By Rick Sallinger

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – Is it a deadly coincidence or something more? Workers at the Englewood drinking water treatment facility are concerned that so many of its people have developed cancer.

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Three have died, one just recently, and at least three others are suffering from various forms of the disease. That’s out of 15 who work there. The city insists the plant is safe.

Ken Klowever is afraid.

“Three years ago I was the third person in six months to come down with cancer and I’m the only one still alive,” he told CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger.

CBS4's Rick Sallinger interviews Ken Klowever (credit: CBS)

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger interviews Ken Klowever (credit: CBS)

Kloewer works at the Charles Allen Water Filtration Plant at Windermere Street and Layton Avenue. He blames the large piles of waste or sludge for his cancer. He was diagnosed with colon cancer which spread to his liver and lungs.

“Now they have discovered a lump in my neck … and I’m scared to death,” he said.

The sludge contains radioactivity. The state mandates that it be buried in a hazardous waste vault. A 1998 letter from the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency warned, “These dust particles, if inhaled, may release radioactive particles into the lungs.”

The Allen Water Treatment Facility in Englewood (credit: CBS)

The Allen Water Treatment Facility in Englewood (credit: CBS)

But Englewood City Manager Eric Keck points to extensive tests of the sludge which found the radiation is at low levels.

“We feel very strongly through our collaboration and cooperation with the state Department of Health and Environment as well as the EPA that we are not in a situation where we are actually causing harm to our residents,” Keck said.

The 1998 letter recommended that workers wear masks and that the sludge be covered with a tarp. But when CBS4 checked in March of this year there was no tarp. Winds could carry the dust into the nearby neighborhood. There CBS4 also found cases of cancer. But a connection with the water treatment plant was not suspected on the neighborhood block until recently when information was shared by Kloewer, who has a worker’s compensation suit pending.

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The Allen Water Treatment Facility in Englewood (credit: CBS)

The Allen Water Treatment Facility in Englewood (credit: CBS)

In the area one man’s wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The family asked that CBS4 not use their name.

“I cried and I cried a lot when diagnosed that this was happening to our home,” the husband told CBS4 with his wife adding, “Living close to the water treatment plant is kind of scary. If the wind is blowing after I saw that letter I’m afraid to go outside my house.”

Englewood’s director of utilities is adamant that the sludge is safe. On another day it was covered a tarp which they say is routine for drying.

The sludge is the waste product of the water which is then treated with chemicals and filters to make it safe to drink. CBS4 asked the city manager about employees who died from cancer at the plant.

The Allen Water Treatment Facility in Englewood (credit: CBS)

The Allen Water Treatment Facility in Englewood (credit: CBS)

“Those individuals engaged in behavior, which at the time was not perceived as risky, such as smoking four to five packs of cigarettes a day,” Keck said.

CBS4 brought the city’s test results to an expert at the Colorado School of Mines. Examining them he wrote, “There are not apparent circumstantial evidences that material contained in the sludge is responsible or can be responsible to severe illnesses.”

But Kloewer wonders why so many like him have developed cancer stating, “I’m sorry I’m making these accusations, but I’ve done everything I can to get rid of this sludge, but we still have it.”

The Allen Water Treatment Facility in Englewood (credit: CBS)

The Allen Water Treatment Facility in Englewood (credit: CBS)

The Colorado Cancer Registry recently conducted a review and found no elevated cancer rates in the area.

The source of Kloewer’s cancer and others remains uncertain.

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CBS4’s Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.