Rocky Flats gets new study

The state’s health depart­ment will look at can­cer rates.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John In­gold

Colorado’s Health Depart­ment will study the in­ci­dence of thy­roid can­cer in neigh­bor­hoods around the for­mer Rocky Flats nu­clear weapons plant, af­ter a sur­vey backed by a com­mu­nity group raised con­cerns.

The on­go­ing sur­vey, which uses an on­line ques­tion­naire and doesn’t at­tempt to draw sci­en­tific sta­tis­ti­cal con­clu­sions, has so far found that thy­roid can­cer is the se­cond-most-com­mon form of can­cer re­ported by re­spon­dents who live or lived in neigh­bor­hoods south and east of Rocky Flats. The sur­vey is sup­ported by the cit­i­zens group Rocky Flats Down­winders, which, af­ter ini­tial re­sults were re­leased last month, called on the state Health Depart­ment to study in­ci­dence of thy­roid can­cer and cer­tain rare can­cers the sur­vey iden­ti­fied.

The Health Depart­ment last looked at can­cer rates near Rocky Flats in 1998, when a study us­ing a statewide can­cer data­base con­cluded that those near Rocky Flats didn’t suf­fer from can­cer rates higher than peo­ple in the rest of the metro area. But that study didn’t look specif­i­cally at in­ci­dence of thy­roid can­cer or other rare can­cers iden­ti­fied in the sur­vey.

Health Depart­ment re­searchers are cur­rently work­ing on an up­date to the 1998 study. On Thurs­day, Carl Spreng, a Health Depart­ment of­fi­cial who works on Rocky Flats is­sues, wrote a let­ter to Rocky Flats Down­winders that said the Health Depart­ment would sup­ple­ment the new study by look­ing at thy­roid and rare can­cers.

“We rec­og­nize that some mem­bers of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties con­tinue to have ques­tions and con­cerns about Rocky Flats,” Spreng wrote.

Rocky Flats, which is 16 miles north­west of down­town Den­ver, made plu­to­nium trig­gers for nu­clear bombs. Two fires and leak­ing stor­age tanks at the site spread con­tam­i­na­tion, though the risk to public health from that con­tam­i­na­tion has long been de­bated.

Thy­roid can­cer can be caused by ex­po­sure to ra­di­a­tion. But Mike Van Dyke, the head of en­vi­ron­men­tal epi­demi­ol­ogy at the Health Depart­ment, said health of­fi­cials “wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect” el­e­vated thy­roid can­cer rates around Rocky Flats be­cause of the kind of ra­di­a­tion the public may have been ex­posed to. That’s why thy­roid can­cer wasn’t in­cluded in the 1998 study.

Now, he said, the Health Depart­ment wants to do what it can to ad­dress public con­cern about lin­ger­ing health ef­fects.

“What­ever the Down­winders sur­vey iden­ti­fies as can­cers of con­cern, we’re go­ing to look at,” he said.

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