Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge – Lauren Steele of Motherboard Discusses Upcoming Opening of a Superfund Site
Hey everyone, Doug Stetzer here. Thanks for tuning into Colorado.FM the Colorado podcast.
So I’ve spoken a lot about how this project has already taken me down paths that I couldn’t foresee and this is another one of those kinds of episodes. It all started when I received an email from Vice Media. Yes the Vice Media found the podcast and reached out to us, and you content creators out there would know that that was a pretty exciting moment.
But what does that have to do with Colorado?
Well, Vice has sponsored an article by freelance writer Lauren Steele titled “Reclaimed Land: Inside Colorado’s Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge a former Superfund site that embodies the painful past an uncertain future of nuclear cleanup in America.”
Now most people here in the Denver Boulder area know all about Rocky Flats, but in case you’re not familiar, Rocky Flats is a superfund site located pretty much within eyesight of these two major metropolitan areas where during the Cold War plutonium triggers among other things were made for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Unfortunately, and I think you can see where this is going, let’s just say the waste was handled inappropriately. I’ll leave the details for Lauren and her really amazing article. But be warned you’re going to get angry it’s just really maddening.
Now despite this history and a half life of plutonium of 25000 years or so the area around Rocky Flats is already being redeveloped. Those of us who drive down Colorado 93 are on our way to Denver or shoot out to 70 are familiar with the Candelas housing development that’s right there. Additionally over 5000 acres of Rocky Flats is about to be reopened to recreation under the supervision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
So is a former Superfund site ever really clean and is the government data trustworthy?
As far as the safety of living conditions in the area there are two sides to this story and I think Lauren does a really great job of making sure that they’re both represented. I also really want to give kudos to Vice Media for sponsoring this type of long form investigative journalism in our world of 140 character tweets and 30 second videos. This article really stood out.
About Lauren Steele.
Lauren is a freelance journalist who has contributed to publications such as Rolling Stone, Men’s Journal, Outside Magazine, Men’s Fitness and more.
he has held the title of director of toughness for Columbia Sportswear and aside from writing this article that is relevant to all of us in Colorado. When she’s not traveling for work she spends a lot of time specially in the summers here in Carbondale area training for ultra-marathons and things like that.
And this actually is where she stumbled upon this story which is no she gets into which is a cool story in and of itself. Online you can find Vice Media at vice.com and on Instagram and Facebook also @vice.
And of course we’ll be sure to put any relevant links to find vice, Lauren’s writing or anything else we mention in the show.
So here we go. My conversation with Lauren Steele, contributing journalist to Vice Media.
[02:30] Who is Lauren Steele and what led to this story?
[08:30] Rocky Flats will be a place to play. Should it be?
[11:35] Why push this on US Fish and Wildlife Service?
[19:00] Description of Rocky Flats; What is the Central Operable Unit.
[24:30] Touring the area; A sneak peek.
[30:00] Making choices – Why save this site instead of something pristine?
[35:30] Conversations with people in the area – what that reveals.
[41:00] Site meets current standards, but standards change over time.
[43:20] What would you ask Dominick Sanchini?
[41:00] What’s next for Lauren.
Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge – US Fish & Wildlife Service
Hey Lauren. You know I really appreciate you taking the time to join us on this show and you know reach out and to talk about this amazing story that you did.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about this article. It is called Reclaim Land. It’s on Vices Motherboard and it’s you know the subtitle is Inside Colorado’s Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.
Now this really hits home. I’m in Boulder. It’s right down the road. And when I moved here people told me about that very casually. Oh yeah that place over there used to be a toll toxic waste dump. So you know what I’m really curious about is is this what led you to this story what you know were you assigned this story or did you teach it. Did you seek it out. Like what. You know it really brought your attention to Rocky Flats?.Read More...
So the genesis of a story is usually a very interesting one.
