JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – When the announcement came that soil testing near the Rocky Flats former nuclear production facility yielded a higher than normal result for plutonium, Dr. Michael Ketterer wasn’t surprised.
“I’ve been expecting to see these kinds of things happen, and I’m also interested in studying this phenomenon myself,” he said.
The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority hasn’t said what was found in a test result, but has asked the state for guidance on how to continue.
Dr. Ketterer observed some similar soil sampling in July. He also conducted some of his own and found high levels of plutonium, but nothing as high as what was likely reported to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“This particular data point is telling you something very, very specific; that you have just encountered one of these particles. If you throw this out as an outlier, you are throwing out a real result that’s telling you about something meaningful,” said Ketterer.
He stresses he hasn’t seen the data, but thinks he knows how a result could have an extremely high reading of plutonium.
“They’ve got one particular soil sample from somewhere in that corridor. They were unlucky enough to obtain in the sample a small particle of essentially pure plutonium, plutonium dioxide. There are particles, which are known as ‘hot particles.’ Some of the plutonium is in the form of these little nuggets, these little hot particles that are micron in size and those guys originated from the fires,” he said, referring to the fires at the former nuclear in 1957 and 1969.
The concern moving forward is many more “hot particles” exist along Indiana Street and could become airborne during construction of the toll road. Plutonium can cause health impacts and is believed to play a role in a number of health concerns around the Front Range.
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“I think it’s inevitable that there’s going to be some release of these as a result of this construction project,” said Ketterer. “There will be a lot of earth moving, there will be a lot of dust becoming airborne and quite possibly some of these contaminated particles are going to be churned up into the air.”