An interview with 'Full Body Burden' author Kristen Iversen
Published: September 3, 2012
What was Rocky Flats for you before you worked there and after you had been there? And how did other people in the community see it?
Rocky Flats was sort of the big secret of my childhood. We could see the water tower from our back porch, that's how close we were. We never really knew what they did. People in the neighborhood — it was operated by Dow Chemicals — they thought they were making cleaning supplies. My mother thought they were making scrubbing bubbles. To the day she died she wasn't completely convinced. We were riding our horses out there and swimming in the lake. It's very difficult to think the environment is contaminated. It took me a long time to really see what was happening in Rocky Flats. One day after I came home from work, put the kids to bed, and made myself a cup of tea, and there was a Nightline expose on Rocky Flats. The mantra of the plant was “everything's fine,” and here they're saying on Nightline that there are 14 tons of plutonium unsafely stored at the plant, and leaks into the environment, and problems with workers, and I was stunned. I grew up in a very conservative environment, and it took me a long time to shake the idea that the government and these private corporations would tell us if something was wrong, would tell us if they were putting our lives and our health at risk. … It took me a long time to sort of come to grips with that and see what was really going on.
What were the circumstances that led the raid on Rocky Flats?
There had been rumors about Rocky Flats for many years, and Jon Lipsky with the FBI and William Smith with the EPA started to investigate this. Then they started getting calls from workers inside the plant who were concerned. Jim Stone, who worked at the plant for a number of years, said at the beginning “You are putting this plant in the wrong location” [because of wind patterns that transported potential airborne radioactive pollution to the population center of Denver]. There was very strong indications that there was heavy and extensive radioactive and toxin contamination at the plant and the plant was operating in violation of environmental law. That led to the raid on June 6, 1989, and … that raid led to a two-year grand jury investigation that was eventually scuttled. It also led to a class-action lawsuit on the part of more than 13,000 local residents. That case took 20 years to wind its way through the courts. There is no question that land is contaminated; there's plutonium in the soil. But the question is: can you prove a direct link to health effects? And can you prove a direct link to loss of property values? In 2007 a jury decided in our favor. My family would not have benefited financially, but it certainly was a moral and emotional victory. And then, three years later, it was overturned by three circuit court judges in Denver. Then the U.S. Supreme Court three weeks ago, four weeks ago, they declined to review it.
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