I’m freelance reporter so I am constantly seeking out things that interest me and I also happen to be a very active outdoors person and I usually come out to Colorado specifically Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Valley area to train during the summers for ultra-marathons and different races but I’m doing throughout the year.
I have just fallen in love with the valley and this area and wherever I’m traveling rather I’m going just because I happen to be and insatiably curious person. I always tap into the local news and like all refresh the local page on my phone for news and kind of read bulletin board the coffee shop and see what’s going on because you never know what you’re going to find out and you never know what is going to come across.
And actually while I was here last summer it was and was actually in late June I found a news story about a new lawsuit I come home about this Rocky Flats place.
I had never heard of Rocky Flats. I live in York City. I grew up in rural Missouri. And Rocky Flats was meaningless to me. But there was the headline from my local Denver outlet and it was talking about this huge lawsuit about this nuclear waste land. And this former Superfund site. And the fact that it was becoming a national wildlife refuge.
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
How can some place that used to have plutonium on it be a national wildlife refuge especially in Colorado especially in Boulder?
I have a lot of friends. I very much know the community there and the values that they hold in the belief system there. And so I was intrigued from the very get go are diving in a little bit more about it that a lot of google searching. Like I think that there’s something more here. I don’t know what it is. I don’t even know what a Superfund site is. But there’s something here and I’m curious. I’m curious and I am kind of afraid and I’m kind of just completely swept off my feet by this and I know other people will be too. And that’s usually the guiding light for me with stories as if this is intriguing to me if this is mysterious to me.
This is like inflaming some sort of passion in me that I know that it will mean something to other people. And just like keeping that human thread running through stories like whether they’re environmental or they’re you know athletically driven or whatever. Whenever I’m working on, if it makes me curious and I’m like there’s something here that when I heard of Rocky Flats I was always like wow.
After a quick google search I realized that there were there was really no national coverage of Rocky Flats, which is also shocking to me especially with like the state of our current political climate regarding the EPA.
How can we just be ignoring on such a national level?
With funding being cut and all the Superfund sites after Hurricane Harvey leaking and not getting the funding that they need. How can we just be ignoring on such a national level?
These places that could cause huge issues for decades or centuries to come we don’t really know. So for me like thank god my love for Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley and running and being in these mountains and just playing out here actually led me to the story. Which is a really intriguing angle because you know the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is going to be a place where people can play and run and bike and all these things.
Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is going to be a place where people can play and run and bike and all these things. But should it be?
But should it be. And those are the especially whenever we have all this land out here to enjoy. And that was kind of the thing that piqued my interest the most was like in this place that I love so much and have given so much to me as an athlete and outdoors person.
How can our wild lands and our public lands, the kind of give us our human rights, you know it’s like there’s all this contention around being there and publicly and in general and it’s like what about when the land isn’t serving the public well what when public lands are hurting the public and why are we trying to protect the land that could help the public.
So those kinds of questions are really what led me to writing the story into really pursuing it and it was actually after a few days of going over who I should bring the story to who would be the best fit. I actually had taken it to a different publication prior but they didn’t want to run it as a feature and I didn’t want anybody to have to google Rocky Flats like I did after reading my story.
I wanted to really talk about the issues here and really talk about the issues on a national scale not just on the Colorado scale because Rocky Flats has been a huge source of contention in the Denver metro area for decades. And I wanted to talk about that for everybody in this country and how it affects all of us. So I finally ended up selling the story to Vice motherboard.
And in September and they were full throttle, let’s do this let’s make it happen in as many words that it need to tell a story less inform people, and I am beyond privilege that I had an editorial team in a publication that was so supportive of us telling the story as thoroughly as we could.
Right. Well you know as you know there’s a lot of things in there that are super interesting. First one when I got the e-mail from you guys about you covering the story and talking to you. You know I was wondering what your angle might have been on that. So it’s really interesting to hear that you spend so much time out in Colorado and it was really a personal find for you.
