For­mer Colorado nuke site opens to pub­lic as wildlife refuge

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Dan Elliott

ducts of build­ings.

Rock­well In­ter­na­tional, the con­trac­tor then op­er­at­ing the plant, was fined $18.5 mil­lion af­ter plead­ing guilty in 1992 to charges that in­cluded mis­han­dling chem­i­cal and ra­dioac­tive ma­te­rial.

The weapons com­plex cov­ered 2 square miles (5 square kilo­me­ters) at the cen­ter of the site. It was cleaned up at a cost of $7 bil­lion but re­mains of­flim­its to the pub­lic. The 8-square-mile (21-squarek­ilo­me­ter) buf­fer zone sur­round­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ing site was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice for a refuge.

About 10 miles (16 kilo­me­ters) of trails are now open at the refuge. Vis­i­tors are told to stay on the paths and not wan­der the grass­lands.

State and fed­eral health of­fi­cials say the site is safe, but some peo­ple worry that plu­to­nium par­ti­cles eluded the cleanup and could be sprin­kled over the refuge, where hik­ers and cy­clists could stir them up or track them home. At least seven Den­ver-area school dis­tricts have barred school­sanc­tioned field trips to refuge.

If in­haled, plu­to­nium can lodge in lung tis­sue, where it can kill lung cells and cause scar­ring, which in turn can cause lung dis­ease and can­cer, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

“You have a sit­u­a­tion where you still have plu­to­nium in the soil be­ing dis­turbed by the wildlife and the weather,” said Stephen Par­lato, his voice muf­fled by the gas mask he wore at a refuge trail­head Satur­day.

Par­lato said the mask had a fil­ter ca­pa­ble of block­ing plu­to­nium par­ti­cles and that he wore it for pro­tec­tion, not for show.

“You even have school dis­tricts that have gone on the record to say they do not al­low their stu­dents to come on trips here. This is an on­go­ing dan­ger,” he said.

Jon Si­mon, an­other cy­clist who rode the refuge trails Satur­day, said he doubted he would de­velop plu­to­nium-re­lated health prob­lems in his life­time, but wor­ried that chil­dren might be vul­ner­a­ble.

“I wouldn’t want to walk my kid through here ev­ery day in the morn­ing for our morn­ing walk or some­thing like that,” he said. “But I’m old enough .... That’s not what’s go­ing to get me.”

The open­ing was in the works for months but was thrown into doubt Fri­day af­ter­noon when In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke, who over­sees the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, said he wanted to wait for more in­for­ma­tion about safety.

An hour later, the In­te­rior De­part­ment said a re­view was com­plete and the refuge would open.

De­part­ment spokes­woman Faith Van­der Voort did not re­spond to an email seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion about the re­view.

This story has been cor­rected to show the amount of plu­to­nium found in the plant ducts was 62 pounds, not 57 pounds.


Jerry Jacka de­parts a trail­head on his moun­tain bike at Rocky Flats Na­tional Wildlife Refuge out­side Den­ver on Satur­day, Sept. 15, 2018, the first day the refuge was open to the pub­lic. The refuge is on the out­skirts of a for­mer U.S. gov­ern­ment fac­tory that man­u­fac­tured plu­to­nium trig­gers for nu­clear weapons.

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