Rocky Flats Stories
Unsolicited emails and letters received by people who live or lived around Rocky Flats, or worked at the plant. Stories and names used with permission.
“We are writing to let you know of a situation that more than validates your book. My step-daughter Cheri, age 52, is currently processing through Stage 4 brain cancer and is in hospice. She has lived her entire life in Golden/Arvada. Her ex-husband, Frank, died in July 2012 of brain cancer after a two-year battle. They lived with their two children on a ranch in an open field of 100 acres [near Rocky Flats] and it was constantly windy. My husband, Bill, was born and raised in Denver and had several veterinary clinics, in Colorado and California. He took over a veterinary clinic in Arvada [near Rocky Flats] when the owner was diagnosed with lymphocytic leukemia and died. Bill was amazed to see the alarming number of cancer cases in animals! It was so much higher that he even asked other local veterinarians about it, and they seemed to think the incidence was “normal.” He saw more cancer in Arvada in a week than he saw in California in 8-10 weeks in a much larger practice. Many people in the area are living in a state of denial and have a head-in-the-sand mentality…” –Bill, a local veterinarian, and his wife Sky
“I grew up in a house off 77th Drive and Kipling. I remember knowing that Rocky Flats was making nuclear weapons and joking about living downwind of the plant, but it never fully sunk in. My mother was always concerned about us kids having issues as adults because of where we grew up, she was always very vocal about it. We tubed in the ditches and played in Standley Lake, we rode horses up and down Alkire and spent time off Leyden Road. I can remember hearing about the protesters and thinking they were leftover hippies from the 60s. For years I have worried about the repercussions of living downwind from Rocky Flats. I have had my own health issues but more importantly, I have buried an obscene number of friends who were stricken with cancer. But now I have a deep understanding of what I was exposed to as a child and perhaps an explanation for some of my own health troubles.” –Former Colorado resident Stephanie Cegielski
“I’m writing to you about the story in Full Body Burden of Kristen Haag, the young girl who died of cancer. Kris was my daughter’s best friend. The year Kris died was also the year my husband, my four children and I moved from our home in Ralston Estates just off W. 64th Ave. and west of Oberon Road. Rocky Flats was nearly in our back yard. My daughter Becki was crushed when we told her we were moving to Missouri, as was Kris. Becki had told me that Kris had a sore leg and how badly she felt for Kris. The day before we were to move, Kris spent the night with Becki. The next morning I took them both to a store at Arvada Square and let them purchase gifts to give each other as a remembrance. As we were walking through the store, Kris had to sit down halfway down the aisle. I was alarmed and asked her if she was ok – she told me she was, but that her leg bothered her and that she just had to rest. They bought heart necklaces and gave each other half of the heart charm on their necklace and we went home. Becki cried for hours after she told Kris good-bye. We hadn’t been in Missouri a week when Judy (Kris’ mom) called and said the doctors had just amputated Kris’ leg mid-thigh and that she had been diagnosed as having cancer. We were so shocked but glad they had gotten the cancer (or so we thought). Within 6 months to the day that Judy had called, she called again. Only this time to tell us that Kris had passed away. Becki was heart-broken, needless to say, and I was in a state of shock. Cancer had taken Kris so quickly.” –Former Colorado resident
“I remember an all-night vigil in the cold winter wind along the highway entrance to Rocky Flats. It must have been 1969 or 1970. I took the graveyard shift with a friend. We sat in our car in a small gravel lot adjacent to the entrance facing the highway. When we spotted headlights, we got out in the wind coming down off the mountains and took our protest sign from where it was wedged under the wheel of the car, then braced ourselves in the wind to be caught briefly in the headlights of the passing car. Some people honked in support. It was lonely out there until change of shift. We offered leaflets to the exiting workers and some of them even accepted them. One man got so preoccupied with making a show of crumpling up his leaflet to throw away, he drifted forward and bumped the car in from of him. In general, the workers were hostile to our presence. We made our stand, but were dismissed as crackpots.” –Brock Robinson, Colorado resident
“We moved to Colorado in 1961 and settled down in Northglenn when 104th was a dirt road and I-25 and 104th was a 4-way stop, my father says. I can truly remember the fire on Mother’s Day 1969. I was on the roof of our home and I remember seeing the black smoke to the West.” — Current Colorado resident
“In the fall of 1955, my father started working at Rocky Flats. I graduated from Arvada High School in 1964. My father NEVER talked about his work at the plant. He started as a machinist, became a tool and die maker, and then a programmer. He worked there for over 35 years. After his death, my mom told me that he told her that a lot of the workers didn’t follow the posted safety instructions that he did religiously.” –Former Colorado resident now living in Illinois
“I grew up in northwest Arvada with the glow of the Rocky Flats perimeter fence lights out of my bedroom window (74th and Simms by Oberon Junior High, graduated from Arvada West in 1986). Most of my neighbors and friend’s fathers worked at Rocky Flats (or Coors!) and I heard all the same euphemisms: “they just make the triggers.” In college physics I realized that the “trigger” was the bomb; and perhaps its most dangerous part. I swam in the same lakes and canals.” –Former Colorado resident now living in Minnesota
“I am surprised by the short-term memory of the Cold War. I was well aware of it growing up [in Arvada]. . . I remember a teacher in the fourth grade disciplining us while reading KGB novels and telling us that “The Soviet Union’s got a missile pointed right at your back yard!” I never forgot that, and only recently came to understand the mentality for his comment with the vast relationship between Colorado and the military and weapons development. The protests at Rocky Flats in my high school days seemed like something “those Boulder people” did. It just did not really click what the “hoopla” was all about . . . We are all “hibakusha”—victims of radiation.” –Amy Uehara, who grew up near Rocky Flats and has lived in Japan for 27 years. She was in Arvada during the 1969 fire and in Japan during the Fukushima disaster.