And there was a couple of things that I was thinking when you said that that that triggered some thoughts my mind. First of all, I live right here and I didn’t know that this park was opening up in the next year. It’s just kind of taken for granted story like everyone kind of knows about it. But like you said there’s not a whole lot of coverage and conversation about what’s going on over there probably because it’s been like that for so long.
You know and in your story you see how some of the most active opponents of opening up this refuge and everything like that you know they’ve been at it for decades so I can only imagine the energy that is as taken to just kind of maintain that fire, right. So that just came across as really interesting.
And then you know the other thing about this idea that it really does affect everybody and not just people in Denver because of not just the site. And you know what might happen environmentally but because of how it reflects on the process what’s going on with the Superfund program. Who are these sites are getting dumped on. You know your article really was super informative and like you said I mean these long form articles are kind of a rarity these days as you know really special for Vice to just encourage that because you know.
I just thought it was amazing. And so you know one of the things speaking of that process is how these sites. You know I’m speaking of the budgetary process and everything like that so Superfund itself is being defunded and then they’re pushing these sites on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And when you hear that you’re just like well how does that make any sense. And then of course I mean there is not one park type service. You know a Department of Interior group that’s not just being axed as far as budget. So how are you. You know how are they defining superfund and then pushing it to the Fish and Wildlife Service that just blew my mind.
Yeah yeah. So kind of jumping and right there I mean that is the meat of the story. And I think that’s the meat of a problem. And because the story I wrote it not to talk about the controversy of the site. I wasn’t trying to say the government strong activists arrived the activists are right. The government is wrong.
There has been such a state of contention around who’s right and who’s wrong for so many decades with the story and the way I saw it is that the only reason that there there is controversy is because there’s bureaucratic red tape. You know I don’t want to talk about this controversy I want to talk about the bureaucratic red tape that causes controversy at all Superfund sites.
But my mission with the story and the coverage is to make Rocky Flats a microcosmic example of a larger issue that we have nationally because what’s going on there is going on and a lot of other places and we need to reignite the passion about you know asking for answers having definitive information having these safety standards that mean something to people you know you’re kind of going back to just the U.S. Fish and Wildlife sampling of all of this.
It’s incredibly, incredibly astonishing to me that a sector of the Department of Interior whose actual mission statement reads and I’m reading quote unquote their mission statement.
“Our mission is to work with others to conserve protect and enhance wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”
That is a mission statement of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So how can the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency say you know what a former Superfund site a site that is absolutely needing an imperative imperatively seeking continuing remediation and treatment for nuclear and radioactive contamination. Yeah that goes you guys. You guys know what to do with you know deer and prairie dogs and I think there are some deer prairie dogs here so take care of it.
We’ve already cleaned it up that mindset.
I mean everybody’s of law and that’s the issue here is the Department of Energy doesn’t want to have to deal with grasslands and the EPA is getting their funds cut. Day after day and the Department of Energy doesn’t want to have to deal with grasslands.
And then there’s the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and they’re forced to put on a good face and say we’re taking care of this. We are monitoring it we’re working on it. And the thing is that they don’t have the tools to deal with land that has been contaminated with radioactive and nuclear waste. And that’s a hard part is that we don’t have a plan that mitigates on a national level these Superfund sites because once they’re cleaned up the EPA kind of dust their hand off and says OK we did our job.
We spend our money we spend our time. But the thing is is this land will never be the same the half life of plutonium 239 which was the most rampant contaminant at Rocky Flats the half life of 24000 years. So no matter which way you like that’s not going to disappear right where the going how are we continuing to monitor it.
Like maybe there maybe there is no plutonium right now at Rocky Flats. But the thing is how do we prove that to the public how can we give them the assurance that it is safe. How can the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service be confident in their testing.
