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We Had a Secret Nuclear Weapons Plant Near a Major American City? Yeah, One of the Most Contaminated Sites in America

A new book reveals the truth about a plutonium factory that hardly anyone knew existed.
 
 
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Kristen Iversen grew up in the idyllic small town of Arvada, Colorado, near Denver. With the majestic Rocky Mountains soaring on the skyline, she and her siblings and neighbors played in green backyards, swam in the lake next to her house and rode horses in the wide-open fields. But only miles down the road, a secret nuclear weapons factory was producing America's plutonium triggers for its entire Cold War nuclear arsenal.

From 1952 to 1989, the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant smelt, purified and shaped over 70,000 plutonium triggers --each with a $4 million price tag and each with enough breathable particles of plutonium to kill every man, woman and child on the planet. Under the direction of the Atomic Energy Commission (later the Department of Energy), Dow Chemical, the notorious manufacturer of napalm and Agent Orange, operated the facility until 1975 with government-sanctioned environmental impunity. Rockwell International followed, with astonishing criminal environmental negligence that led to an unprecedented joint FBI and EPA raid in 1989 and the permanent halting of production.

But it would take decades after initial operations at Rocky Flats began before surrounding residents discovered that their air, water and soil had been contaminated with radioactive and toxic chemicals -- most profoundly with plutonium, "the darling and demon of the nuclear age" with its half-life of 24,000 years. Iversen's neighbors believed the facility made household cleaning products. They didn't know about the 1957 and 1969 plutonium fires at the plant, which sent radioactive plumes over the Denver metro area or about the 5,000 on-site barrels of nuclear waste that leaked plutonium into the soil and water column for years.

Today, Rocky Flats is a public wildlife refuge resting on plutonium-contaminated soil, while no health monitoring or compensation has been provided to surrounding residents exposed to the radioactive and toxic releases from the former weapons site. Iversen, who worked briefly as a secretary at Rocky Flats to help support her two sons, wrote the book, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, to make sure that the U.S. government, the state of Colorado and the nuclear industry would not be allowed to bury the dark history of Rocky Flats and to give testimony to the lives it has forever changed.

Based on FBI and EPA documents, class-action testimony, independent and government-sanctioned studies, extensive interviews and Iversen's personal experiences, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats is a haunting and suspenseful investigation into the human costs of the nuclear weapons industry and a timely reminder that nuclear contamination is not contained by political expediency or willful ignorance. AlterNet recently caught up with Iversen during her book tour and spoke with her by phone.

Brad Jacobson: A constant tension in the book is the internal battle that local residents and Rocky Flats workers feel between being concerned about what goes on at the nuclear weapons facility and willfully avoiding this knowledge to protect their peace of mind. You yourself struggled with this for years, even after you started to work as a secretary for Rocky Flats. What do you think is at the heart of this struggle?

Kristen Iversen: Well, none of us wants to believe that we live in an unsafe environment or that the government or a corporation would lie to us about what is in that environment. My parents believed they were raising their four children in the perfect environment. Part of the problem is that there was so much secrecy and silencing within the community and then out at the plant itself with respect to the workers who didn't really know. Many people didn't know what they would be doing for their jobs until they had actually worked there for a while.

Then people in the community, we didn't know what was going on in terms of the production of plutonium pits and also the environmental contamination. You know, the rumor in the neighborhood -- it was operated by Dow Chemical -- so we thought they were making household cleaning supplies, like oven cleaner. My mother thought they were making Scrubbing Bubbles. So there are all sorts of reasons why you really don't want to believe that it could be otherwise. 

I think there's also a very strong interest in terms of property value. That's been a big part of the problem from the beginning as well. For home builders and businesses and city planners and managers to admit to any sort of contamination would have a profound affect not only on, you know, human health, which is most important of course, but also on property values, so that's been an issue as well.

BJ: You're very precise about the radioactivity and impact of plutonium, such as its incredibly long half-life. You repeat several times throughout the book how and why plutonium is so dangerous. For example, what it really means when we say plutonium-239 has a 24,000-year half-life -- that it will remain radioactive for 240,000 years. What was your motivation to touch on this multiple times throughout the book?

KI: I think one of the great ironies about how we talk about plutonium, particularly in Colorado, is that the Department of Energy and even the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will, on the one hand, admit to plutonium in the soil onsite and offsite around Rocky Flats. And we have no way of really determining exactly how much there is. It all has to be done through dose reconstruction and that sort of thing. Yet at the same time they will say, "Well, yes, there is plutonium in the rabbits, in the deer, in the cattle, in the grass, and it's dangerous. But it's also safe. Don't worry about it. It's at a level that we find acceptable."

