Life near Rocky Flats

  A new major study looks at the public-health effects of Rocky Flats, 16 miles from downtown Denver, where triggers for nuclear bombs were built for more than 35 years. Funded by the federal Department of Energy and administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health, Historical Public Exposure Studies says public risks were low. John Till, president of Radiological Assessments Corp., which conducted the second and final phase of the study, says his group focused on reconstructing what happened in terms of radioactive releases. Rather than doing an epidemiological study, they laid the foundations for one.


"The problem with doing epidemiology first is, what are you going to look for? If you just go out and look for higher doses of disease, it may be totally masked ... and you may miss the disease, the causal relationship all together." As for defining risk, he says, "When we say the risk is low ... it's low in comparison to other things ... vehicle accidents, low compared to what you receive from natural background radiation, which you can't do anything about. But nevertheless, I would never tell a person, here's the risk, don't worry about it. That's a personal decision."


Len Ackland, journalism professor at the University of Colorado and author of the new book, Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West, says risk can also mean one catastrophic accident. "The 1969 fire almost went through the roof. If it had, there would've been a Chernobyl-type disaster."


To obtain the 34-page summary report, call the state's health department at 303/692-2640 or 303/692-2700, or visit www.cdphe.state.co.us/cdphehom.asp. The Institute for Science and International Security has posted an issue brief on the study at www.isis-online.org. Len Ackland's book, Making a Real Killing, has just been published by University of New Mexico Press, 800/249-7737.


- Karen Mockler