There’s a lot of kind of secular conflict of interest throughout all of this because the EPA is one of the government agencies along with the FBI who initially raided Rocky Flats whenever they were found in you know in the very beginning back and let me see what year it was. I think it was 89 whenever the raid actually happened. They were the ones who raided Rocky Flats and then you guys are doing a lot of stuff that is not OK. You’re dumping plutonium you’re spraying radioactive waste unpeeled there is toxic waste being dumped into water drainage is like this isn’t OK.
And then later on the Department of Energy is the one who’s tasked with running the central operable unit now and the EPA is the one tasked with testing the central operable unit. And there is no independent testing happening at any Superfund sites across the country right now. And I think that’s definitely something that citizens and people and government officials should be questioning of every single agency that was allowed to test Superfund sites and residually monitor them after their deemed clean has to be certified by the EPA.
And I and that’s not independent testing that’s not conflict of interest free. You know the houses. How can we prove that the system is good enough to protect us. Because the fact of the matter is plutonium of their radioactive waste hasn’t spelt and it’s not going anywhere. So how can we be sure that it’s safe. How can we be sure that the process is working great.
And just to kind of back up and clarify in case people haven’t really read the whole article one of the things that really makes you think about what’s going on out there is this central operable unit the structure of it.
And so why don’t you kind of explain a little bit about what that is inside the refuge for people who haven’t read the article yet.
Right. So Rocky Flats excuse me Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is a newly designated wildlife refuge that’s opening in June 2018 so set to open next summer to the public.
It is over 5000 acres of public recreational land. It is also the site of a former plutonium and nuclear weapons production facility and one of the biggest in the U.S. ever.
Rocky Flats had a hand in producing at least one component of all 70000 nuclear weapons that have ever been produced in the United States.
So it was running full throttle during the Cold War and after it was closed down due to an FBI and EPA raid it was people can start to discover how bad it really was and the place where it was the worst is at the very center of this actual site.
Now so that entire site is a little over 6000 acres. The acreage of the part is going to be open to the public at a little over 5000. But that leaves 1000 acres still not going to be open to the public and that is known as the central operable unit.
So that is the area of the site where the main production facility was and still is. And that’s a very shocking realization to people is all of the foundational structure of the original production facility is buried the concrete foundation is buried right now underneath the central operable unit. And that was the site of the most contaminated areas Rocky Flats where it was in production.
So during the time of production and shortly after closing the EPA and now Rocky Flats was home to five of the 10 most contaminated buildings in America. This is not a thing to really be proud of and that those buildings and their foundations are still buried underneath that site and are required to continually be monitored for the next half century. So that central operable unit as it’s now known is fenced off. Locals like to call it the doughnut hole doughnut hole in the middle of it is going to be off limits to the public.
Nobody’s going to be allowed to say that it’s still being monitored and that is the only area of the entire site that right now is still owned by the Department of Energy because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can not monitor and cannot operate something that still has unsafe levels of contamination and a need for continued monitoring treatment.
So huge question there is if there is still a 1000 acre area of the site that people cannot be on then why can they be on the rest of the 5000 acres.
One great quote from this story.
One of one of the most vigorous activists in this entire process for the past 35 years is Paula Alaafin guardian and she’s kind of been leading the charge for quite some time now she’s been on this since the Sunday she grew up in an armada. And she looked at me one day and she just goes you know plutonium doesn’t care about fantasy.
And we like to believe that if the government tells us that something is safe that it is but nuclear production is only 65 years old and these contaminants have a half life of 24000 years old 24000 years excuse me.
And so it’s just this idea that how can we be sure that this is safe. We haven’t even had enough time to figure out that it’s not it’s only 65 years old. So what about the next 50 years. What about the next hundred years what about the next 200. So why choose to have people on this say whenever there is a large swath of land that is still incredibly unsafe for people to be on like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t even allowed to be honest and proper operable unit.
So it’s just those kinds of questions that poke their head and say you know is this may not be wrong. This may not be illegal because it’s all falling within the standards of the government that the EPA has said that the Department of Energy has said. And just because it’s not illegal doesn’t mean that it’s right.