That kind of language is very difficult to deal with and very difficult to know how to react to as a citizen, as a worker, as someone living in Colorado. What does this mean? How can you say it's dangerous and it's not dangerous at the same time? So I wanted to make plutonium – what it is and all of its effects – very, very clear to the reader.

BJ: Are you frustrated when you read news stories about the nuclear industry, nuclear safety or nuclear accidents, like at Fukushima, and they pass over these terms that the average person may not fully grasp -- such as when they merely allude to nuclear material having a 30-year or 100-year or 24,000-year half-life?

KI: I think that's exactly right. And it's information that people really need to know. They need to understand what it is and how it might affect their lives. From Fukushima, we saw radiation from Fukushima in milk -- just take milk, for example -- all over the United States, in various states across the country. They would report it and yet it's also accompanied with, as I said before, this kind of reassuring language. "Don't worry about it. It's kind of temporary."

And I think it's very important that people understand what plutonium is and how radioactivity works and how it can impact their lives. And particularly, long-term low-level radiation exposure, which is mostly what we have out at Rocky Flats and in the areas around Rocky Flats. In the past, the Department of Energy and Rockwell and Dow have tended to minimize that.

BJ: Doesn't the whole industry tend to minimize that?

KI: That's right. It's doublespeak. It's like, "Well, yes, it's dangerous but it's okay. Don't worry about it."

BJ: Some of the most disturbing recurring scenes in the book are those in which you and your siblings and neighborhood friends are enjoying the outdoors where you lived -- horseback riding, swimming, hiking, taking in the views of the mountains and the surrounding wildlife. As the reader, knowing what's being produced just above in Rocky Flats, all of this natural beauty and the freedom of a childhood growing up in such a seemingly idyllic setting feels tainted and ominous. It's this juxtaposition that really sets the tone for the book, gives it the feel of a thriller, except that real lives are at stake. Is that what you were setting out to show with this juxtaposition or was it just a natural outgrowth of writing the book?

KI: I wanted to write a book that was factually accurate, absolutely accurate. And I had many research assistants and lots of people helping me with the technical aspects of the book to make sure that everything I said was accurate. And yet, you know, a book about plutonium would be very boring [laughs].

What makes plutonium interesting? I had to write about these very technical and legal things. I wanted people to understand how these things had a very direct effect on people's lives. The workers, the residents, the activists: so many people's lives have been affected by Rocky Flats. In order to do that I wanted to write the book like a novel, I wanted it to read like a novel, so that it was highly readable. So that people could understand the story and understand the characters -- you know, characters like Bill and Stan, Bill Dennison and Stan Skinger in that opening scene. These weren't just two anonymous firefighters who went in and fought this incredible [1969 Mother's Day] fire. I wanted the reader to understand the psychology and the motivation into what these men were thinking and feeling.

The first time I wrote that opening chapter I had us moving out to Standley Lake and going for Sunday brunch, and then much, much later about the fire. Then it occurred to me that the reader needs to understand what we did not know at the time when we out having Sunday brunch, my siblings and my mother and my father. There was a fire at the plutonium factory. There was a fire at Rocky Flats that had devastating consequences for the plant and for the environment and the surrounding community. There was a radioactive cloud that quite literally traveled over our heads and moved around the city of Denver. We didn't know. We didn't find out about that until much, much later. But I wanted the reader to understand that here's this family having Mother's Day brunch and there's a radioactive cloud traveling right over them.

I wanted the reader to understand the connection between the personal and the political. I think the most powerful stories can be revealed through personal experience.

BJ: It is a very human story, and not only because of your personal descriptions of your life and the life of your family growing up under the shadow of Rocky Flats, but also those people whom you describe throughout the book who were touched by the facility in some way -- from neighbors who drank from contaminated wells, to workers at Rocky Flats, to the attorney who worked for over a decade on the class-action lawsuit on behalf of residents.

Was your portrayal of these people also in some way a response to how the U.S. government and the nuclear industry often portray human beings affected by possible nuclear contamination as kind of faceless, unknowable numbers?

