As federal officials finalize details for Saturday’s controversial opening of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, sent a letter Thursday asking them to conduct more testing and noting many of his constituents want to postpone the opening.
“Unanticipated and significant climate events, including a massive flood in 2013, have changed the topography of the refuge,” Polis wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “It is critical to evaluate what impact the flood had on possible contamination from the adjoining Superfund site, centrally located within the refuge.”
But Polis, who is hoping to become Colorado’s next governor, stopped short of asking Zinke to stop the ceremony.
The refuge sits 16 miles northwest of Denver, and it surrounds a restricted parcel of land where plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs were manufactured for decades. The Environmental Protection Agency considers that fenced core a Superfund site, meaning it’s among the most contaminated places in the country. That’s not in dispute. Where the EPA and local environmental groups disagree is whether 5,000 acres surrounding that site are safe for people and animals. Plutonium particles, if inhaled or ingested, can cause cancer.
Both the EPA and the Colorado health department say tests of the air, water and soil showed “an extremely small” increased risk for cancer and is safe for unlimited use by workers and visitors.
Local environmental groups, like The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, disagree and sued to block the refuge’s opening. The case is pending, but a federal judge rejected a request to block the opening until it’s decided.
Environmental groups aren’t the only ones with concerns about potential plutonium particles in the refuge’s dust, soil and water. In April, Front Range school districts including Denver, Boulder and Jefferson County banned their teachers from taking students there on field trips.
Polis wasn’t available for comment Thursday evening. His letter doesn’t make it clear whether he personally supports a delay for additional testing or simply wants the concerns of his constituents, which he references in the letter, to be taken seriously.
That ambiguity didn’t stop environmental groups from quickly commending him.
“We are gratified by Rep. Jared Polis’s letter to Secretary of the Interior Zinke,” Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center members Christopher Hormel and Judith Mohling said in a joint statement. “It is great to see a Colorado Member of Congress so strongly focused on protecting public health.”