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Colorado health and environment officials say additional testing needed on Rocky Flats sample

Officials "do not believe there is an immediate public health threat."
Posted at 3:09 PM, Aug 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 17:15:01-04

DENVER – The soil sample taken in June by the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority on the edge of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge tested once at five times above the cleanup standard for plutonium, but an additional test showed it was well below the standard, according to documents obtained on Tuesday.

Now, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials say experts and toxicologists do not believe that there is an immediate public health threat but that further testing and analysis will be necessary, and the Parkway Authority says it will conduct additional testing in the area the sample was found.

The new details about the testing of the soil sample were released in a letter sent to other agency leaders and community members near where the sample was taken on Tuesday by Jennifer Opila, the Division Director for the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of CDPHE.

Last week, The Denver Post first reported that a sample taken in June in the Parkway Authority’s right of way west of Indiana Street tested above the 50 picocuries per gram threshold put in place for the Rocky Flats cleanup and plutonium levels.

The government for decades manufactured and tested nuclear weapons triggers at the site northwest of Denver, portions of which have been turned into a wildlife refuge. The testing is being done by the Parkway Authority as it works to plan out a toll road in the area set to get under construction next year. So far, the Parkway Authority has collected around 250 samples – some of which are still being tested.

Parkway Authority Executive Director Bill Ray sent an email to Opila on Friday telling her that in their testing, they found a sample that tested at 264 picocuries per gram and said a re-test of the same sample “came up with similar results.” The email was obtained Tuesday by Denver7 from the CDPHE.

But Ray also wrote that another test of the sample showed significantly lower readings and said he had ordered a grid sampling of 20 feet around the site where the sample was taken – the results of which should be ready in September, he wrote.

He asked Opila for additional guidance on the sample. But the initial reading still caused concerns from some living in the area and some environmental groups that have opposed the reopening of parts of Rocky Flats.

In Opila’s Tuesday letter, she wrote that CDPHE believed extra testing as Ray said had been ordered would be “an appropriate and needed next step.” She said that the department would review the final sampling results from the lab that is processing them and identify any further testing that might be needed. She said that information would be shared publicly.

She also said that CDPHE had been in contact with the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency about the sample in question.

Opila said the secondary test of the sample showed that it tested at just 1.5 picocuries per gram – well below the initial test and the threshold.

“The elevated sample is anomalous and requires further investigation,” she wrote. “We are awaiting details regarding the precise location where the sample was taken, along with other technical data about sampling and testing methods.”

She said in the meantime, state health and environment officials do not believe there is a danger to the public.

“Based on the information we have so far, our state experts and toxicologists do not believe there is an immediate public health threat,” Opila wrote. “We do believe that further sampling and analysis is needed to assess what this elevated sample may mean for long-term risks, and whether it is an isolated instance, or a sign of a wider area of relatively high contamination.”

She said that officials were still being cautious.

“We are taking the sample result seriously because it is much higher than previous samples in the vicinity and higher than the cleanup standard,” Opila added. “Again, we are seeking additional data, and will review it as it becomes available to determine how to proceed in a way that protects public health and the environment.”

She said that people in the area who have concerns can contact the state toxicology hotline with specific questions and said CDPHE would be setting up a FAQ document on its website this week.