KI: I wanted to put a human face on what I felt was a very inhumane story. Absolutely. And when you look at cancer statistics or the Colorado state standard for contamination of plutonium in the soil, it's very easy to have it all look and feel very anonymous. You know, what does it mean? All of these things had a very direct impact on people's lives and I tried to tell that story from as many viewpoints as possible and still tell a really good story. I wanted to include the workers of various types, working in different parts of the plant. The firefighters, the residents, the activists. I wanted to give the full story, as much as I could, of all the different kinds of people who were involved and how their lives were affected, including workers and local residents who got sick who I knew and worked with and lived with and who were my friends

BJ: How did the Mother's Day fire inadvertently lead to the revelation of prior unknown incidents of major nuclear contamination at and around Rocky Flats?

KI: The astonishing thing about the 1969 fire was that by then, even though there was very little mention of the fire in the newspaper -- as I mention in the book, it was kind of buried in the back of the paper next to Pet of the Week -- but one thing that it did was it forced the Department of Energy to kind of show their hand because scientists found extensive plutonium contamination offsite as far as 30 miles away.

And they went back – Ed Martell [former radiochemist for the National Center for Atmosphere Research and the nonprofit Colorado Committee for Environmental Information in Boulder] and others – went back to Department of Energy and said, "How do you explain this?" And the DOE said, "Well, we admit, yes, there is contamination offsite, but it's not from the Mother's Day fire. It's from the fire in 1957 and from these 5,000 leaking barrels that had been standing out in the open for 11 years."

So that was an astonishing, stunning revelation to the few people who knew about it because in the 1957 fire and the 1969 fire – those fires were so intense that they burned out the filters and the measuring equipment. So for the '57 fire in particular, we will never know how much plutonium and other contaminants, radioactive and toxic contaminants, got out into the environment. We will never know. And that's also true to a certain extent with the 1969 fire.

So we have a number of things that were highly contaminating to the local environment. But the thing about the '69 fire is that it forced the Department of Energy to admit that there had been these other two major events that were even greater than that fire that contaminated the local environment.

BJ: So they played that hand, they revealed those two cards, but the reality is that no one really knows the extent of the contamination from the 1969 fire?

KI: Right, that's correct. I was going to quote John Cobb. John Cobb taught at the University of Colorado Medical Center and he was hired by the EPA to look at plutonium in people's bodies. And he did autopsies on 450 people who'd grown up around Rocky Flats and lived around Rocky Flats and found plutonium in their tissue, lung tissue and liver tissue. And he said in court under oath, "To rid the metro area of detectable amounts of plutonium in the soil would mean taking up all the soil and buildings in Denver." The study was done in 1978. I believe that particular statement was made in court following the 1989 FBI raid.

BJ: The class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of 13,000 residents living around Rocky Flats, which took almost 20 years to wind its way through the courts, addressed the impact of nuclear contamination on property values but not on health?

KI: Correct. We won. I'm not part of that lawsuit. My parents sold their house just outside of that parameter. But my family and I followed it very closely obviously. But on February 14, 2006, we won, and then that was eventually overturned. Rockwell appealed and it was overturned. It's currently under consideration by the Supreme Court actually. It looks they may decide this week whether or not they're going to take it.

[Days later, the Supreme Court – without comment – rejected the landowners' appeal which threw out the Colorado jury's 2006 verdict in their favor. The Obama administration sided with Dow Chemical and Rockwell International in supporting this decision.]

When the lawsuit first started out, enough people had gotten sick and died and they felt that their illnesses were connected to Rocky Flats, so they wanted it to be about health issues. But they were unable to get that through, so they went forward in terms of property values.

There has never been health testing or medical monitoring for people living near Rocky Flats. There have been various studies over the years, which I talk about in the book. It's very interesting to look at who's funding what study to see what kind of results they come up with. But there's never been any actual health testing or medical monitoring of people who grew up near Rocky Flats or live near Rocky Flats.

BJ: Can you talk about the historic yet relatively little known FBI and EPA raid on Rocky Flats?

KI: There was a raid by the FBI and EPA in June of 1989. I think it's the only time in history in this country that two government agencies raided another. That led to a 21-month grand jury investigation, which was scuttled eventually. The grand jurors wanted to indict officials from Rockwell and the Department of Energy. Instead, a deal was cut with Rockwell. They paid a fine and plead guilty to some criminal and environmental charges, but it was minimal. And the jurors were infuriated because they wanted not only to have indictments for officials with the Department of Energy and Rockwell, but they also wanted people living around the plant and people living in Colorado to understand exactly what had been going on at Rocky Flats and the fact that this is all ongoing.

