A Voice for this sorely damaged Refuge Earth, a letter by Mickey Harlow

Rocky Flats PlantI have been a resident of the City of Arvada since 1970.  My current home is located downwind from the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.  I was the Rocky Flats Coordinator for the City of Westminster, Colorado from just after the FBI raid until 2001. I worked with both then Senator Allard’s and then Congressman Udall’s staffs on language designating the former nuclear production facility into a Refuge. I know the site very well and I know contamination has been left behind.

I recently became aware that the Fish & Wildlife requested an Air Permit in July 2014, for a prescribed burn to occur in April 2015, on 701 acres in the Southern Section of the Refuge.  The permit was granted by the Air Quality Control Commission. The permit was granted under the Arsenal name as the site is managed under the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

I am very concerned about this prescribed burn.  The 701 acre burn area is contiguous to two new housing developments that have young families and small children. Plutonium, Americium and Uranium remain in the soils in that area. The cleanup of the Site meets regulatory standards for cleanup, but this does not mean that there is no radionuclide and other contamination left in the soil.   Fish & Wildlife manages over 600 Wildlife Refuges nationwide and prescribe burns are part of their maintenance plans.   However, Rocky Flats is the only national Wildlife Refuge with residual radionuclide contamination.  Airborne radionuclide contamination in smoke is a health hazard.

A recent report of soil sampling initiated within the Woman Creek Reservoir prior to 2014 repairs found small amounts of Plutonium, Americium, Uranium and other contaminants at levels below regulatory concern. The Woman Creek Reservoir was constructed in 1995 to physically separate Standley Lake, the drinking water source for the Cities of Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster from surface water leaving the former Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Production Facility Site.   These analysis results are important because they show that radionuclide’s are still in the soil at the Wildlife Refuge and can be brought to the surface, by earthworms, ants and other burrowing species located at the site.

Prescribed burns are not the answer!  An integrated plan with methods for controlling plant litter and weed management to include administrative, cultural techniques (prevention), mechanical controls, biological controls and chemical controls is necessary.   The Refuge has not received Interior Department funding for proper weed and site management.

Local government entities have the expertise in their open space management staff to provide invasive weed technical support to Fish & Wildlife Site Manager David Lucas.  It is time for us all to work together find alternatives to the burn. We must become “A Voice for this sorely damaged Refuge Earth.”

Mary (Mickey) Harlow

[Editor’s note: you can read more about Rocky Flats at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocky_Flats_Plant]


About the author /

Michelle Poolet

PLAN Jeffco Board Member. Michelle Poolet is a relative new-comer to PLAN Jeffco, but not to the world of volunteer work. She has been on the Board of PLAN Jeffco since 2008, and in that time has worked hard to ensure the success of various PJ conferences and events. She is part of the PLAN Jeffco web content subcommittee, and liaisons between the PLAN Jeffco Board and the Open Space Advisory Committee. Her “day job” is as President and Chief Enterprise Architect of Mount Vernon Data Systems, a BBB A+ accredited database consulting company. Michelle lives on Lookout Mountain, in unincorporated JeffCo, with her best pal, TessaRose the collie, with whom she enjoys daily trekking in the forests.

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