“I grew up in Arvada, so I am very familiar with Rocky Flats, but the going-ons there were always a mystery to me . . . I know of two people from my childhood who died from cancer that has been traced to exposure to plutonium from Rocky Flats (or so I’ve been told). My father lived for more than 40 years in Arvada and he died from brain cancer . . .” –Current Colorado resident
“There’s a documentary entitled Dark Circle, produced in 1982. Dark Circle primarily focuses on Rocky Flats and its hidden secrets, and also explores the wider cover-up of nuclear energy in general. My grandfather was featured in the documentary, which is why I’m so familiar. I watch it every so often and each time, the cover-up of the hidden dangers never ceases to amaze me. My grandfather, like so many others exposed to nuclear dangers, passed away in 1989, due to leukemia contracted by the exposure (of course the government denies the involvement) . . . I know so many people have been affected, yet so few speak out.” –Current Colorado resident
“My father must have been one of the first guards hired at Rocky Flats in 1952, shortly after my birth. We moved to Arvada in 1957 to the Hutchinson Homes [subdivision] just about a block east of the McDonalds restaurant. We went to church at the Presbyterian Church on the top of the hill across from the cemetery. I was a 9th grader at Oberon Junior High the first year it opened, and my best friend and I wrote the school fight song. Before long Dad became a chemical operator. Of course, he couldn’t tell us what he did at work – he always joked about making stringless yoyos and straw hats. As I got a little older I became aware of recurring security checks conducted with some of our neighbors. When I was in high school, I got involved in local politics and I know it made Dad nervous that I might get wrapped up in something that would jeopardize his security clearance. I started college the fall after the 1969 fire, and I was aware by then that they were working with radioactive materials and that it was an incredible process to clean up after the fire. He sometimes spoke of having to take “clean up” showers – and I wonder if they didn’t contribute to the terrible skin problems he suffered from. I remember (not sure when exactly, but while I was in college 1969-73) the first time we were able to go past the guard shack for a “family day” tour of one building where we saw what must have been replicas of the glove boxes. That was when I learned that Dad was working with plutonium, but I knew little more than that . . . I have always had a nagging sense of something I can only call guilt that our living was provided by this kind of business. Realizing how unaware the general public was of the horrible situation at Rocky Flats helps me deal somewhat with that.”–– Current Colorado resident
“My husband was a worker there for about 20 years . . . he passed away of a brain cancer, although he had already developed Beryllium (C.B.D.). I can’t believe how people let our government sweep this under a rug. I put a claim in for the cancer and three times I was led to believe that I would be getting a settlement, [but] now I’m fighting them again. It’s no longer the money—believe me I could use it—but I feel that something must be done about the misjustice to the workers who [gave] their life, but for what?”–Wife of a former Rocky Flats worker
“I remember that expanse of fields between our backyard and Standley Lake, floating on inner tubes down the Church Irrigation Ditch, walking to Oberon to avoid the drama of the school bus and bus stop, putting pennies on the railroad track. When the ditch that separated us from Oberon unexpectedly filled, though, I remember crossing it on a narrow pipe. But I waded it a few times, too. Every day a new adventure . . . I had a walnut-sized tumor removed from my thyroid when I was 19. Fortunately it was benign. I had prostate cancer, too, at a relatively young age five years ago . . . [I]t makes me wonder.”–Former Arvada resident
“My husband, two sons, and I lived in Westminster on W. 104th Court, just up the street from Standley Lake High School for six years (199 -1999). During those years, the boys were in preschool and elementary school (Witt Elementary). Of course, they played outdoors, dug in the yard, and climbed the hill with tall grass behind the house. We also went over to Standley Lake for walks and play time. At night from different places in the area we could see bluish lights from Rocky Flats. There was talk of plutonium and contamination which was of some concern; like many others we put those thoughts aside and lived our lives. While living in Westminster, we got a wonderful yellow Lab . . . As a puppy, she was a nonstop digger in the yard where she buried her bones and always knew precisely where to find them when she cared to retrieve them. [She developed] cancer in one of her hind legs, which was amputated. The expectation from the vet was that she was likely to have at least another year-and-a-half with us. Sadly, the cancer ended up spreading rather quickly and we had to have her euthanized not too long after the surgery. I will never know if having lived in close proximity to Rocky Flats caused the disease . . . The incessant lying that took place is an outrage, as is having the gall to convert the contaminated land into a national wildlife refuge.” –Former Colorado resident Marie Liston
To read more about Rocky Flats through the eyes of the people who have lived the story, read Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen. For updated news and stories, follow Kristen on Facebook at www.facebook.com/authorkristeniversen.