There were two shocking charges as part of that trial. One was that they were burning waste in an incinerator out there -- this was radioactive and toxic waste – and it had been going on for decades. They were just starting to come under environmental regulation and that incinerator was supposed to be shut down. The charge was that it wasn't shut down and the evidence shows that it most likely was not shut down. So there was this ongoing incineration of radioactive waste that was happening.

The other thing was that there was secret dumping of poison into waste ponds that were also supposed to be closed. Those were the two charges that were not prosecuted in this deal that was cut with Rockwell. Then of course the grand jurors were infuriated and they wrote their own grand jury report. And that was sealed by the judge and remains sealed to the present day.

BJ: Portions of that report were leaked to some members of the press. Does anyone really know how much of what they wrote was leaked?

KI: It's been kind of an interesting process over the years. And of course the jurors have to be very careful because everything is supposed to be kept secret in a grand jury investigation. They can't really talk about it without putting themselves at risk. They would end up in jail. But parts of it were leaked to the press. Some of them appeared in interviews on television and on the radio. Westword [a Denver alternative newspaper] published part of that report and then some of other magazines around the country picked up parts of it. [Harper's published excerpts in the December 1992 issue.]

In, I believe it was 1993, Judge [Sherman G.] Finesilver released a highly edited version of the report, with commentary by the Department of Justice. So you could get that, but there are large portions of it blacked out. The full report is still completely sealed by the court and unavailable to the public, as well as all of the documentation that goes along with it. And when they did the cleanup at Rocky Flats, they did not have access to that information either.

There was a press conference out at Rocky Flats a few years ago, with all this controversy about whether or not it should be opened up to the public [as a wildlife refuge]. Jon Lipsky, who was the FBI agent who led the raid on Rocky Flats, was on his way from California to make a statement at that press conference. He felt so strongly that the wildlife refuge should never be opened to the public, any part of it, based on his knowledge and investigation. When he was on his way to the press conference, he was contacted by his superiors and told that he couldn't say anything. So he showed up at the press conference and basically said, "I can't really say anything except there's a lot of devastating information here and this should never open to the public. As an FBI agent, as a father and as a resident, please do not open this refuge."

BJ: What do you think was behind the decision to open a public wildlife refuge on this site?

KI: Well, what concerns me most about Rocky Flats is that there's a lot of effort – and I want to emphasize again, as I touched on earlier, that we are all complicit in some way with this – there's a lot of effort to try to forget Rocky Flats, to erase it and pretend like it never happened.

We don't know how much plutonium and other contaminants are onsite. Even though the Department of Energy will say, yes, we have a pretty good idea, there's so much unknown information onsite and offsite. And the levels of allowed contamination at the site are very, very controversial.

Originally, the Department of Energy and the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment wanted to allow 651 picocuries per gram of soil out there, which is incredibly high. And yet, they were saying that there's no way…what local residents wanted, what people wanted, was the site to be cleaned up to background levels so that people could live and work out there and it would be safe. They said, "Well, we can't afford to do that. We don't have the money to do that and we're not sure we even have the technology to do that. It's impossible."

So they came up with a compromised cleanup standard. The top three feet of soil has up to 50 picocuries per gram of soil. The next three below that, down to six feet, is 1,000 to 7,000 picocuries of plutonium per gram of soil. And there is no limit below six feet. So a lot of stuff out there was covered up with three feet of topsoil. What's below six feet is potentially devastating to the local community.

The Department of Energy believes that the plutonium material on the site will stay put. But other studies show that that is not the case. There is a study by scientist Shawn Smallwood showing how all the groundhogs out there are digging around and bringing material up to the surface. There's plutonium uptake in the grass and animals come along -- the birds and the deer -- and eat the grass and flowers and live onsite. There's plutonium detected in the bodies of deer out there. It's an area of high erosion. There's a lot of rain and snow and wind, incredible wind out there. There's a lot of movement and plutonium does not stay put. So it's of real concern, not only for what's onsite but for the immediate surrounding area.

BJ: Can you describe what your brother recently experienced when he was walking his dog and it ran through Standley Lake?

KI: Yeah, that’s an amazing story. I still have family living out in Arvada. My brother doesn't live there anymore, but at the time that I was finishing this book he still lived down there with his wife. We grew up next to Standley Lake. We loved that lake. We swam in it, water-skied on it. We rode our horses. We took our dogs swimming in the lake. And it's a beautiful area. It's still open obviously to public recreation.

