Woman Tracking Epilepsy Possibly Caused By Rocky Flats Chemicals

By Jeff Todd

WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4) – A grass-roots community survey is finding a higher number of people with epilepsy than normal congregated in the northwest part of Denver.

“I found out I had epilepsy when I was a senior in college,” said Sarah Moore McCormick. “I had actually been having seizures since I was 11 years old.”

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Sarah Moore McCormick talking with CBS4’s Jeff Todd (credit: CBS)

McCormick grew up near 100th Avenue and Simms Street in the Countryside neighborhood of Westminster. Until recently, the only other epileptic person she knew was her niece.

“It starts in one part of my brain called the hypothalamus, that’s like the epicenter, and it’ll stay partial, but if it goes grand mal it spreads through my whole brain, and every muscle locks,” she said about her seizures. Her last one was in April.

“My brother called me, ‘Sarah, I have a friend from Countryside. She has epilepsy. So does her brother. Isn’t that weird?” she recalled.

That’s when she started finding out more about Dani Ball’s Facebook post. Ball is a medical educator and has been researching epilepsy for personal reasons since she was diagnosed as a child.

“My brother and I both have epilepsy and that’s really unique for siblings to have it. I couldn’t find an exact statistic on it, and I think that speaks to how rare it is,” Ball said.

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Dani Ball (credit: CBS)

She posted on Facebook looking for other people in and around Westminster who are have seizures. A recent study showed about 3 million adults have epilepsy. But after her post, dozens of people responded.

Ball started mapping where people with epilepsy grew up, and more importantly, she was getting a high response from the rare siblings with epilepsy. There are concentrations around Standley Lake in Westminster and North Arvada, as well as Broomfield.

“I have probably 10 or 15 people on my list with almost the exact same story. That’s the response I’ve gotten in a week,” Ball said.

“Not just people from throughout the state, people from right down the street from where I grew up at, staying in the same school system I grew up in, that’s bizarre,” McCormick said.

Ball believes the clusters may be from chemicals that left the Rocky Flats nuclear weapon facility when it was in operation until 1989.

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Rocky Flats (credit: CBS)

“Beryllium causes neurological issues. It specifically causes epilepsy that really struck with me,” Ball said.

Both of McCormick’s parents worked at rocky flats in the Beryllium room. Countryside is also a neighborhood due directly east of Rocky Flats, the same direction the wind frequently blows.

The CDC recommended Ball contact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. She’s hoping professionals can look at her results and find even more cases.

McCormick says she also wants to see more research moving forward.

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Sarah Moore McCormick (credit: CBS)

“Just getting the word out there, making some noise about it and seeing how many people are effected,” she said. “There’s something to this, come on.”

Ball says she wants to continue mapping people willing to participate.

She can be reached at daball@yahoo.com

Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.

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