What really happened at Rocky Flats

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By The Staff

Dear Editor,

The Feb. 14 Los Alamos Monitor incorrectly reported that “the Rocky Flats site was shut down for environmental crimes in 1989” (Roger Snodgrass, “Santa Fe resists LANL pits”). The FBI raided the Rocky Flats Plant in 1989 with evidence that a fluid bed incinerator operated without a permit. Evidence consisted of an aerial infrared photograph of Building 776. In this photograph, FBI investigators mistook glovebox exhaust for incinerator exhaust. Building 776 glovebox exhaust did not re-circulate, and during winter months, this single pass exhaust from a 13-acre roof resulted in a significant heat signature. The accusation that Rocky Flats management ran a clandestine waste treatment plant proved untrue. Another accusation brought by the FBI was that hazardous wastes were illegally dumped into Woman Creek, a creek that flows during Colorado’s wettest months, emptying into Standley Lake, a raw water source belonging to the city of Westminster. This accusation proved untrue, as did all of the 1989 FBI allegations. Nevertheless, the 1989 FBI investigation uncovered serious EPA violations. The most serious was committed by a first-line manager, without upper management’s approval. To reduce the threat of wildfire, this team leader sprayed herbicide on a field without a permit. Households across the country leagally use Ortho Weed-be-Gone to reduce the number of dandelions in their lawns. Despite the common use of this product for agricultural and household purposes, the law rightfully requires companies to obtain permits. As a consequence of this finding, Rockwell International paid an uncontested $18.2 million fine.In November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the political climate changed. By 1992, politicians in Washington and in Colorado changed the Rocky Flats mission, ultimately closing the plant altogether. At that time, the environment was an issue, just as it is today in Los Alamos. However, the environmental issues of 1989 did not cause the closure of Rocky Flats.Joe ReynoldsLos Alamos