My brother Kurt was out there with his wife and they were walking along with their dog and they let their dog down into the water, like we always have done. But this time a patrol boat came around with a couple of guys and they had a megaphone. And one guy said, "Get your dog out of the water." And my brother said, "What? Why?" And he said, "Well, this provides water for the nearby city and we have to keep the water clean." And Kurt just laughed. He said, "What are you talking about? The dog hair? Dog hair is not going to affect the city water supply."

But the truth is there is plutonium in the sediment at Standley Lake. Plutonium is a heavy metal and it settles down into the sediment. And what they're banking on again is this idea that plutonium is supposed to follow the rules and not move anywhere. They're banking on the belief that plutonium will stay down into sediment, so they don't want people or animals getting down along the shores of the lake and stirring things up because then it brings the plutonium back up into the water.

BJ: You point out in the book that companies like Dow Chemical and Rockwell International -- any company that works hand-in-hand with the Department of Energy to run these nuclear weapons facilities and nuclear power facilities -- are indemnified against any liability if there's an accident. But if they're caught, say, falsifying safety documents, they could be charged by the Justice Department for that, right?

KI: Yes, but the crazy thing is that we as taxpayers would end up paying for that. And we did pay for Rockwell's legal fees [after the FBI raid].

The government knew very early on that private corporations wouldn't go into the business of building nuclear bombs unless there was some kind of indemnification because it's just too dangerous. And of course here we could talk further about potential ramifications for the nuclear power industry and the building of nuclear power plants. But if the government does not provide some kind of indemnification, does not largely indemnify companies, no one would go into this business because it's so incredibly risky and dangerous.

BJ: And as part of the indemnification, it included paying their legal fees?

KI: Yeah, they're basically covered. And it's very difficult to indict. The reason given for not indicting officials at Rockwell or in the Department of Energy was that these managers were working under the direction of the Department of Energy in a climate that, in order to produce enough plutonium pits for the nuclear warheads we needed, these companies had to basically ignore environmental law. You know, when the [1972] Clean Water Act came along there was no way that these companies in this country could produce plutonium pit triggers and nuclear weapons and comply with environmental laws. So it was kind of a catch-22.

BJ: Can you explain what chinook winds are and why they made building a nuclear weapons facility onsite so dangerous?

KI: In the original criteria, there was a mistake in the engineering report. Jim Stone [an engineer hired to help design Rocky Flats] pointed that out. But he was ignored. He turned out to be a very important whistleblower. But there was a mistake in the engineering report. They based the location of the plant on wind patterns out at Stapleton Airport instead of the wind patterns out at the Rocky Flats site. And what happens on that high plateau is the chinook winds come down from the mountains at a very high rate of speed. They pick up temperature and they pick up speed as the come down off the mountains and by the time they blow across that land they're really intense. Anyone who's driving along Highway 93 through a windstorm or a blizzard or something, you know about this. That's why there are so many accidents on that road.

When I worked at Rocky Flats it was not uncommon for people to have their windshields blown out when the winds were intense. The windows of our house -- we were up on a little bit of a rise -- but that wind would come down just like a roaring truck and hit the house and the windows would rattle and shake and sometimes they would break. Very, very intense winds.

So the wind comes down and it picks up all that contamination -- it did in the past and it still does in the present day -- picks it all up and takes it right down southeast of the plant.

BJ: The scenes depicting Rocky Flats workers who directly produced these plutonium triggers are extraordinarily harrowing. It's hard to imagine they went in and did this every day. Can you describe the glove boxes that workers used during the production process?

KI: The glove boxes were stainless steel, linked boxes through which the plutonium moved. The worker would take a plutonium button and it would be melted in the foundry and then shaped and shaved in the glove box by human hands. A worker would stand in front of the glove box -- sometimes on a little stool if they weren't quite tall enough to peek in the window – and they would look through the plastic window, through the Benelux window, and put their arms and hands into lead-lined gloves and then shape and shave each plutonium button into the trigger that it would eventually become. And it would go up on kind on a conveyor, kind of like a conveyor line or conveyor belt, and then go down to the next glove box, where the next step would be accomplished.

There were hundreds of these glove boxes. It was quite literally a factory for plutonium triggers. Rocky Flats was the only facility in the country that produced plutonium triggers and they cost about $4 million each and we produced more than 70,000 of them. And as I mention in the book, each plutonium trigger has enough breathable particles of plutonium to kill every person on earth. It's very lethal material and highly flammable.

BJ: The scene with the special glove box, called a "guillotine box" [which was supposed to slam shut during a fire] seems to encapsulate the inevitable deficiencies of safety at nuclear facilities, specifically when there is a crisis like a fire, as in this case. When you wrote this terrifying scene, did you see it as this, as a kind of microcosm of the reality that working with such deadly materials can never really be safe?