Right. Well and also it raises the question you know right now 50 years away seems like a long time. What happens if 50 years if they just go in there they pull that fence out and then the lines blurred even more. than we still really know very well was for a long time frame of what any repercussions might be.
Right. And your memories were kind of short. So it’s. Just you know really interesting that definitely stood out now. Now you had a chance actually to go into their refuge with the U.S. most of us guys and trying to tour it ahead of time I guess you’ve had the early preview so.
An Early Look At Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge
So what did it feel like to kind of walk around next that that fence I mean was it kind of eerie was it you know of any new toes started on your feet since you visited it?
When I was going near the site I was actually with my dear friend and a photographer for the project Forest Woodward who is beyond qualified to be asking questions and telling these environmental stories and these large scale stories.
We had a mini van during our time here while we were reporting and we were sitting in his minivan getting ready to drive to the site of a bike. So you think this is going to be OK. And you obviously have reservations – like plutonium is scary and cancer is scary and the idea that may be unsafe is really scary.
But there are these men and women working there every single day. There are these people that are living there every single day.
And so there’s just a very desperate like attitude toward how you should feel about that land. And I’m we’re like an outsider you know I was flying in from New York City.
I obviously had researched the heck out of all of this. But I don’t have this childhood history of being told that this place is unsafe and will give me cancer. I also don’t have this experience of seeing a sick by being deemed clean and being so proud of the work that’s been done and excited about the opportunity to share it with other people.
No those are the two attitudes that are being directly applied to the opening of the site. So I just try I I as a reporter and as a conveyor of information I will going in here to be like let’s see what happens. I am I want to tell a story about my ability. I want to ask questions. I want to find out information. I want to hear what the to say like I’m not the expert here. I never have been.
I never will be but my my strength and my skills for this story really live and the ability to be curious and just to listen and to convey all the information to the best of my ability. And so while we are in there you know like I’m with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guys and I’m with David Abel and who is the head of the Rocky Fire Stewardship Council and these are people who are so proud of what’s going on here and are excited about the opening and have really like pioneered and championed the opening of this place.
And talking to them and seeing them come upon the site you know you kind of have a hard time not allowing for that.
But at the same time they’re sitting here saying you know we are scared for the next year that we don’t know what the next hundred years will be like and that was my final question to able and was you know what.
What is your biggest regret with Rocky if you like what is your biggest fear. Where with Rocky Flats. And he said not knowing what’s going to happen in 100 years. And and that’s that’s something that no matter how you feel about the site today that doesn’t give you a great feeling about tomorrow because we can’t answer those questions. We literally don’t know because like I said earlier please.
Nuclear development is a new thing worldwide and I think we need it instead of questioning what’s happened that day we really do need to focus on tomorrow and the next day and the next and next year and next century because nuclear isn’t going away. Obviously we see the headlines every single day about North Korea, and Donald Trump and all this scary stuff.
Superfund site than the EPA and budget cuts and all these things.
Whether you’re in Colorado or you’re in Missouri or you’re in New York or you’re in Washington say all of these places have Superfund sites.
This is something that’s affecting everybody like. And we need to be aware there are you know over there right now there are over thirteen hundred Superfund sites on a national priority list of all across our backyard of the country and we’re probably coming into contact more often than we even know. And for me walking on that land and like driving through it and being around it like it doesn’t look special.
And sorry for all you front rangers out there, gorgeous but the plains are the plains. You know Colorado have the Rocky Mountains and have just gorgeous terrain all the way across the state but probably the least impressive part of the entire state is the plains.
And that’s where Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is. It’s 5000 acres of Great Plains sandwiched in between Denver and Boulder.
And so after we left that night for the photographer and I we were on a run in Boulder on one of the trails and as we were running along he jumped at me. He called behind himself and asked me, “why out of all the land in Colorado are they trying to save this for recreation. This place that’s flat that’s nearly urban.”
