May 30, 2013

Green Housing on Plutonium! ~ Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish


What an era of extremes.

Regardless of what you think of Angelina Jolie’s recent, public & controversial double mastectomy for cancer prevention, it’s in remarkable contrast to the decision to build housing and a parkway at Boulder, Colorado’s closest Nuclear Superfund site.*

The proposed development, named Candelas, borders Rocky Flats, where the US government made Plutonium triggers for Atomic weapons.

The site is known for its Plutonium contamination, but has a wealth of other dangerous elements and chemicals, too.

The potential hazards of stirring up these contaminated soils is probably too much for our human minds. Our conception of time is clearly nothing next to Plutonium or Uranium (both present) or the other radioactive elements at the site. These elements pollute for so long that we speak of their potency in terms of “half-life.”

The Plutonium used at Rocky Flats has a “half-life” of 24,000 years, after which it’s half as powerful and still deadly hazardous to people and other creatures.

24,000 years.

And of course, radioactive Plutonium and Uranium is not all that’s there. According to the EPA,

“Contaminants released to the environment include (but are not limited to) plutonium-239/240, americium-241, uranium, carbon tetrachloride, tetrachloroethene (PCE or perc), trichloroethene (TCE), nitrates and chromium. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrates and uranium contaminated shallow groundwater. The radioactive elements plutonium, uranium, and americium contaminated soils.” 

If you live in Colorado, you hopefully already know at least a little bit about Rocky Flats and its cancer and disease-causing contaminants.

I recently went to a town hall meeting in Superior, where neighbor after neighbor expressed shock that Rocky Flats is as “potentially” dangerous and close as it is. They wondered aloud how it could be that they’ve lived here as long as they have (3, 5, 8, 10 years) without ever having heard about it or without having to have signed waivers when they bought their homes.

In case you don’t know, Rocky Flats was shut down because of egregious, criminal violations of environmental laws, the FBI, and the activists who brought attention to the ongoing, dangerous issues. As the site was working with Plutonium triggers, the main danger is from inhalation of the tiny plutonium particles that were used. Construction will release and kick up unknown amounts of particles that were buried as part of the clean up process.

This should be a concern for workers, residents, and those downwind and potentially downstream from the site as well. For all of us.

“But it’s so Green!”

I know, right? Candelas, which includes housing and businesses, is being branded as Colorado’s premiere green living site (and not because it glows in the dark).

They’ve branded the development as earth-friendly and tout sustainability as part of their mission, complete with LEED certified buildings.

LEED certified. Don’t you lose any points for being atop of nuclear radiation?!

They’re also advertising all of the open space around Candelas, not explaining that it’s scarred land not fit for building on.

“But Michelle, this wouldn’t be going forward if it was really dangerous. Wasn’t all of this cleaned up already?”

Well, dear reader, thank you for asking. I love your belief in the ability and willingness of the government to take care of us. I actually feel the same way. I want to be comforted by their reassurances, but my heart, my gut, and my mind just won’t let this go (and neither should yours).

The government and the developers claim that the site has been adequately cleaned and that the radiation levels there don’t pose a threat to us. That assertion is contested by scientists and activist groups…but even if you go by what they’re saying, it no longer applies once they start digging and moving the soil and kicking up dust.

The Parkway, in particular, is slated to be built over the most contaminated part of Rock Flats, so digging there seems to void any safety assertions.

Also: because of all the criminal violations, numerous fires and accidents, as well as some known errors of unknown proportions, it’s impossible to say exactly how much of what poison is buried at the site.

The Colorado Department of Health reports that about 14.2 tons of Plutonium were left at Rocky Flats.

That sounds like plenty to raise alarm for the next 96,000 years—but it doesn’t take into account the alleged cover ups or the thousands of pounds many still claim the Department of Energy lost. The Department of Energy says they think (and hope) it’s probably an administrative mistake.

Regardless of the amounts and the finer details and any controversies at the site, I hope you join me in feeling certain that they should not be building family housing at Rocky Flats.

Not only does it place workers and families at risk, it puts everyone within breathing range at risk.

Arvada, Westminster, Broomfield, Superior and even Denver, Thornton and Boulder are at risk of breathing in some of those respirable Plutonium particles or ingesting some of the other contaminants—for the next 96,000 years or so.

Those are the stated, acknowledged risks. It does not take much imagination or knowledge of Plutonium to conjure up other possibly unforeseen risks to area residents.

Even if you would choose a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer like Angelina Jolie, you don’t have the option of preventatively taking out any lungs, liver, or bones—you only have the option of working to prevent this risky development from moving forward.

Candelas is holding its Grand Opening celebration Saturday June 1st complete with bouncy house and free hotdogs.

We propose showing up and educating participants about the risks they may be incurring– for themselves and for the larger community by buying homes and building parkways so close to a(n ex-)Superfund site.

We’ll be doing this elephant-style: with love, not aggression. With transparency and dialogue, not shouting. With kids, families, potluck, loving-kindness and Shambhala warriorship. Don’t be surprised if yoga or dancing breaks out. Join us. Get yourself a paint suit (hazmat style), bring yourself a picnic lunch, grab your boom box, make a sign or come as you are.

It’s time to protect this damn planet that we love and these funny two-legged creatures who’ve somehow discovered way more power than we’re ready to handle.

Join us on Saturday June 1st at 12:00pm!

Right up the street: @ Indiana & Candelas Pkwy, Arvada CO

For more information visit our facebook event page (click here).

Please check out Candelasglows.com for more info or check out the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/candelasglows

* Rocky Flats is no longer a Superfund site, technically—i’s a “Wildlife Refuge” now. But sometimes, names do matter and calling it a refuge makes it sound more live-able than its previous designation as a Superfund site, even though the level of pollution buried remains the same.

Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish is on the leadership team at Woodbine Ecology Center, promoting sustainable communities and Indigenous values. She is a permaculturist of sorts, multi-ethnic writer, editor, project instigator, artivist wife and mother of three. Please check out the website for more info or check out the Facebook page.

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Assist. Ed: Lacy Rae Ramunno/Ed: Bryonie Wise

Image: VF




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