KI: Yeah, I think so. That was an amazing scene for me to write for a number of reasons. Number one, it happened in 2003, and we weren't supposed to be having fires at Rocky Flats in 2003. Most people thought that, you know, things were cleaned up and it was fine. And yet, that was the last plutonium fire and it was a pretty devastating fire.

The person who led the fight against that fire was Randy Sullivan. He was one of the kids who grew up in my neighborhood. He was my big crush in fourth grade [laughs]. Like many of the kids in our neighborhood, we both ended up working at Rocky Flats, although we didn't know it at the time. He worked out there for a much longer time period than I did. But he was working as a firefighter out there in 2003 and he had been out there for quite awhile. And he ended up fighting that last plutonium fire and getting contaminated in the fire.

So it was a difficult scene to write. And as I go around the country talking about this book, people are stunned that there was a fire as late as 2003. There is a lot that the public does not know about what happened at Rocky Flats.

BJ: In fighting the fire, he actually did everything he was supposed to do and even things that went beyond the call of duty. Then he finds out after the fact that he was working in the guillotine box, that he could've had his arm or head chopped off at any moment. No one had informed him during plant safety drills. Other workers in that room didn't tell him because they were too frantic from the crisis. His head was actually in the guillotine box for much of the time as he tried to put out the fire in there, right?

KI: I mean it could've come down in a number of different ways. It's scary. And there are a lot of heroes in my book. And there are a lot of really good people working at Rocky Flats who did their best and thought that they were doing everything right, thought that they were doing the right thing for their families and for their country. And they were put at risk in ways that they did not fully understand. That's part of the reason we have so many thousands of Rocky Flats workers applying for compensation from the government right now. More than two-thirds of them have not received compensation.

BJ: How has Rocky Flats affected your family's health?

KI: I think my health and the health of my siblings has been affected. My mother passed away fairly recently from dementia and Alzheimer's. Now, was that connected to Rocky Flats? Who knows, but she died of it at a relatively young age for people in her family. I had a scare with lymphoma and ongoing chronic immune system issues and my siblings have had the same. My sister Karma has had several bouts with cancer related to her reproductive organs. But we're all still here and we're fine and the joke in our family is that Rocky Flats is why we all have such glowing personalities.

But I think we're very lucky compared to many of the families that we knew growing up. And certainly the Smith family, the Mormon family that grew their own vegetables and raised their own cattle. Their cattle and horses, by the way, were sterile. But they lived off the land and those kids were sick. And Tamara Smith Meza, in particular. She's had several surgeries for brain tumors. She's a remarkable person. She's one of the heroes in my book. She's an amazing person. Her husband, too. But she's been very sick and her doctors firmly believe that it is because they are directly downwind from Rocky Flats, getting all that airborne contamination and drinking the water straight up out of that water table from Standley Lake.

BJ: And she's received no compensation?

KI: No. As I mentioned earlier, workers have applied for compensation. Most of them have not been compensated. And there's no way for residents to apply for any kind of compensation. There's no health monitoring or anything for residents. I think it's very similar to what happened with the tobacco industry a couple of decades ago. "Well, people are getting sick. Can you tie it directly to smoking? No. Isn't this an interesting coincidence?"

We have this plant over here and all this radioactive, toxic contamination in the environment and all these other people over here who are sick. And some studies have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt – [former health director for Jefferson County] Carl Johnson's and others to the present day – that there is illness, cancers, all sorts of things in the local community. And then there are other studies, funded by the Department of Energy or the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that say, "Well, you know, the cancers and diseases are not that much worse than the rest of the state of Colorado." But there's never been any public health monitoring of people living around Rocky Flats and there should be. There are a lot of sick people out there. I've been hearing from a lot of them since the book came out actually.

BJ: You've heard from a lot of people who've come forward and contacted you that weren't in your book?

KI: Right. Lots and lots of workers and residents. And much of it is actually expressing gratitude. "Thank you so much for telling this story. This is the story that we were never supposed to talk about." And many people with cancers who grew up next to Rocky Flats, or their parents or uncles or sisters or whoever who worked at Rocky Flats and got sick. There are lots and lots of stories like that. Is it circumstantial? Anecdotal? Maybe. I don't know. I doubt it. 

Brad Jacobson is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist and contributing reporter for AlterNet. His reporting has also appeared in The Atlantic, Columbia Journalism Review, Billboard and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @bradpjacobson.
 
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