You can see Denver and you can see boulder from sight. So why. Why funnel your U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service money and budget into this place. And I think those are the great questions like What land are we trying to save here. You know what land are we trying to maintain and advocate for.
You know the former Superfund sites are not pristine in any way shape or form like that that’s not I mean that can be argued.
So why are we trying to save the land that is tainted.
It’s like a piece of paper. You know you can. You can take a piece of paper and the minute that I get crumpled the minute that I get crazy you can never take that creep. You can still write a story on it but that paper is never going to be perfect again. So why are we trying to write a beautiful story on a piece of crumpled paper.
That kind of attitude I took towards is what is the point of making U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service answer to that. This piece of paper that the Department of Energy crumbled. And so I think that question that we need to be answering and acting right now and the hard part is that there are no answers because there is no there is no agency within the Department of Energy that or the Department of Interior that is specifically tasked with maintenance of former Superfund site.
So there’s no actual plan on how to maintain the site once they’re deemed clean. But the fact is is that are they ever really clean. They may be more safe to be on but are they ever clean. And I think that’s the question that Rocky Flats has presented. Better than any other city in America. And I think that’s what really drew me to it and I think that that’s what’s going to continue to allow rocky but to be an example or even like an anti example of how we need to approach that because like I said earlier nuclear isn’t going anywhere.
So how can we how can we handle that process from a to z as a country?
Yeah like you’re saying and there the option there is just why didn’t they just put a fence around all 5000 acres and be done with it. Right. And they can monitor the whole area and give you another forest service or fish and wildlife. Just keep working on either new land or whatever are already huge portfolio of stuff is that they can barely cover.
You know I think the answer there and like the really hard part is it’s money like they answer there is money.
So why would you and the government agency that getting funds cut every single year. Why would you send something off and have to spend the money to monitor it whenever it’s not bringing you any money whenever you can open up the public and have recreation fees and bring more.
Urban center and urban commercialism to the area because of its faith that people can be on it and they can build around it in the community. They knew that it increased the land value of the houses that are being built around it and in turn the houses that are being built around it increased the value of that national wildlife refuge because it is the only land that isn’t commercialized in that area.
So it’s you know hate it or love it money really is the answer here.
And it’s how we kind of use money in the right way and ask the right questions that I can be allotted and the correct way. But you know whenever we prioritize money which as a country we obviously do whenever you prioritize them and do what is most monetarily beneficial and putting a fence around it especially when the EPA and the DOJ tells you it’s safe putting up and saying I am going to cost them money.
As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service but you know we’re just not sure where it is going to slash our money down the toilet. And and do do some testing every year and kids keep not getting anything back for them. They’re not going to do that whenever they campaigned over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife arrest. And this is clean because they tell us it is. So we’re going to make the money because we’re not going to slash our budget down the drain here. And that’s a really hard position to be in.
And it is in. But at the same time your economic benefit you also comes from people’s willingness to you know accept what you know they’re being told as far as being safe and everything like that.
And so you know like you mentioned that when you went into this article that there are two sides to this story including you know that the people who have cleaned it up are the people who are monitoring the land and the people who have chosen to live right there and say look I’ve got this amazing space in my backyard you know I’m I’m comfortable with what I’m being told and being presented and the evidence that’s being brought forth and I’m comfortable living here. And you did.
You make sure you spoke to those people as well which is you agree for the article. What was it like to you. You have those conversations with people where did they feel the need to lie, were they defense were they you were they just like look you know we’re being told it’s safe and you know so I’m here.
Yeah. So. That’s a really great question and kind of pulling the lens back in a little bit like I went to the University of Missouri School of Journalism and I am very proud of the education that I received there and my characteristics and the skills that they taught me when being a reporter.
The thing is that I knew I had to talk to everybody. I knew I had to talk to people who are opening it, I needed to talk to people who are protesting, if I knew to people who are living on the other side of the fence of the Rocky Flats. I knew that as government officials I needed to talk to whoever I could to get any information that was available. And my job really is to listen and everybody we have free will and everybody who is a part of the story has their own story that has led them there and for people who live around the site in the Candelas community.
