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Numerous questions surround discovery of plutonium in Rocky Flats soil sample

Posted at 9:26 AM, Aug 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-18 16:03:24-04

DENVER – The founders of an organization representing people who grew up near Rocky Flats say the refuge should be closed and the planned Jefferson Parkway put on hold, following a soil test sample showing elevated levels of plutonium.

"I want our fellow citizens around the Denver area to finally wake up and realize that the federal government is not watching your back on this area," said Nick Hansen, co-founder of Rocky Flats Downwinders. "It’s the federal government who caused this problem. It's the federal government who supposedly cleaned it up."

In a news release, Bill Ray, executive director of the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority, told Denver7 that the authority notified the State Health Department about "inconsistent testing results from one soil sample."

He said one result indicated elevated plutonium levels, but didn't indicate how high the level was.

The standard is 50 picocuries per gram.

Ray indicated that a second test in the same general area showed a much lower level.

David Abelson, executive director of the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council, which provides oversight of Rocky Flats, says the sample results raise a lot of questions.

Among them, was it a false reading? Was it legitimate? If it was legitimate, what happens next?

"We need to know more about the sample," he said, "and see what the appropriate health agencies say about it, and then figure out what they’re going to recommend as a course of action going forward."

Abelson, an attorney who has been advising and representing local governments, non-governmental organizations and small businesses on issues ranging from nuclear weapons cleanups to environmental protection strategies, told Denver7, "There has been so much testing by governmental and non-governmental entities in that area, for years, that it's well beyond the norm of what has ever been found and what is expected to be found."

Hansen said he doesn't believe it's a false reading at all.

"We know exactly where it came from," he said. "It came from Rocky Flats."

Hansen's wife, Tiffany, the co-founder of the Downwinders organization, said she accompanied Dr. Michael Ketterer, a scientist studying plutonium, while he took samples of his own in the same corridor earlier this month.

"We found elevated levels, which means 'above background,'" she said. "Background levels exist around the world as a result of nuclear testing."

When asked what the elevated sample means for the refuge and the highway, Nick Hansen said, "We need to slow this process down."

Abelson isn't alarmed.

"We don’t know if it’s been verified," he said. "We don't know a lot of things."

When asked if it's possible that it's a false reading, he said, "There’s always a possibility until someone goes back and looks at the chain of command, looks at the handling of material, looks at all sorts of stuff."

He noted that a re-test in the same area showed normal levels. He said the big question is why no other samples that have been taken so far have shown elevated levels.

"I don't know the answer. I don't know if anybody knows the answer," he said.