Twelve years after cleanup ended and the Rocky Flats site was declared suitable for any use, persistent myths still inspire dread and outrage among longtime Denver residents and newcomers alike.
The oversight agencies for Rocky Flats, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are committed to providing accurate information about the cleanup, maintenance and risks at the site. It’s not always easy, given long standing and polarizing opinions that often result in misleading and biased information concerning Rocky Flats.
A Denver Post editorial from June 16, 2017 highlights the millions of data points collected in air, soil and water at thousands of locations on the site. One particularly persistent myth is that this enormous data collection is hidden from the public. In fact, the records are available through several sources: The U.S. Department of Energy maintains the official administrative record for Rocky Flats environmental data: https://www.lm.doe.gov/Rocky_Flats/Sites.aspx. The administrative record contains major decision documents and various reports on environmental investigations and cleanup.
EPA’s Region 8 provides site documents and data on its publicly available Rocky Flats web page: https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/csitinfo.cfm?id=0800360.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Rocky Flats web page contains site documents, answers to frequently asked questions and links to various health studies: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/rocky-flats.
In addition, anyone may request records held by these agencies through the federal Freedom of Information Act or the state’s Colorado Open Records Act. No data is hidden nor unavailable to the public.
Another recurring myth is that public health risks from Rocky Flats are unknown or uncertain. As a point of fact, nationally recognized health experts used reliable assessment methods and strict health guidelines to analyze the vast collection of site data. These studies and the decisions based on them were scrutinized by various state and federal agencies as well as by the public. The comprehensive evaluation of risks to future refuge workers or visitors concluded that the risks are minimal. The oversight agencies determined that the massive cleanup effort met all state and federal laws, safeguards human health and protects the environment.
When cleanup was completed in 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, known as the ATSDR, assessed public health near the Rocky Flats site.
The Disease Registry reviewed scientific data to see how much contamination remains and how people might come into contact with it and also evaluated health effects, including potential impacts to children.
The conclusion: “ATSDR did not identify any environmental exposures at levels of public health concern for past and current exposures…”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also has completed three cancer studies for communities around Rocky Flats, including two recent studies.
In response to public interest in this site, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment just released a 2017 supplemental study that looked at rates of thyroid cancer and all rare cancers in communities around Rocky Flats. These studies, which are based on doctors’ reports to the state Cancer Registry, have consistently found no evidence of higher-than-expected cancer rates near Rocky Flats. The cancer studies and historical public exposure studies are posted on the department of health and environment website.
The anticipated opening of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge and nearby construction have raised new interest in the Rocky Flats cleanup. We at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment routinely respond to public inquiries and remain steadfast in our commitment to providing correct information.
Anyone with questions or concerns about Rocky Flats can contact the department or the EPA, examine the data and draw informed conclusions based on fact, not myth.
Dr. Larry Wolk is Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.