So there’s a 2000 home suburban development of going up all around Rocky Flats and I was able to speak with Kim Griffiths who has been living in the Calndelas community now for two years and you know Kim has her own story and I know I never come into an interview thinking that I need to lean one way or another.
I’m like hey I’m here to listen. Like why are you here. Do you like your home life. Tell me about your story your past like your experience or at least hear your experience. And then I kind of just shut up and let people talk to me because that’s my job and the talk in a can was so incredibly enlightening because whenever you think about a story like this you don’t really think about the people you think about the people who have been negatively impacted who have gotten sick.
You think about the government you think about protesters don’t really think about the people who are just going about their day to day lives in this environment and can have that voice I’m sorry.
And we’re speaking with her. You know it’s been a very rollercoaster like very much a roller coaster ride for her to be in the Kandos community because at first she wants to live. Kim is a highly educated very smart with smart woman. And while we were talking she had a lot to say and one of the biggest ones she wanted to get across is I’m not misinformed I’m not some government lackey. I’m not I’m not a dumb woman who wanted to live in a big house when I had so much respect flashy.
Absolutely conveyed to me that she felt very informed that the government had been transparent with her that she had signed an affidavit saying I know about the land I’m about to live on.
I’ve been informed that I’m making this choice and I’m making it feel like I’m able to make an educated choice. And she worked and the health field for a very long time. So this is not a woman who doesn’t know the facts of plutonium contamination and radioactive contamination on a human body. So walk with her. I just wanted to hear her speak her speak her piece.
And I think that she honestly believe in what she’s doing actually. Kim recently emailed me to tell me in full transparency that she’s become a member of the board of the Rockies Stewardship Committee. So there’s little woman who really does believe with all her heart that she’s will in the place that she wants to live and she’s got a great set up and she’s excited about the land she lives on.
All that being said she is very much putting her face into the facts and the test x and the testing that is being presented to her from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the Department of Energy and from the EPA who have you know for decades now been very upfront with providing public information to the testing of the site the levels and the management plans of Rocky Flats.
But you have to look a little bit deeper you know and that’s what I attempted to do is say OK that’s all fair like you feel that it’s safe that you feel out of place based on this fact that was provided to you it’s not just a feeling you have like you have done your research but what is beyond that research and that’s never I started to learn a little bit more about the fact that the standard for the tests have been by the upper and lower limits of these these contaminated levels have been moved by the DOJ and EPA over the years.
You know we have changed as a country are entered for with acceptable contamination as Superfund sites and former Superfund sites. So even though this is testing within safe limits. Now is that really a safe limit. Is that going to be in five years that I can be away from it in 20 years. It’s already been moved around.
We’ve already changed what our standards are because we don’t have all the information about what these contaminants will do over the course of many many years just because we can’t they’re not even that old yet. So I think it’s about allowing people to be informed but allow them to be informed the utmost level and that’s what I was trying to do with my story specifically was like I said earlier not talk about the controversy of a site not talk about who is right or who’s wrong.
But talk about that bureaucratic red tape. The shifting standards the lack of information the information presented why the information presented. Who’s running the show. Who got the money. You know talking about that and allowing ourselves as a country to talk about the larger issue of our management of former Superfund site is a microcosmic example that everybody within Rocky Flats who has experience living on a site working on a site advocating for a site processing site. They all have a vital voice in talking about the larger national conversation of how ship me change this moving forward. Let’s not do Rocky Flats again.
Right. Well you know I think that you know it’s complicated. And the article really shows those you know the various constituents really wealth from from each of their angles and so. You know it’s it’s worth a read. I think you know obviously we’ll put the links to everything in the shown us the podcast where everybody can find your story and everything like that.
One last question.
