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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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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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