If you're a native, then you already know I'm talking about Arvada. If you're not, here's what you should know.Just outside of Arvada, Colorado - on June 6, 1989, after several months of investigating and measuring radiation exposures of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons manufacturing plant, the FBI informed the Department of Energy that they were concerned about a potential terrorist threat. Then at 9 a.m. "Operation Desert Glow" commenced. Backed by the EPA, the FBI got past the DOE's heavily outfitted security – which included surface to air missiles and heavily armed guards authorized to kill – and delivered a search warrant to the plant's internal manager. A team of armed FBI agents then seized the facility marking the only time in U.S. history a government agency seized the property of another via force. [gallery ids="14754,14755,14757"] What lead up to the raid at Rocky Flats? Well here's a brief timeline that will let you sound like a native: It all began in 1953 when the US Atomic Energy Commission selected the Dow Chemical Company to operate the Rocky Flats plant. At the time, the plant was manufacturing the plutonium triggers known as "pits". Plutonium in metallic form is very combustable and can ignite at room temperature – well that's exactly what happened. On September 11, 1957 a fire broke out resulting in the contamination of Building 771 and the release of plutonium into the atmosphere. The fire caused approximately $818,600 in damage, which is approximately $7,160,733 in today's money. In the meantime radioactive waste, kept in steel drums outside the plant, began piling up. In 1959, the barrels were found to be leaking when wind-borne particles were detected in Denver. Following the disaster, Cold-War paranoia set in, and the plant expanded production. Throughout the 1960s the number of barrels increased, reaching a maximum of number of 3,500 before they were removed, and strong winds continued to carry radioactive particles across Arvada and into Denver. Then in 1969 the plant saw another major fire incurring the costliest industrial accident in U.S. history up to that point. The incident took two years to clean up. The contamination was not publicly reported until the 1970s. According to a study performed by Dr. Edward Martell, an American radiochemist who managed radiation-effect projects at the Nevada nuclear test sites and the south Pacific, reported in 1972 that:
In the more densely populated areas of Denver, the Pu contamination level in surface soils is several times fallout", and the plutonium contamination "just east of the Rocky Flats plant ranges up to hundreds of times that from nuclear tests."Dr Carl J. Johnson, Director of the Jefferson County Department of Health, began to monitor health effects in those effected and deduced that the soil around the plan contained 44 times more plutonium than the Government claimed.
In 1975, Rockwell International replaced Dow Chemical as contracted operator of the site. On April 28, 1979, 15,000 people assembled nearby to protest activity at the plant. [gallery columns="2" ids="14760,14758,14759,14756"] The EPA and FBI started investigating in 1987 after insiders at the plant started covertly expressing that unsafe practices were taking place, and noticed the incinerator working late into the night. In 1989, the EPA and FBI seized the plant. The raid led to Colorado's first special grand jury. The Department of Justice did not fully reveal the special grand jury's report until 1992 when it was leaked to the Westword. According to the report, the Department of Energy called Rocky Flats the greatest nuclear hazard under it's control: "The DOE reached this conclusion because the groundwater contamination was so extensive, toxic, and migrating toward the drinking water supplies for the Cities of Broomfield and Westminster, Colorado." The site was declared a "superfund" site in the 1990s. EG&G began an aggressive campaign to cleanup the mess, and the effort removed 21 tons of weapons-grade radioactive material from the area. They also removed 800 structures and treated more than 16 million gallons of water. After approximately ten years and seven billon dollars later, cleanup was officially declared complete in 2005. In July 2007, the DOE transferred 4,000 acres to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the area became the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to survey wildlife in the area. The EPA, the DOE, and the Colorado Department of Health review the site every five years to ensure its safety. The next review is scheduled to occur sometime this year.
As for 15,000 residents of the surround area, a settlement of 375 million was reached on May 19, 2016. The radioactive particles involved are estimated to have a half-life of 250,000 years. According to officials, exposures in the area remain acceptable. However, many are skeptical, which is why many are critical of the Candelas housing development – the development borders the Rocky Flats property. The City of Westminster also forbids swimming or wading in Stanley Lake, located just east of Rocky Flats, because it's "drinking water." Yet the city permits gasoline (under 20 hp) boats to operate on the water. What are your thoughts? Do you know anyone who was affected by Rocky Flats? Do you trust that it's been properly cleaned up? If so we want to hear your story! Do you know of any environmental issues in Colorado that need to be made known? Tell them here! Feature photo courtesy of: Jeremy Papasso