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Amid the outcry about the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act, it was easy to miss another decision that might have even graver consequences for the health of American citizens. I’m referring to the Supreme Court’s decision not to review Cook v. Rockwell. Most Americans haven’t even heard of this case, yet the ramifications of the class-action lawsuit against Rocky Flats, America’s most notorious nuclear bomb factory, will have a very long half-life.
I grew up next to that bomb factory, but we knew little about what went on there. The rumor in the neighborhood was that they were making household cleaning supplies. For nearly 40 years, Dow and then Rockwell secretly produced more than 70,000 plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs, each one deadly enough to kill every person on earth. Plutonium and other contaminants traveled into my neighborhood and the Denver metro area. Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years.
Following a shocking 1989 FBI raid on the plant for environmental crimes, more than 12,000 property owners with health and property concerns filed suit. The plaintiffs argued that “a landowner whose property is devalued because of plutonium contamination has suffered both an invasion of his property and genuine, immediate economic harm.” Never mind cancer and other health effects, which are higher than average in areas around Rocky Flats. It took nearly 20 years for Cook v. Rockwell to wind its way through the courts. In 2006, after deliberating for 17 days, a jury awarded the plaintiffs a total of $554 million. Rockwell appealed. Three judges with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision.
And now the Supreme Court has weighed in. They declined to review the case. (more…)
By LeRoy Moore, PhD, Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, June 2010
A dozen reasons why the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge should remain closed to the public
After completion of the “cleanup” of the 6,500-acre site of the defunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant, about three-fourths of the site (roughly 7 square miles) was transferred from the Department of Energy to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to operate as a wildlife refuge. DOE retained 1,300 more contaminated acres (about 2 square miles) surrounded by the FWS land.
1. Long-term danger of plutonium, the contaminant of concern
Plutonium 239, the contaminant of principal concern at Rocky Flats, has a half-life of 24,110 years. It remains dangerously radioactive for more than a quarter-million years. Any quantity left in the environment poses an essentially permanent danger.
2. Plutonium’s lethal quality
The alpha radiation emitted by plutonium cannot penetrate skin. But tiny particles inhaled, ingested, or taken into the body through an open wound may lodge in the lungs or migrate to bone. For as long as it (more…)