My last question is you know right at the beginning you mentioned you know so the manager in charge of this facility at the time when it got right in everything was a guy named Dominick Sanchini, who has since passed.
What would you ask that guy if he was still alive when you were able to do this story.
Are you scared of what could happen? I think that’s the only question I have. Because America America as a country we have this rhetoric that has got us through so much as a young country. You know like the American dream the classic rhetoric. It works. We prosper and we’re going to deal with the consequences later.
You know like we’re but we’re going to make it work right now. And I think we just have stamps that onto an issue that we should have never stamp it onto.
Nuclear consequences aren’t consequences that you can deal with later. So prospering now what is that going to mean for every generation after this. This rhetoric does not apply to nuclear waste and contamination. And I think that we just need to flip the script on ourselves and ask these questions.
Now like I’m very much for living in the present. I very much about having a good time and not having to worry. I think that worrying about the future is one of the worst things a person can do honestly like I try not to think about it too much myself but as a government.
You have to look forward and you have to think about the future of your nation. And so I think that like my challenge to Dominick Sanchini and the Department of Energy back in 1989 would have been are you thinking about what is going to happen later. And I want to pose that same question to the government now.
Right. Right. Well you know I think that’s a great place to leave it. And you know I just have to say you know I really appreciate you writing the story and I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and experience on you know on investigating this story with my audience. So thank you so much again for being on the podcast. And so so what’s next for you is there. You know you’re you’re spending more time out in Colorado are you still. Are you looking for the next big story or do you know what you’re going with this next.
Yeah. So Colorado man I love you guys stay and surprisingly are not surprisingly enough my summers spent in this beautiful place has morphed into a winter spent in this beautiful place. Surprise. I actually just moved and to a nice little townhouse in Carbondale and I am madly looking forward to spending a season out here in the valley on the slopes skiing in Aspen with all my buddies and just really making the most of it now from a place as far as stories I am always looking for the next thing like Rocky Flats was a very big surprise for me and I’m sure the next story will be a very big surprise.
I think there are a million things happening every single second of every single day that are worthy of a story and if you just listen and pay attention there they are. I think there’s a lot going on in the middle of our country right now.
That’s really worth paying attention to. You know I’m from the Midwest. And what recently sparked my interest is the opiate crisis and the U.S. and it causing orphans and grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
The financial and economical stress of low income families in the Midwest having to raise their grandchildren. And that’s another big one. But at the same time I’m sitting here you know pitching ideas. All my editors about you know the snow forecast went there.
So I’m all over the place. And that’s what gets me excited. And you know Colorado is a place that excited me for quite some time now so I don’t see that changing and I’m really looking forward to continuing to dive into local news here in the education system and in Colorado is incredible.
You know there are some really amazing education programs right now that are preparing kids for the future in ways that other places across the country are not doing you know in the work field is changing rapidly and more people are working remotely by you. Me. And you know that the skills that we’re going to need in the future as workers and employees are rapidly changing and the schools across the state are focusing on focusing on thinking and emotional intelligence.
And it’s amazing to see you know such a beautiful place creating beautiful people and beautiful mind. And so I’m just super excited to be here and say what kind of stories and the impulse to me and I’m going to do my best to continue listening and watching and paying attention to this place because there’s a lot of amazing and interesting and worthy stuff here obviously.
Well you know I sincerely hope you’ll come back and be on the show again when you find that next one and share it with us.
It’s been such a privilege to talk to you. I’m so excited to be on the show talking about this beautiful place and to have the opportunity to enjoy it from her and I’m really glad that this story has created some conversations.
And I’m so so honored to be able to be a part of this conversation and hopefully we all keep talking about it because I think it’s important stuff. But thank you so much for having me on.
Anytime. All right well thank you very much Lauren and no I hope to talk to you soon.
Alright thanks for listening and I hope you enjoyed this conversation. As we mentioned in the intro and as always you can find links to any related content in the show notes to this podcast episode.
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