaucratic bumbling) criticized Johnson as “irresponsible.” According to Johnson, his reluctance to buy property near Rocky Flats also triggered an angry response from Reggie Bicha’s higher up, Governor Hickenlooper, who earlier publicly drank fracking water (at least he said that is what it was) to suggest that fracking is safe.

Arguing that fracking “is safe” and Rocky Flats radioactive contamination represents no danger to the public – that is the legacy of Colorado’s Democratic governor who for the past years has been more interested in positioning himself for a presidential bid, than caring for the state’s welfare

A year ago when interviewed by a local CBS affiliate, Johnson was asked if he would buy a home near Rocky Flats. He answered point-blank, “No.” This remark created a firestorm for Johnson. The director of the Colorado Dept. Of Health and Human Services, Reggie Bicha, one of the state’s great administrative bumblers, (himself knee-deep in administrative caca for his mishandling of the state mental hospital in Pueblo – among other bureaucratic bumbling) criticized Johnson as “irresponsible.” According to Johnson, his reluctance to buy property near Rocky Flats also triggered an angry response from Reggie Bicha’s higher up, Governor Hickenlooper, who earlier publicly drank fracking water (at least he said that is what it was) to suggest that fracking is safe.

Arguing that fracking “is safe” and Rocky Flats radioactive contamination represents no danger to the public – that is the legacy of Colorado’s Democratic governor who for the past years has been more interested in positioning himself for a presidential bid, than caring for the state’s welfare

3. Rocky Flats – The Abbreviated Clean UP

While Johnson is cautious about just how safe or dangerous the areas at and surrounding Rocky Flats remains, he is less ambivalent about what he sees as a federal and state coordinated attempt at a cover up of the nuclear plants situation. He charged collusion – against the public interests on a number of levels:

– Collusion between the federal Departments of Justice and Energy to keep the Grand Jury proceedings on Rocky Flats secret.
– He openly attacked the Department of Energy for putting production of plutonium triggers above the safety of Rocky Flats employees and public health concerns. He accused them – along with the state’s real estate industry of being “more concerned about economic development rather than for public health.”
– Johnson He was also less ambivalent about the coordination, if not collusion, between the federal Dept. of Energy (which oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons production)and the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services. He noted how their studies of Rocky Flats echo each other suggesting that the site is safe, how easily it is to punch holes in their methodology, pointing out that no serious studies of the place have been done since 2004.

While forbidding Jefferson County officials – most especially the County Health Department – from participating in monitoring the Rocky Flats clean up effort – on the pretext that it was “a federal and state matter” – not a local one, federal and state authorities coordinated their efforts to downplay the dangers remaining at Rocky Flats and reject out of hand any role for the County Health Department.

While elaborating on the administrative maneuvers to keep the County Health Department at arm’s length, Johnson’s explanation for why the rush job “- the abbreviated clean up -” on the Rocky Flats clean up, the cover up – essentially sloppy scientific studies on the radiation dangers – of the existing threat and collusion between federal and state agencies anxious to get the whole incident behind them: in a word – (of course) – money?

As Rocky Flats Right To Know activist/organizer Bonnie Graham Reed noted on Facebook:

“The Rocky Flats plant site is still a Superfund Site and always will be. The abbreviated cleanup of the site left the Plutonium processing building foundations and landfills on site. The plant site is not stable and elevated levels of contaminants are found there. There was no remediation of the Refuge that is now open to the public, and there has been no testing there in over a decade. The floods of 2013 could have spread additional contamination over the Refuge, but with no testing, the amounts of contamination are unknown.”

Then why the federal/state rush to judgement – to the repeated verdict that all is well and that radiation-wise, Rocky Flats – the nature preserve – is as safe as anywhere in Colorado (which by the way isn’t saying much)?

Dr. Mark Johnson argues that the federal government does not want Rocky Flats to be a source of concern because the federal government hopes to use the clean up and transformation there as a model for other Superfund cleanup sites. If they can get the public to accept that clean up at Rocky Flats – which was finished under budget and earlier than expected – has been detoxified than they can save billions doing “quicky” cleanups at other Superfund sites, like the Hanford Superfund Site in southern Washington state. Good p.r. perhaps, very bad environmental responsibility.

And on that point, Mark Johnson is onto something…He’s explained why the federal government has been so adamant about pushing through a shallow, sloppy clean up at Rocky Flats that would be comical if it weren’t so serious. They simply cannot afford to, or not willing to shell out the money necessary to do the kind of clean up that is necessary, not at Rocky Flats nor at the other Superfund site clean ups to follow. A Rocky Flats, they’ve done less than the bare minimum. Public relations demanded that the federal government go through the motions and that they did, knowing exactly how to repress any information, studies that would get in their way. Instead of a serious clean up they offer us a scaled down, cheaper version, declare “success” ruthlessly disregarding the remaining dangers involved, the unanswered questions. And then they use this hollow victory (over what? – the public interest?) to market similar prescriptions to Hanford and other radioactive contaminated sites giving us short-term, band-aid like solutions.

These folks are messing with plutonium…not a good idea.

 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    November 30, 2018 2:50 pm

    Rob, you and I both live within the pink zone!

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