British singer Kate Bush sings, “Chips of plutonium are twinkling in every lung,” from her song “Breathing.”
Rocky Flats, eight miles south of Boulder, was home to a plutonium-pit factory; 70,000 pits were manufactured for nuclear weapons. Each pit, if fractured into breathable particles, contains enough plutonium to kill every person in the world, according to Kristen Iversen in her book, “Full Body Burden.”
Production was stopped after a raid by the FBI and EPA in 1989 for suspected environmental crimes. The outer area of the plant was eventually declared “safe” in 2005 by the EPA, the DOE and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment after an inexpensive and quick clean-up process, which has been felt by many observers to have been inadequate.
According to Iversen, during production years there were 200 fires at Rocky Flats that released plutonium — including two big ones.
Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which was given responsibility for 4,465 acres of the site as a “Wildlife Refuge,” is poised to make a decision on whether to go ahead with a “controlled burn” to manage the grasses on 701 acres of the site this spring. According to a Daily Camera story published Jan. 30, it is part of a management plan of the former nuclear weapons plant property, in order reduce its fuel load and to corral invasive species.
Isn’t it ironic that accidental production fires over the years, that have carried hot particles of plutonium and contaminated the area, have now given way to a planned burn?
“Burning contaminated vegetation releases radioactive smoke that can be inhaled, exposing lung and body tissue to damaging alpha radiation,” Paula Elofson-Gardine cited in the “Earth Island Journal.”
In the 1982 documentary “Dark Circle,” there is a story about a little girl named Kris Haag, who in 1979, at 11 years old, bumped her knee which led doctors diagnosed her as having bone cancer. Kris’ leg was amputated, and she began undergoing chemotherapy.
“It didn’t slow her down much,” her father Rex Haag said in the film.
But, Kris Haag died before the year ended. Her parents agonized about where her cancer originated from and then heard about a fire at the Rocky Flats plant, that was just six miles from their Colorado home.
“When she was just two years old I built her a sandbox in the backyard,” her father said in the documentary. “I later found out that was the year they had the big fire at Rocky Flats.
“The plutonium that went out with that fire must’ve carried right into her sandbox. It just tears me up to think about it now. We were right downwind.”
Boulder citizens need to work to help stop the Rocky Flats burn.
Peace Train runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily