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(Reprinted from Westword, April 2001. For educational purposes only. All links
are currently broken).

Part 1: The Lowdown on Lowry

The city thought it had settled any questions about the
Lowry Landfill. The truth is a toxic shocker.
By Eileen Welsome
Published: April 12, 2001
One hot morning last summer, a small valve was turned on at the Lowry Superfund Site, and
groundwater from the old landfill began flowing through a newly constructed sewer line. The
water had no color, no odor, and had already undergone several procedures at the landfill site to
remove certain chemicals. It looked cool and refreshing -- almost good enough to drink.
Day and night, at the rate of about ten to twenty gallons per minute, the groundwater surged
through the subterranean network of sewers that crisscross the city. Some of the water was
diverted to Aurora, where it would be sprayed on parks and golf courses, but the rest eventually
flowed into the vast river of sewage that pours daily into the Metro Wastewater Reclamation
District plant in north Denver. At Metro, the largest sewage-treatment facility between the
Mississippi River and the West Coast, the water was filtered and cleansed, then eventually
discharged into the South Platte River. Some of the heavier Lowry elements were left behind in
the plant's malodorous sludge, or "biosolids," as those in the business prefer to call it, and the
sludge was then hauled away in trucks to be spread on farms in eastern Colorado.
If all goes according to plan, this discharge will continue for the next fifty years, possibly much
longer. And when the valve is shut off for good, millions of gallons of hazardous waste --
containing dioxins, PCBs, pesticides, heavy metals and radionuclides -- will have been
transferred from the landfill site to Colorado's rivers and creeks and farmland.
City, state and federal officials insist the process is a safe and cost-effective way to treat Lowry's
hazardous waste, but one longtime Environmental Protection Agency official says the deal
simply lets polluters off the hook. "You're basically transferring the liability of the hazardous
materials from the responsible parties at the landfill to the City and County of Denver and the
region of Colorado where the material's going to be dumped," says Hugh Kaufman, who helped
craft the laws governing Superfund sites in the late '70s and, until recently, was the chief
investigator for the EPA Office of Ombudsman.
A confidential legal analysis prepared in 1996 for the City of Denver illuminates another aspect
of the arrangement that's beneficial to polluters: As long as the contaminated groundwater
remains on-site, it is categorized as hazardous waste and subject to the plethora of federal laws
governing the disposal and storage of such wastes. But once the liquids are pumped through the
sewers, the "site waters" need only meet the standards of the sewage-treatment facility accepting
the wastes.
The EPA is currently reviewing whether the remedy at Lowry Landfill is adequately protective
of "human health and the environment." Much has changed since the agency issued its formal

cleanup program for the site seven years ago: Housing developments have sprung up within a
mile of the landfill, and explosive growth is expected in the area in the coming years.
From roughly 1964 to 1980, nearly every major industry operating in or near Denver used Lowry
Landfill as its personal dumping ground. Waste oils, sludges, pesticides, cleaning solvents,
construction debris, paint, hospital waste, pharmaceutical chemicals, even dead zoo elephants
were dumped into unlined pits and covered with household garbage. The pits belched and
steamed, often catching fire, and the poisonous liquids eventually seeped down into the
groundwater. Beneath the landfill are four aquifers that supply water to suburban and rural
The landfill was placed on the EPA's National Priorities List of Superfund sites in 1984. In
subsequent years, public officials and the companies responsible for the pollution tried to
determine exactly what had been dumped at the landfill, who was responsible, and what was the
best method for cleaning up the toxic waste. Since all of the potential polluters, from small mom-
and-pop outfits to well-heeled companies such as the Adolph Coors Company, were equally
liable for cleaning up the mess, there was a lot of finger-pointing. Eventually the dispute wound
up in federal court.
The City and County of Denver and Waste Management of Colorado Inc., the contractor that
operated the landfill, took the lead, filing lawsuits against scores of companies in an effort to
obtain the $94 million that the EPA said would be needed to clean up the site. The last party to
settle was the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, which had spread millions of gallons of
sewage sludge at the landfill during the '60s and '70s; Metro was the big fish that the city and
Waste Management wanted to reel in. Finally, in the spring of 1996, Metro agreed to pay $1.9
million, some of which would be used to construct a new sewer line and, most important, to
pump the Lowry groundwater through that sewer system.
With Metro's capitulation, the city and its private partner were on their way to devising a
permanent solution for the foul-smelling liquid that roiled beneath the landfill. But fierce
opposition soon emerged from an unexpected quarter: One of Metro's newly appointed board
members, a self-contained and articulate woman named Adrienne Anderson, was worried that
the Lowry discharge could endanger Metro's workers and the public at large. At a request from
the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, Anderson spent weeks at the EPA Superfund
Records Center in downtown Denver, poring over microfilmed records related to the Lowry site.
Late one afternoon, when her eyes were burning with fatigue, the parking meter was running
outside, and her children were waiting to be picked up from a daycare center, she found what she
refers to as the "smoking gun" memo -- a letter that had been prepared by the polluters
themselves, a group known as the Lowry Coalition, and hand-delivered to the EPA a few weeks
before Christmas 1991. Attached to the letter was page after page of monitoring data that
described contaminants found in scores of wells drilled around the site.
The polluters summarized the most salient points in their letter to the EPA. Numerous wells at
the landfill had alarmingly high levels of americium and plutonium, they told the EPA, and those
radioactive contaminants could have come from only one place: the now-defunct Rocky Flats
nuclear-weapons plant located northwest of Denver. Plutonium is a highly carcinogenic
substance, and americium, a contaminant usually found in the presence of plutonium, can also
cause cancer.

With this new piece of evidence and hundreds of additional documents, Anderson met with the
union and then set out to alert the public to the danger. "I was sad, sick, nauseous, horrified and
alarmed," remembers Anderson, who subsequently filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the
Metro Wastewater Reclamation District that will be ruled upon this spring.
Anderson's pronouncements were met with heated denials from virtually every city, state and
federal official involved with the landfill. Members of the local media soon followed suit,
dismissing her as a radical environmentalist or worse. "Her allegations are bullshit," says the
EPA's Marc Herman, who served as project manager at Lowry for nearly a decade. "No, no, no;
they're horseshit, because horseshit stinks more than bullshit. I think that says it all."
Yet an employee who once worked for Waste Transport, a company that transported liquid
wastes to Lowry from numerous plants in the Denver area, now admits that drivers stopped at
Rocky Flats two to three times a month and suctioned thousands of gallons of water from sumps
located near the buildings. "We hauled out of Rocky Flats, we hauled out of Shattuck, we hauled
out of Arapahoe Chemicals in Boulder," says Lloyd Hesser, who lives in Needles, California,
and is suffering from numerous ailments that he believes were caused by the chemicals he hauled
to Lowry. "I feel sorry that I hauled that shit. How many people have I poisoned?"
According to a database maintained by the City of Denver, at the time public officials were
loudly insisting that there was no plutonium at Lowry, they were making no effort to retest wells
there that had consistently showed high readings of plutonium or americium. Instead, the results
of the radioactivity component of the study -- which had been gathered over a four-year period at
a cost of millions of dollars -- were simply "re-analyzed" and then jettisoned for technical
The database, which dates back to 1975 and contains more than 155,000 test results, can be
sorted to analyze sampling activity at Lowry in seconds, showing what wells were sampled,
when they were sampled, and what was found in them.
The database was part of in a formal public-records request Westword filed with the City of
Denver last December, yet officials didn't include it in the boxes of documents and electronic
data that were made available; Westword obtained a copy from another source. Among the trends
revealed by that database:
• With the exception of one well, none of the approximately 65 wells sampled between 1988 and
1991 that showed high results for plutonium or americium have ever been resampled. The wells
have either been plugged, abandoned or simply not tested for those radionuclides.
• Some wells sampled early during the testing period show extraordinarily high levels of
numerous radionuclides, ranging up to 4 million picocuries for americium-241, 6 million pico-
curies for neptunium-239, 2 million picocuries for iodine-133, and 8 million picocuries for
arsenic-76. While these figures are listed in the "results" column, officials nevertheless say they
represent laboratory "detection limits" and not the actual levels of contamination. But according
to several scientists who reviewed the data, those detection limits are set so high that they reveal
nothing about what is present at the site.
• The current low readings for plutonium and americium -- touted everywhere from City Hall to
the EPA as proof there is no contamination at Lowry -- are being taken from approximately 35
newly drilled wells located just outside the areas of historic contamination, or from wells that
never showed much contamination to begin with.

• None of the roughly 25 wells that are deeper than 100 feet are being sampled for plutonium or
americium. By contrast, those that are being sampled are mostly shallow wells located in the
alluvium or uppermost bedrock. The deep wells -- not the shallow wells -- could alert officials as
to whether the plutonium and americium are descending toward the underlying aquifers.
• Wells located at the outermost western edge of the landfill and north of a barrier wall are not
being sampled for plutonium or americium. These wells could provide officials with important
information regarding whether any radioactive contaminants are creeping toward populated
Waste Management's Lori Tagawa and Dennis Bollmann, one of the city's environmental
scientists based at Lowry, defend the current sampling program, arguing that new wells drilled in
the last two or three years provide ample data about any potential lateral and downward
migration of contaminants. "We have early-warning monitoring wells for just about everything,"
Tagawa says.
Both Tagawa and Bollmann also say there's no evidence that any contaminants have descended
into the lower aquifers. "We haven't seen any kind of contamination in the deeper wells," notes
Bollmann. Yet documents on file at the Superfund Records Center and the database itself show
positive results for both radioactive and nonradioactive chemicals in wells drilled deeper than
300 feet.
Westword has also obtained numerous confidential documents describing settlement agreements
that the city and Waste Management entered into in the early- to mid-'90s with the companies
that dumped wastes at Lowry, as well as the two multimillion-dollar trusts that were established
with the settlement funds. Those documents indicate that all of the parties involved in the
lawsuits have a huge financial stake in making sure the landfill's cleanup costs do not exceed the
$94 million set forth by the EPA in its 1994 Record of Decision, a legally binding document that
guides cleanup activities at the site. In fact, the "profits" that the city and Waste Management
hope to someday reap from overseeing the cleanup and the expenses polluters may have to pay
for that cleanup are directly linked to how much money they can save on the remediation. These
records also show:
• Some polluters were apparently so concerned about potential radioactive contamination that
they purchased "radioactive premiums" from the city and/or Waste Management. The radioactive
premiums were one of a number of premium options offered to the various polluters during
settlement negotiations; the premiums protect them from such things as cost overruns, private-
party litigation, potential toxic tort claims, and natural-resource damage claims that could
conceivably be brought by Colorado's attorney general, or even fines levied by the EPA itself.
The City of Denver, the two trusts established with the settlement funds and/or Waste
Management get to pocket the premiums as profit, court documents state. But if lawsuits are
eventually filed or cleanup costs increase substantially as a result of some unforeseen event --
such as radioactive contamination -- then the city and Waste Management could be out millions
of dollars.
• Some of the companies that settled with the city and Waste Management have "reopener"
clauses in their agreements, which means that if cleanup costs exceed a certain amount, those
companies could be forced to come up with more money.
• In recent years, the city and Waste Management have been debating whether they can legally
withdraw "management fees" from the trust funds established to pay for the cleanup. Denver

officials won't say how much is collectively held in the two trusts, but records indicate that by
the end of 1994, approximately $110 million had been collected in cleanup costs, premiums and
other fees. The management charges, which could amount to millions, would be based on several
factors, including the difference between the money actually spent by the city and Waste
Management on cleanup versus the $94 million that the EPA estimated in 1994 it would cost to
remediate the site.
Other than a handful of city officials and a few private individuals, most people in Denver have
no knowledge of the settlement agreements or the trusts, which are administered outside the
purview of the city and apparently not subject to Denver City Charter regulations governing
public funds. Even the EPA says it doesn't know how the settlements were structured or how
much money is currently in the cleanup fund.
The agreements were sealed by then-federal judge Sherman Finesilver at the request of Waste
Management and with the tacit agreement of the City of Denver and other settling parties.
Finesilver, who is now retired, was the judge who issued a gag order for the Rocky Flats grand
jurors, barring them from ever talking about their two-and-a-half-year investigation into alleged
environmental crimes committed at Rocky Flats by its contractors and federal officials.
In the beginning, the land where the future Lowry Landfill would be located was little more than
a vast, unbroken expanse of prairie and sagebrush, ravaged by blizzards and wind, far from
downtown Denver and its growing suburbs. The area was part of a much larger parcel of
property that was purchased by the City of Denver with general-obligation bond funds before
World War II, then donated to the U.S. military in 1940 for a bombing range. As the heavy
bombers chugged above the scorched earth, dropping their payloads on hapless targets, the area
became known as Lowry Air Force Base and Bombing Range.
The bombing runs were discontinued in 1958 when the Air Force decided to excavate and build
four separate missile-launch complexes, each containing three missile silos, for the Titan
Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Program. Constructed from steel and reinforced concrete, the
launch complexes were extremely elaborate affairs and built to withstand many pressures,
including a nearby atomic blast. Located far below the ground were control centers, generating
equipment, living rooms, kitchens, sleeping quarters and, of course, the long narrow silos that
housed the nuclear weapons themselves. A web of underground tunnels allowed military
personnel easy access to all parts of the site. Soon, twelve armed nuclear missiles -- three in each
of the four launch complexes -- sat ready and waiting for the doomsday signal. But the warheads
had barely been settled into their underground homes when the Strategic Air Command decided
to phase them out. In an effort to wring a few pennies from the boondoggle, the General Services
Administration sold three of the launch complexes for $450,000 to a construction firm in Salt
Lake City, which salvaged what it could and left the rest behind.
In 1964, the federal government conveyed back to the City of Denver five sections of land in a
quitclaim deed. City officials decided to locate a new dump on Section 6, a square tract of land
that was readily accessible to highway traffic and bordered on the west by Gun Club Road, on
the north by Hampden Avenue and on the south by Quincy Avenue.
The government's quitclaim deed specifically stipulated that a portion of the property being
conveyed back to the city be used as a landfill. The stipulation suggests that the federal
government may have already been using some of this property as a landfill; several aerial
photographs of Section 6 support that hypothesis. A photograph taken in June 1963 -- a year or

two before the city took over the facility -- shows numerous dirt roads crisscrossing the area and
an oval-shaped lagoon in what would become the southeastern corner of the landfill. Another
aerial photograph taken two years later, in December 1965, shows roads leading east from this
lagoon to two long, liquid-filled trenches and several smaller ones on the landfill proper.
To the unpracticed eye, Section 6 seemed like a perfectly reasonable place to put a landfill. The
land was relatively flat, sloping gently down to a bowl-like depression where an intermittent
stream called Unnamed Creek emerged during heavy rains and flowed in a northerly direction.
Beneath the site lay four aquifers -- the Dawson, the Denver, the Arapahoe and the Laramie-Fox
Hills -- that provided water for rural communities and Denver suburbs alike. The U.S.
Geological Survey, which did a seminal study of the area in the late '70s, concluded that surface
water and shallow groundwater generally moved north, while water located in the deeper
aquifers flowed west. But later investigations also found that water bubbled up to the surface and
flowed down through fractures, two phenomena that would greatly complicate future efforts to
determine the migratory path of contaminants. "Sand lenses" -- shallow beds of loosely packed
soils beneath the surface - are also present at the site and could affect water flow.
But no one was thinking about aquifers when the dump opened for business in the mid-1960s.
Instead, the city was widely applauded by regulators and private companies alike for providing
such a vital public service. "The willingness of the city and county of Denver to dispose of
questionable wastes (formerly without charge) keeps much of this material out of less suitable
landfills and provides a useful service to industries and institutions. The 'concentration' of these
materials at this site has prevented potential pollution of other drainage areas and aquifers,"
wrote one state official in a 1976 Colorado Department of Health report.
Soon, trucks from Denver, Golden, Longmont and Boulder began rumbling down Highway 30
toward the new landfill. Sloshing inside their shiny tankers were hazardous chemicals that
scientists decades later would learn were capable of producing birth defects, genetic anomalies,
immune system disorders -- even cancer if exposures were large enough. The EPA estimates that
between 1964 and 1980, about 140 million gallons of hazardous waste were dumped at the site.
But that number could significantly underestimate the problem. Landfill records maintained by
the City of Denver show that in the first two weeks of 1975 alone, some 611,925 gallons of
liquid waste were dumped at Lowry -- a figure that could push the total closer to 220 million
EPA officials spent countless hours studying landfill receipts, trucking records and other
documents in an effort to figure out how much the various private and public entities had
dumped at the landfill. Using their considerable federal clout, they demanded from private
companies and public agencies alike waste disposal records and information about industrial
processes. From this, they developed "waste-in lists," or compilations of what a particular firm
had dumped at Lowry. The EPA officials then sent these rough estimates to the "potentially
responsible parties," who, in turn, fired back with their own invariably low estimates. The
potential responsible parties, or PRPs, kept a close watch on the EPA and each other: When one
company's liability went down, another's usually went up. The EPA eventually concluded that
Coors was the single largest user, trucking to the site an estimated 32 million gallons of sludges,
solvents, acids, pesticides, inks and waste oil. Syntex Chemicals came in second, with 28.6
million gallons of waste, and S.W. Shattuck Chemical Company was third in line, with 17.6
million gallons.

But there were many others who took advantage of the city's dumping ground. "The landfill
served industries up and down the Front Range," remembers Orville Stoddard, a former official
with the state health department. "Somebody had to take care of the liquid problem." Small
businesses, large industries, school districts, hospitals, universities and numerous federal
agencies -- including the U.S. Mint and the EPA itself -- also dumped their wastes at Lowry.
"For sixteen years, industry was provided a Denver taxpayer-subsidized disposal facility that in
all probability limited industry's Superfund liability to one site instead of many," wrote Theresa
Donahue, an aide to Mayor Wellington Webb, in a fiery letter dated Christmas Eve 1991 -- the
very day the city filed the first of two mammoth lawsuits against various polluters. (Today
Donahue is the director of the city's Department of Environmental Health.)
But the City of Denver, owner-operator of the landfill from 1964 to 1980, could hardly be
characterized as a shining knight. Disposal practices were shockingly crude by today's standards.
Backhoes simply dug pits down to the bedrock, and then tanker trucks backed up to the unlined
pits and, in the words of one former trucker, "let it rip." Sometimes pits were dug directly into
the mounds of trash, and household garbage and construction debris were then thrown into the
holes, under the theory that the solids would "soak up" the liquids. By 1979, an aerial map
showed that the landfill contained millions of tires, dead-animal pits, low-level radioactive waste
disposal pits, and a special area reserved for Continental Oil's "sludge experiment."
Lloyd Hesser remembers screaming through downtown Denver during rush hour traffic with his
tanker truck loaded to the gills. He made three, four, five trips a day to the landfill, hauling
wastes from companies throughout the metro area. Even now, decades later, a tone halfway
between awe and horror creeps into his voice when he thinks back to the vast pit where he would
dump his loads. "We could get about eight or ten trucks backed up to it at one time," Hesser says.
"We'd back in there and pull the cord. You ought to have seen that pit. The ducks would land and
it would kill them instantly."
It took exactly eight minutes to empty a tanker, and then Hesser would be back on the road. He
used to haul three or four loads a day out of Arapahoe Chemicals, a Boulder company that is
now known as Syntex Chemicals; one of his buddies hauled six to eight loads a day from the
Shattuck facility in south Denver, and other truckers worked from dawn to dusk and on
weekends hauling liquid waste from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. "We'd start loading at 4:30 or
5 in the morning," Hesser remembers. "We got paid by the gallon, a penny a gallon." The
truckers were given no safety manuals and no protective clothing -- except, perhaps, an
occasional pair of rubber gloves.
Hesser's big industrial customers maintained that the liquids being removed from back lots,
underground tanks and evaporation ponds simply contained wastewater. "We were too dumb to
know better," Hesser says. "All we knew is that we were making good money, and most of us
were home every night raising families."
Hesser was one of a fleet of drivers who worked for Milt Adams, a self-made Commerce City
businessman who'd started off recycling used oil and eventually became the owner of Waste
Transport Company, the largest transporter of liquid waste to Lowry. "If your wastes are
flammable, toxic, odorous, or organic in nature, then the bombing range is the safest place for
their disposal," Adams once wrote in a letter circulated to customers.
Adams had begun his Denver career collecting used oils from gas stations and garages and then
selling them to a Utah firm that re-refined the oil and sold it back to railroads. "We were heroes

because we took it to be re-refined and used by the railroads," he said in a 1993 deposition,
"whereas, before that, why, some of it was thrown over the fence..." As a favor to his corporate
customers, Adams said he'd occasionally "blend" some of his used oil with the company's liquid
wastes so that they could "get rid of it, and it wouldn't have to go to Lowry."
Over time, it became evident that Denver did not have the ability to cope with the diversity and
amount of liquids being hauled to the landfill. Records documenting what went into the pits, and
where, were extremely sketchy. Often a city employee would just scrawl "brine water" or "waste
water" on receipts. The workers, one former manager said disdainfully, "wouldn't know water
from Pepsi-Cola anyway."
During one routine inspection in June 1972, an official with the Tri-County Health Department,
which oversees Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, noted that six new toxic waste pits,
each approximately 300 feet long and fifty feet wide, had been dug down to the bedrock. "At
present there is no log as to what type of chemicals, or how much toxic waste, is being dumped,"
he wrote.
Chemical fires broke out frequently. Rats swarmed over the garbage mounds. Hazardous gases
collected within the landfill mass and often exploded, tossing barrels fifty to sixty feet in the air.
Operators complained of acids and unknown chemicals being dumped into "oil holes" and the
indiscriminate "dumping of carcinogenic agents and radiation-contaminated substances."
Workers were advised to don respirators, and in 1974, the Colorado Department of Wildlife
reported one confirmed animal death that could definitely be tied to Lowry.
For the unfortunate residents who happened to live downwind of the site, the odor was simply
unbearable. The sludge and chemicals in the open pits created a stench "so strong it makes
outdoor activity impossible and the opening of windows limited to only certain times of the day.
Even if the odor were not overwhelming, the flies are so abundant they soon chase us indoors,"
one resident, a Mrs. Crab, told the EPA in 1979.
The neighbors were also worried about the quality of their well water, according to numerous
documents in the EPA's Superfund Records Center. "The water well contamination is a terrific
concern to all of us," wrote Maryann Rains in a letter to former Colorado senator William
Armstrong. "We've met with Shell Co., Colo. State Health, etc., and they reassure that
precautions are being taken and any number of tests being made etc., but nobody really knows
what the long-term effects are going to be."
In 1968, just four years after the landfill opened, Don Turk, an official with the Tri-County
Health Department, warned that the disposal of "liquid industrial hazards may create a water
table pollution problem." A few years later, Don Berve, also with Tri-County, noted that high
levels of cyanide had been detected in water flowing off-site. Even more ominous, one of the
liquid pits seemed to mysteriously recede overnight. In a letter, state health department official
Orville Stoddard theorized that the subsidence might be caused by "a possible 'lens' in the shale
layer at the bottom of the pit," then added, "This leaching material could adversely affect
groundwater quality."
Camp, Dresser and McKee, a consulting firm working for the City of Denver, described a similar
phenomenon in a 1979 report: "One of the pits appears to be full; however, wastes continue to be
dumped into it without apparent increase in the level of the liquid. Wastes are emptied into other
pits where liquid seeps completely from view within a short period." The firm warned that

disposal practices could result in severe groundwater contamination. But the warnings apparently
fell on deaf ears, and the tankers kept dumping their loads at the bombing range.
In the spring of 1977, a number of men gathered in front of Nickerson's Restaurant in Bennett.
The group included an investigator and physicist from the state health department; an official
from Rockwell International, the contractor running the Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant for
the federal government; a former Colorado state patrolman and a reporter from the Boulder
Daily Camera. The day's outing had been triggered by a provocative letter that the former
patrolman, Bill Wilson, had written to the health department a few days earlier.
While patrolling Highway 30 back in 1961, Wilson wrote, he'd once stopped a Boulder County
milk transport truck. When he asked the trucker what he was hauling, the man told him that his
load was "polluted radioactive waters" from the Rocky Flats plant. "He said they dumped the
polluted waters in any old valley or hole on the range by government agreement," Wilson said.
Although he subsequently reported the event to the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates
the trucking industry, Wilson wrote that he'd continued to see strange milk trucks traversing the
bombing range.
Health department officials didn't know what to make of Wilson's letter. But they were
concerned enough about his allegations to read them over the telephone to a Rocky Flats official,
who had them transcribed verbatim. And later that day, Albert Hazle, then head of the health
department's radiation and hazardous waste division, was kind enough to deliver a copy to the
home of Earl Bean, then assistant manager for the Energy Research and Development
Administration, which oversaw Rocky Flats. Bean called Hazle later that night and told him
they'd concluded that Wilson's communication was nothing more than a "crank" letter.
Still, Rocky Flats officials weren't taking any chances. They decided to send Burt Kelchner, a
Rockwell employee, on the tour that Wilson was going to lead after lunch. So after they'd
finished eating, all five men piled into Wilson's car and headed out to the bombing range. They
stopped at one of the missile silos and took radiation readings, then drove to a stream bed where
Wilson thought dumping had occurred and took samples. Wilson tried to find another creek bed
where other milk trucks had spewed their contents, but the passage of time had rearranged the
landscape, and he had a hard time finding any familiar landmarks. Finally, they stopped near the
spot where Wilson thought he'd first encountered a milk truck, but by then health department
officials were so skeptical that they didn't even bother to get out of the car. They simply stuck a
Geiger counter out the window to get readings.
Rocky Flats officials subsequently interviewed numerous plant employees who were familiar
with procedures for handling both radioactive and uncontaminated waste. "All of the personnel
interviewed are certain that no liquid wastes have been shipped offsite to the Lowry Bombing
Range or to any other location in the Denver area," Bean determined.
But eighteen boxes of records that were eventually found in a shed belonging to one of Milt
Adams's companies suggested otherwise. Waste Transport and other recycling companies had in
fact made a number of trips to the bombing range on behalf of Rocky Flats between 1970 and
1980, dumping waste oils, solvents and paint thinner at the landfill. But whether these items were
contaminated with plutonium is another question: Rocky Flats did make an effort to separate
"hot" wastes from "cold" ones, but even cold wastes occasionally contained small amounts of
plutonium and other radioactive chemicals.

And for the earlier dumping period, from roughly 1953, when the nuclear-weapons plant opened,
to 1970, few documents have surfaced showing what, if anything, Rocky Flats sent to Lowry.
Plutonium from Rocky Flats could also have been transported to Lowry inadvertently by the
Waste Transport trucks that stopped at the plant two to three times a month in the early '70s to
suction out water that had collected in concrete basins, or sumps, located near the buildings.
According to Hesser, the former Waste Transport driver, these sumps contained anywhere from
two thousand to three thousand gallons of water. "Whenever it rained, we had to go out and haul
that stuff away," he says. "We'd take the manhole cover off, suck it out and go on." Today
officials believe that some of the most heavily contaminated areas of Rocky Flats lay beneath
those production buildings.
Neighbors who lived near the bombing range remember seeing tankers that resembled milk
trucks hauling waste up and down the highway. "We all saw them. It was hard not to see them
going down the road," says Jerry Rains, the son of Maryann Rains, the woman who'd complained
about the landfill odors.
Mary Ulmer, who lives near the bombing range and is a member of FES UP, or Family Farmers
for Environmentally Safe Use of Property, says the stainless-steel tankers "were pretty common"
around the bombing range. "Some of them were actually marked as milk trucks, but the ones I
saw didn't have marks at all," she adds. Ulmer's suspicions were further aroused after she noticed
that some of the tankers didn't even have license plates. Once, when she stopped to take a picture
of a tanker, the driver got out and threatened to take her camera away. "They looked just like
milk trucks," she says. "The same apparatus. They loaded from the top and dumped from the
In 1961, the same year Bill Wilson stopped the "milk truck" at the bombing range, Coors
Porcelain was using steel tankers to transport liquid wastes to the evaporation ponds at Rocky
Flats. Even though Rocky Flats was already overloaded with its own waste problems and rapidly
becoming what one official facetiously described as the world's barrel capital, the plant
continued to "accommodate" Coors through 1970. This accommodation included the acceptance
of 750 barrels of enriched uranium scrap and 180,000 gallons of radioactive water containing
isotopes of yttrium, zirconium, enriched uranium and beryllium -- some of the same isotopes that
were eventually detected in the Lowry Landfill.
Coors Porcelain was under contract to fabricate nearly 800,000 fuel elements composed of
beryllium and enriched uranium for "Project Pluto," a civilian-military effort to build a nuclear-
powered jet. When the project was terminated, the company was unable to account for 3,016 of
the 5,276 grams of uranium it had processed.
Coors Porcelain had other research contracts during the Cold War years, including one with Los
Alamos National Laboratory to develop special ceramic sponges that could be used to absorb and
hold radioactive wastes. The "sponges" were dunked in aluminum-nitrate wastes spiked with
fission products, such as strontium-90, fired in ovens and then re-immersed in water to see what
radioactive elements leaked out.
Confidential court documents show that Coors Ceramics, the company's successor, paid
$113,801 in cleanup costs and another $445,598 in premiums and other costs, including $36,000
for the radioactive premium, to settle its liability at Lowry. Terry Terens, a spokeswoman for
Coors Tech, which succeeded Coors Ceramic, says the company never hauled any radioactive

waste to Lowry and speculates that the payment might have been made as a precautionary
On a questionnaire filed with the EPA in 1990, Coors Porcelain said it shipped waste oils, lead
dross, an industrial by-product, and miscellaneous chemicals off-site during the period from
1965 to 1980 but didn't know where they went.
Terens says she was told that approximately 1,500 to 2,000 55-gallon drums of waste from Coors
Porcelain were taken to the bombing range and placed in a "secured-drum burial area" that was
not part of the Superfund site -- although she doesn't know where, exactly, that area is. Terens
says it's her understanding that the "whole area for the landfill was the bombing range, but some
of it was Superfund site and some was not, and our waste went into an area that was not part of
the Superfund site."
Although the bombing range encompasses 65,000 acres, the landfill is less than a square mile in
size. According to Terens, the Coors drums were later dug up and moved to another location.
"We followed whatever regulations existed and put them where we were told to put them."
At the very least, the response to Bill Wilson's letter showed that times were changing by the late
'70s; open stretches of seemingly empty prairie were no longer acceptable dump sites.
Milt Adams, who had become so wealthy that he bought a new Mercedes every year, got out in
the nick of time. In 1980 he sold his business to Chemical Waste Management, which is part of
Waste Management, Inc., a huge multinational conglomerate. "It was an offer I couldn't turn
down," he said in his 1993 deposition. Adams got $350,000 worth of stock; Waste Management
got his tankers, vacuum trucks and business records.
Just four years later, in 1984, Lowry was declared one of the most hazardous Superfund sites in
the country.
The same year that Milt Adams sold his company, Chemical Waste Management contracted with
the City of Denver to operate the landfill. Chemical Waste Management immediately assigned
the contract to Waste Management of Colorado. Sanitary landfill operations continued until 1990
at the Superfund site, then were moved to the section directly north of the closed site. Today
Waste Management shares an office at the landfill with city employees and continues to be
deeply involved in the cleanup activities.
The upshot of the two transactions? The City of Denver obtained a new partner in the landfill
business, but it was a partner that various parties would soon allege was equally culpable for the
toxic mess at Lowry. Ironically, Denver itself had only disposed of about five gallons of garden
chemicals at the site through 1980, and the city didn't really start taking household garbage from
Denver residents to the landfill until that year.

Part 2: A Matter of Trust
Who paid what to clean up Lowry Landfill? That's
By Eileen Welsome
According to state and federal records, Wilson tipped off the Colorado Department of Health to
the clandestine dumping in 1977, but the department did little to either confirm or deny his
allegations. Now, eleven years later, the EPA was in the midst of a multimillion-dollar
investigation of the Lowry Landfill, a Superfund site located at the edge of the old bombing
range, and the agency wanted to hear what Wilson had to say.
Wilson told the EPA that he was most concerned about the milk-truck-style vehicles that had
been used to dump liquid wastes. "During a conversation with one truck driver who was
dumping a milky-colored waste material adjacent to Highway 30, he made inquiry as to the type
of waste being dumped. The truck driver told him the material was harmless wastewater and that
they steamcleaned the trucks after unloading," one EPA official wrote of Wilson's interview.
"The truck driver also said they had been hired by Dow to haul the liquids from Rocky Flats. It
seemed strange to him that harmless wastewater would be hauled all the way to Aurora from
Rocky Flats, however, he had no real authority in this area so all he was able to do was to issue a
PUC warning."
A prolific letter writer, Wilson relayed his concerns to presidents and congressmen alike.
Sometimes he would talk to the media, sometimes he wouldn't. In a recent note to Westword, he
instructed the newspaper not to use his name at all. But Wilson's letters are strewn through
numerous court documents and administrative files, and what he had to say is a matter of public
Alternately describing himself as a "federal-military retired American citizen," a "notary public
agent" or simply an "agent," Wilson seemed eccentric and often alluded to larger conspiracies.
But he never altered the basic facts of his story. And truth was, scientists working for both the
EPA and the private companies that had dumped at Lowry were encountering high levels of
radiation at the site. Wilson's recollection suggested one way the radiation might have gotten
"Since we have found elevated radiation levels at Lowry, I am concerned that he may be right,"
the EPA's John Haggard confided in a memo to his supervisor, Vera Moritz. "The connection to
Dow is also disturbing, since they operated the Flats from the fifties and sixties."
Haggard, who now works for General Electric in upstate New York, thought the EPA should
conduct a "general investigation" of the area and appended this cryptic note to his memo: "Some
Lowry citizens believe we already have info. in our possession that would implicate a federal
facility and believe we are covering up something. While this is certainly not true, if we find a
problem much later in the area it certainly will not look good."
Haggard's words were prophetic: The concerns raised by Bill Wilson would surface again and
again in ensuing years, and they continue to this day.

In 1991, just three years after the Wilson interview, scientists working for the Lowry Coalition,
an alliance of companies that had dumped at the landfill, took numerous samples from wells
drilled throughout the site and shipped them off to a New Jersey lab that had done countless
analyses for nuclear-weapons facilities during the Cold War. Lab workers ran the groundwater
samples through their radiation detection machines and found that they contained plutonium,
americium and other radioactive substances.
Although the Lowry Coalition initially was adamant that these compounds had come from
Rocky Flats, six months later the coalition would disavow the test results. But a database
obtained by Westword reveals that virtually none of the so-called "hot wells" were ever retested
-- and some were even more radioactive than previously reported.
Confidential court documents reveal that sixteen polluters were concerned enough about
potential radioactive contamination at Lowry to purchase "radioactive premiums" from the City
of Denver and Waste Management, the private company that began operating the landfill in
1980. The radioactive premium was one of about six different options that were offered,
protecting polluters on everything from cost overruns to potential lawsuits that might be brought
some day by disgruntled neighbors. All told, the city and Waste Management collected
approximately $38 million in premiums and another $72 million for cleanup and other expenses.
Only a handful of city officials were privy to these settlement deals, and they say they can't
discuss them because they're bound by a confidentiality order issued eight years ago.
For the Environmental Protection Agency, which was struggling to clean up a number of
Superfund sites in the region, Lowry seemed to bring nothing but heartaches and headaches. By
the time the agency got around to interviewing Wilson, it was already reeling from an
excoriating round of attacks by some of Colorado's most powerful corporate citizens.
In 1986, two years after the landfill had been declared a public health hazard and placed on the
National Priorities List, the EPA had released its first $1.5 million scientific study of the site.
The key finding, which sent shock waves through the community, was that millions of gallons of
toxic chemicals dumped at the landfill could have moved further and deeper than anyone had
suspected. Instead of remaining in the shallow groundwater, as previously believed,
contaminated water might have migrated downward through fractures in the underlying bedrock,
moving as much as twenty feet in a year, which could result in "a 400-foot downward
penetration into the unweathered bedrock in the next twenty years."
If the EPA's study was correct, the consequences would be devastating. The aquifers that lie
beneath Lowry -- the Dawson, the Denver, the Arapahoe and the Laramie-Fox Hills -- supply
both irrigation and drinking water to hundreds of thousands of suburban and rural residents.
Although the EPA stopped short of saying the contamination had reached drinking-water
supplies, Vera Moritz, the project manager, told reporters, "It's getting there."
Letter after letter lambasted the agency's findings. The Adolph Coors Company, which in a few
short years would earn the dubious distinction of being the largest dumper at Lowry, castigated
the EPA for spending $1.5 million on an "inadequate and flawed investigation." The City of
Denver and Waste Management, owners and operators of the landfill, argued that downward
movement was "essentially nil" because of the relatively impervious claystones found throughout
the site. And the East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District threatened legal action
if the EPA dared to drill another well through the plume of contamination and into the Arapahoe

But the most detailed critique came from the Lowry Coalition, whose members included Coors,
Shattuck, Syntex, AMAX, Asamera Oil, Conoco, Gates Rubber, Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell,
IBM, the City of Lakewood and Metro Wastewater. With the help of its paid consultants,
Harding Lawson Associates, the Lowry Coalition marshaled persuasive scientific evidence to
rebut all of the EPA's findings. "Totally inadequate," attorney John Faught said of the study.
Two years later, the EPA divided the Lowry Landfill into several areas and ordered that
subsequent follow-up studies be done by the polluters themselves. The City of Denver and Waste
Management were ordered to investigate the landfill's gases and solids; Denver, along with
Metro Wastewater, was also to research the soils, surface water and sediments, and the Lowry
Coalition was to perform a definitive study of the shallow and deep groundwater.
For the Lowry Coalition, which had raised such a ruckus over the EPA's initial analysis and was
facing millions in liability costs, to now have responsibility for determining the extent of
contamination in the groundwater seemed odd, to say the least, and a clear conflict of interest.
But according to Gwen Hooten, the EPA's current project manager at the Lowry Landfill site,
that provision was written into the law after concerned corporations lobbied Congress. "The law
allows them to do that," she says. "Only when they decline does the EPA step in and do the
The Lowry Coalition and the EPA's own technical consultants, CH2M Hill, soon began receiving
preliminary laboratory analyses suggesting that Lowry contained not only some of the most
dangerous chemicals in the world, but an assortment of radionuclides as well. The radioactive
isotopes were everywhere -- in the shallow and deep groundwater, in the waste pits, along the
periphery of the landfill, even in the wells that were considered "upgradient," or upstream from
the main site. The existence of some of these radionuclides was easy enough to explain; hospitals
and universities used numerous relatively short-life isotopes in countless analytical procedures
on patients and in research projects. Lowry had routinely accepted such radioactive waste, and
the southeastern portion of the dump had even been reserved for radioactive animal pits. The
animals most likely had been used in research experiments conducted by various colleges and
universities, possibly even by military installations.
But other radioactive elements present in the landfill were tightly controlled by the federal
government and typically associated with nuclear-weapons production or commercial nuclear
reactors. Radiochemical analyses performed for both the EPA and the Lowry Coalition indicated
the presence of five different isotopes of plutonium, as well as americium-241, a contaminant
that is often found in weapons-grade plutonium. Numerous other radionuclides created in nuclear
reactions or atomic-bomb detonations, including strontium and cesium, were also detected.
In a memo dated July 19, 1990, a CH2M Hill official recommended that additional safety
precautions be taken in the field because of the high levels of tritium and plutonium-241 being
detected. Although the company was careful to emphasize that the radiation findings had not
been confirmed, it nonetheless advised that a panoply of protective measures be implemented,
including baseline and exit urine samples from on-site workers, periodic monitoring at the
landfill, the use of dosimeter badges, and a four-hour course in basic radiation-safety techniques
that would include a refresher in the operation of portable survey counters.
CH2M Hill, a global engineering and consulting firm, had developed considerable expertise in
radioactive waste during its work not just for the EPA, but also for the U.S. Department of
Energy and the Department of Defense. In four years, it would form a joint venture with

Virginia-based ICF Kaiser; the resulting company, Kaiser-Hill, would successfully bid for one of
the largest cleanup contracts ever awarded by the Department of Energy.
The job? Cleaning up Rocky Flats. Between 1995 and 1999, Kaiser-Hill received $2.9 billion in
basic costs, according to the General Accounting Office. If all goes well, by 2006 the company
stands to earn another $4 billion in cleanup costs and anywhere from $130 million to $460
million in incentive fees for its work at the former nuclear-weapons plant.
At Lowry, CH2M Hill was finding tritium concentrations as high as 2,200 picocuries and
plutonium-241 in amounts ranging up to 150 picocuries. The Lowry Coalition, using its own
independent laboratory, was seeing the same kinds of readings for plutonium-241 and
encountering tritium levels as high as 4,000 picocuries. These levels greatly exceeded the
background radiation that could be expected from fallout as a result of aboveground nuclear
detonations in the '50s and '60s.
A worried CH2M Hill official pointed out that background levels for plutonium-241 should have
been less than 1 picocurie and tritium concentrations should not have exceeded about 200
picocuries. (A picocurie, which is a trillionth of a curie, is too small to be seen with the naked
eye; it represents 2.2 "disintegrations," or energy releases, per second.)
Both tritium and plutonium-241 were present at Rocky Flats. But Rocky Flats and two of its
private contractors, Dow Chemical and Rockwell International, have denied sending any
radioactive waste to Lowry. Although records maintained by Waste Transport and other haulers
show that cutting oils, solvents, paint thinners and other materials from the plant were dumped at
Lowry, Rocky Flats officials have steadfastly maintained that these materials were not
contaminated. To this day, the source of these radionuclides and dozens of others remains
Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is used primarily to boost the yields of both atomic
and hydrogen bombs and is frequently housed in removable containers located in the warheads
themselves. At Rocky Flats, tritium was occasionally released into the environment when
contaminated weapons components were disassembled or plutonium was being reprocessed.
Health physicist Edward Putzier, a longtime Rocky Flats scientist, wrote in a 1982 paper that
some glove boxes contained "massive amounts" of tritium.
Plutonium-241, the other radioactive isotope detected at Lowry, is found in both weapons-grade
plutonium and the plutonium created in nuclear reactors. It transforms itself in 14.4 years to a
more stable isotope, americium-241, by emitting a beta particle, or high-speed electron.
Americium then sticks around in the environment for another 433 years. Americium builds up as
the plutonium-241 decays; the "older" the plutonium, the more likely it is to contain more
It so happened that the wells at Lowry were also found to be contaminated with americium-241.
The americium does not appear to have been restricted to any one particular part of the landfill;
rather, it was scattered throughout the waste pits, in the groundwater and along the western and
southern boundaries of the site, where patrolman Bill Wilson once saw tankers emptying their
From the moment Rocky Flats opened its doors, americium proved to be a problematic
contaminant. It arrived there in one of two ways: in the "feed" plutonium that was shipped under
guard to Rocky Flats from the vast production facilities in eastern Washington State or South

Carolina, or in the "site returns" -- the aging plutonium pits that were removed from warheads
and sent back to Rocky Flats for reprocessing.
By the mid- to late '50s, Rocky Flats found itself with a backlog of "americium-containing
sludge," records show. Using what was called a "molten salt extraction," the plant began
extracting the americium from the plutonium, then shipping it to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. For a
while, the Department of Energy's predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, succeeded in
selling the americium for use in smoke detectors, but that market dried up by 1980.
In the '60s and '70s, Rocky Flats was shipping anywhere from 760 to 2,000 grams of americium
annually to Oak Ridge, according to documents obtained by attorneys for Marcus Church, a
neighboring landowner who filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against Rocky Flats. But despite
these shipments, at one point the plant found itself with nearly ten kilograms of americium sitting
in drums.
Americium-241 emits both gamma rays and alpha particles. Gamma rays can easily penetrate the
human body; by contrast, alpha particles cannot penetrate human skin but are extremely
hazardous if deposited in the lungs, the lymph nodes or life-giving bone marrow. With those
penetrating gamma rays, americium wasn't something that plant officials liked having around.
In a 1968 report, Atomic Energy Commission officials blamed the large amounts of americium-
241 and plutonium-241 present at Rocky Flats for a precipitous rise in employee exposures.
Instead of cutting back on production schedules, however, supervisors decided to install extra
shielding along the assembly lines to protect workers. Ironically, that shielding would contribute
to a devastating fire that occurred in 1969.
During this period, Rocky Flats was also receiving a lot of plutonium from the United Kingdom
that contained excessive amounts of plutonium-241. This plutonium was used for special fuel
rods that the plant was making for the "Zero Power Plutonium Project," or ZPPP, an
experimental reactor at Argonne National Laboratory.
The EPA was deeply suspicious of the early reports alleging large concentrations of
radionuclides at the Lowry Landfill. The data tables were often annotated with such remarks as
"probably false positive," "probably in error," "question accuracy of these results" and
"confirmatory analysis required."
The data was also called into question at staff meetings. "Need to determine what data is real
(valid) and 'not real.' If in fact the data is not 'real,' then it appears that there is no problem of
radionuclides at this site," a participant at one such gathering wrote in his notes.
The EPA's skepticism is difficult to interpret; the agency already had indications of radioactive
contamination at the landfill -- as evidenced by John Haggard's letter and the interview with Bill
Wilson. In addition, the EPA and the FBI had conducted a joint investigation into Rocky Flats
that culminated in an unprecedented raid at the plant on June 6, 1989. At the very moment the
data on Lowry was rolling in, a federal grand jury was examining allegations concerning decades
of illegal dumping and other environmental crimes at Rocky Flats.
The EPA's counterparts at the state health department were equally skeptical of the Lowry
readings. In October 1991, when the Lowry Coalition delivered to the EPA a thick packet of data
describing in detail the kind of radionuclides it had been finding at Lowry, the state's Radiation
Control Division faxed the EPA a quick analysis that concluded the data was "inadequate and
inconsistent." State health officials argued that the ratios for the various isotopes of plutonium

being found at Lowry didn't jibe with the plutonium that Rocky Flats used. But those ratios did
not take into account the accumulation of waste products, the variability in the feed plutonium,
and special programs such as the ZPPP.
The skepticism continued even after a health department employee, Angus Campbell, found a
witness who corroborated Wilson's allegations. Harley Brewster, another highway patrolman
who'd cruised the old bombing range, told Campbell that tanker trucks would pull up to "any
convenient low spot" and dump their loads. "Sometimes they would cover it with trash and other
times they wouldn't," Campbell reported. Brewster "further stated that he couldn't recall any
specific instances of dumping, but restated that there was indiscriminate dumping out there
Despite continued skepticism from the state health department and the EPA, the Lowry Coalition
refused to alter its findings or conclusions. On December 13, 1991, the coalition sent a letter
containing its official findings to EPA headquarters. This letter, which would be discovered five
years later by activist and college instructor Adrienne Anderson, concluded that Rocky Flats was
the "only plausible source" of the large quantities of plutonium and americium that had been
found in the landfill.
The coalition ruled out other potential polluters based on the concentrations of radionuclides
found in the landfill; the levels were too low to have come from a commercial nuclear power
source and too high to have come from worldwide fallout -- a theory that is still popular with the
Attached to the letter were data tables developed by the coalition's consultants, Harding Lawson
Associates, showing the results of more than 135 samples that had been taken from wells located
throughout the site from roughly 1988 to 1991. Some of the wells contained plutonium or
americium in amounts that were anywhere from 10 to 10,000 times the average background
levels. The Lowry Coalition speculated that the radionuclides were the result of dumping
activities conducted at or adjacent to the site prior to 1965, when it became an official landfill, as
well as routine disposals that took place between 1967 and 1980.
As proof of the pre-1965 dumping activities, the coalition relied on the testimony of former
patrolman Wilson and aerial maps taken in 1950 and 1956. Those maps, which showed what the
terrain looked like long before the City of Denver took over the property that contained the
landfill, indicated man-made disturbances at the south boundary of the site and to the west of
Unnamed Creek, the intermittent stream that runs through the middle of the property.
A 1963 aerial map showed something else at the southeastern corner of the landfill that has never
been explained: a long, oval-shaped lagoon surrounded by a fence and an access road. A 1965
map reveals several dirt roads leading west from this facility to liquid-filled trenches at the
landfill. On a recent map produced by the United States Geological Survey, a box has been
drawn around the lagoon and labeled "Exception Area."
The EPA's Hooten says she doesn't know what the facility is. Hydrologist Cecil Slaughter, a
member of the USGS team recently hired by the EPA to do an independent analysis of
radionuclides at Lowry, says he doesn't know what the area represents. And Dennis Bollmann,
the city's environmental scientist based at Lowry, can't clear up the mystery, either.
It's Bollmann's understanding that the federal government built a road into the area prior to 1965
and used it for some kind of project. "I don't know what the purpose was," he says. When
scientists drilled several holes in the area, he adds, they found only routine municipal garbage.

On December 16, 1991, three days after the Lowry Coalition delivered its letter to the EPA, a
meeting was held in the agency's labyrinthine offices in downtown Denver.
Twenty-five people were present. On one side of the table were six EPA officials; on the other
were four representatives from Coors, four from Shattuck, two from Syntex Chemicals and two
from AMAX, as well as representatives from Sundstrand, Conoco, Gates Rubber, Hewlett-
Packard and the City of Lakewood. The EPA files are silent about what transpired officially at
the meeting, but Hooten remembers that the coalition's findings created quite a stir. "This
particular report spurred a lot of issues for us, and our records are just peppered with our
comments," she says.
The Lowry Coalition and other polluters had kept a close watch on the "waste-in" lists that the
EPA was constantly updating and revising, documenting who'd dumped what at Lowry. At that
moment, the EPA was in the process of cashing out the small polluters in what were called "de
minimis" settlements. To be eligible for these settlements, the polluters had to meet several
criteria: First, they could not have dumped more than 300,000 gallons at Lowry; second, the
waste could be no more toxic or hazardous than other materials; and finally, the companies had
to have been honest about what was dumped at the landfill. Although Rocky Flats and its civilian
contractors had been less than forthcoming with the EPA, the nuclear-weapons plant
nevertheless was being considered for a de minimis settlement. As Hooten explains it, "We were
on our way to identifying and finalizing our waste-in lists, and this report was in part motivated
by these parties not wanting us to settle with DOE or Rockwell."
The EPA did back off -- temporarily -- from entering into any settlement with Rocky Flats. But
the agency was still not convinced that the coalition's data was any good. "We told them they
needed to go back and reanalyze the samples," says Hooten.
Teledyne Isotopes, the New Jersey laboratory that analyzed those Lowry samples, had a solid
reputation and had passed with flying colors a quality-control review done by the EPA for an
unrelated project. Still, Lowry was a chemical stew containing hundreds of different elements,
and calculating how much plutonium or americium was present in a speck of material no bigger
than a pinhead could be difficult.
Given what was at stake, if there were questions about Teledyne's work, the logical step would
have been to return to Lowry, draw fresh water from the purportedly hot wells and analyze the
samples again. But instead, the data was simply reanalyzed to determine whether the coalition's
initial results truly represented conditions at Lowry.
"Remember, we had been studying this site since 1985," Hooten says in defending the EPA's
decision. "So there was a lot of pressure for us to decide what we were going to do."
The dispute over radionuclides at Lowry put CH2M Hill in a peculiar position. The consulting
firm had a number of contracts with the DOE and Rocky Flats. If it were to corroborate the
reports of high radioactivity levels at Lowry, then it ran the risk of alienating one of its own
clients -- a client that would throw a multibillion-dollar contract its way in a few short years. In a
letter dated February 27, 1992, CH2M Hill's site manager, Gary Hermann, admitted the firm had
a "real or at least publicly perceived conflict of interest" and recommended that the EPA get
another consultant on the radionuclide issues:
"The specific project issue is the determination of whether or not radionuclide waste materials
generated at Rocky Flats were disposed of at Lowry Landfill. If certain man-made radionuclides
are determined to exist at above-background levels at Lowry Landfill, this could implicate DOE

as a potentially responsible party. The Lowry Coalition has, in their remedial investigations,
indicated that site data implicates DOE as a source of hazardous waste disposed of at Lowry
Landfill. As the project tasks proceed, CH2M Hill may be asked by the EPA to become directly
involved in determining the occurrence and nature of specific radionuclides and thereby
determine the source of the radionuclides...The specific conflict of interest stems from our
general firm credibility if we are working for both EPA and DOE on nuclear mechanics issues
having a potential connection between Lowry Landfill and Rocky Flats. For example, if CH2M
Hill was to determine that the Rocky Flats plant is not a source of radionuclide contamination,
then it could be claimed by the public and other PRPs [potentially responsible parties] that we
made this determination to keep from jeopardizing our consulting business with DOE."
Adrienne Anderson, who discovered this memo in the EPA's voluminous public-records
collection, points out that the regulatory agency continued to use CH2M Hill despite the fact that
only three weeks later, the General Accounting Office, the congressional watchdog agency,
issued a blistering critique of the indirect costs that the firm had charged the federal government.
According to the GAO report, in 1990 CH2M Hill received $68 million in revenues from
contracts with the EPA, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. Some of the
more outrageous tabs sent to Uncle Sam: $7,700 for alcoholic beverages; $4,100 for tickets to
Denver Nuggets, Seattle Mariners and Seattle Seahawks games; $167,900 for employee parties
and picnics, including costs for invitations, photographers, a musical band and a dance instructor.
The EPA didn't feel that CH2M Hill had a conflict, because the firm had nothing to do with
determining the DOE's financial liability at the landfill, Hooten says. That task fell to another
contractor, Science Applications International Corporation. "CH2M Hill was only involved in
the oversight of the remedial investigations; in other words, looking at the data collected by the
PRPs," she points out. "Since Hill was not a direct decision-maker as to who would have liability
at the site, it was not considered a conflict of interest for them to work for the Department of
In any case, the conflict issue soon became moot. In May 1992, five months after the Lowry
Coalition delivered its bombshell findings to the EPA, Harding Lawson Associates, the
coalition's technical experts, delivered a second report to the EPA retracting virtually all of the
first report.
Tough quality-control standards had been applied to the data, and positive findings were tossed
out if they were associated with high counting errors, or if they could not be replicated or they
conflicted with other results. Concluded the revised Harding Lawson report: "There was no case
in which the presence of transuranics was positively confirmed."
A few weeks later, Teledyne Isotopes, the laboratory that had conducted the radiochemical
analyses, sent a letter to the coalition's technical advisors, warning that all of its americium
analyses should be considered suspect because of equipment problems and other analytical
difficulties. Teledyne officials were acutely aware of the enormous ramifications of their
findings. "In our meeting on May 29, 1992, you indicated that the presence or absence of Am-
241 in Harding Lawson samples has vast implications concerning the approach and cost of
remediation efforts," three laboratory scientists wrote. "Because of this, we recommend that sites
which have been characterized as positive for Am-241 be re-analyzed by the new method."

Jeffrey M. Guenther, one of the scientists who signed the letter, declined to comment for this
story. Brian LaFlamme, the geochemist who authored the Harding Lawson report and still works
in Denver, also refused to comment.
The revised report was a stunning reversal. For regulators and polluters, it eliminated a hugely
expensive scenario of figuring out how to clean up a site that might contain both hazardous
chemicals and radionuclides. That combination would have raised cleanup costs by millions,
says Hugh Kaufman, a longtime EPA official.
Teledyne's suggestion that the wells be resampled went unheeded. With the exception of one
well, not a single well that had shown high levels of plutonium or americium was retested.
As for Rocky Flats, it was granted the de minimis settlement after all and paid just $314,587
toward the cleanup of Lowry Landfill.
While the dispute over radionuclides simmered, the City of Denver was moving aggressively on
another front to make sure it wouldn't be left with 50 percent or more of the tab for cleaning up
Estimates for the cleanup fluctuated wildly, with some figures running as high as $4.5 billion.
"We were looking at big dollars," remembers Shaun Sullivan, an assistant city attorney involved
in the litigation.
In July 1990, city officials held a "Lowry Retreat" to address the technical issues, the political
implications and the "enormous potential liability" that the landfill represented. According to one
document, Lowry was "an issue, which, although quieter, was on the scale of the new airport
politically and economically." Many of the companies that had dumped at the landfill were
already lobbying their congressional representatives for changes in the Superfund law; city
officials wondered if it would be to their advantage to join one of the "political Superfund
"As Lowry and Superfund is every bit as much a political problem as it is technical or legal, we
need to strengthen this arm of the effort," one retreat document states. "It appears that the
decision between a $100 million or an $850 million remedy may be as much reliant on political
influences as technical."
Denver officials stayed in touch with members of Colorado's delegation. Mayor Wellington
Webb requested a meeting with Carol Browner, then head of the EPA, in the spring of 1993 to
discuss issues relating to Lowry. Webb met with William Yellowtail, administrator of the EPA's
Region VIII, in 1994 as well, to talk about the agency's pending Record of Decision on the
Lowry Landfill cleanup.
Denver also undertook a number of measures to contain the contamination. In the early 1980s,
soon after Waste Management took over day-to-day operations, the city had erected a barrier
wall and a pumping system on the northern end of the landfill to keep a plume of contaminated
groundwater from moving off-site. The polluted liquids were pumped into a treatment plant,
where some of the volatile organic chemicals were removed; the cleansed water was then
injected back into the ground.
In the years that followed, the city and Waste Management would also dispose of six million
tires, restore an acre of wetlands, construct a bentonite slurry wall seventy feet deep on three
sides of the landfill, install a cap over the landfill, put in place an extraction system to remove
gases, and build a new water treatment plant.

In 1991, Denver filed suit against Waste Management and 39 of the landfill's largest polluters in
an effort to recover some of the cleanup costs. Waste Management subsequently realigned itself
with the city, and together they went after the polluters. This case, which became known as
"Lowry I," triggered an avalanche of additional claims and cross-claims. More than 140 lawyers
were involved; nearly 100 depositions were taken; thousands of discovery requests were filed.
The document database soon grew to millions of pages.
By May 1993, a week before the case was to go to trial in U.S. District Court, Denver and Waste
Management had reached settlements with nearly forty parties. A second lawsuit, dubbed Lowry
II, was soon filed against fifteen additional polluters. This case, too, was resolved out of court in
Along the way, numerous other companies also settled Lowry claims outside of the courtroom.
By the end of October 1994, Denver and Waste Management had entered into settlements with
approximately 166 entities. They included large corporations, small businesses, hospitals,
universities, school districts and suburbs. The money obtained from the settlements was placed
in two trusts collectively known as the Lowry Environmental Protection/Cleanup Trust. The
manager for these trusts is Bankers Trust, which was selected through a competitive process
overseen jointly by Denver and Waste Management. The trusts were arranged this way because
Waste Management didn't want the trust funds placed within the city structure, according to
Denver records. But as a result, information about the trust funds was also placed outside the city
Public monies were used to fund both the Lowry litigation effort and the cleanup, yet Denver
residents know virtually nothing about the settlements, because all related documents were
sealed by then-federal judge Sherman Finesilver.
According to Steven Coon, an assistant city attorney who worked on the deal, Webb and Denver
City Council members were briefed on the settlements and trust arrangements, but he's not sure
if they saw the actual agreements. "All we can tell you is a number of people -- judges and
magistrates -- reviewed the agreements and came to the conclusion that they were a good deal for
the city," Coon says.
Waste Management insisted on a confidentiality agreement because it was concerned that the
"protections" offered to the settling parties through optional premiums would be demanded at
other sites if they became known. As Robert Driscoll, one of the company's attorneys, explained
at a February 8, 1995 hearing: "These are protections that my client, Waste Management, would
not have given in this case or in the underlying litigation, in the Coors litigation, had it thought
that the documents would become part of the public domain, simply because they could serve as
a possible benchmark for protection demanded from my client at other sites..."
Federal judge Jim Carrigan, who presided over that hearing, was not easily persuaded. "This is a
public court, and the public has a right to know what's going on here," he said. He agreed to keep
the settlements sealed, but left open the possibility that they might someday be unsealed if
someone were to file a motion making a "strong showing" that it was in the public interest. (An
earlier request by the Denver Post to examine the settlement agreements had been denied.)
Although the terms of the settlement are still sealed, Westword found a four-page spreadsheet in
court files stored at the Federal Records Center that outlines deals with 166 businesses or
governmental agencies that had dumped at Lowry. Using this document, as well as a companion

set of interrogatories that had apparently been misfiled, it's possible to piece together a rough
outline of the settlements.
Sullivan and Coon, the two assistant city attorneys most familiar with the settlements and the
resulting trust funds, refused to discuss the documents, citing the judge's confidentiality order.
"Whatever information you have, you have," Coons says. "But we're still bound by the court
Here's how the settlements were structured:
The polluters were divided into categories based upon how much they'd dumped at Lowry. There
were the small, or de minimis, settlors; the mid-tier settlors and the high-tier settlors. Each was
then assessed a basic cleanup cost that was subsequently reduced by 20 percent to account for the
amount owed by Denver and Waste Management.
The de minimis settlors made up the largest group by far. More than 120 polluters fell into this
category, including Sears Roebuck, US West, Honeywell, the Denver Post and the Rocky
Mountain News.
The mid-tier settlors included such companies as Eastman Kodak, IBM, Coors Ceramics,
Hewlett-Packard, Safeway and the cities of Lakewood, Littleton and Glendale. These settlors
have "reopener" clauses in their agreements that could be triggered if the actual cost of the
Lowry cleanup winds up larger than the original estimate.
The high-tier polluters -- Adolph Coors, Syntex Chemicals, Shattuck and Conoco -- have pay-as-
you-go arrangements in their settlement deals. The payments owed by these large companies
were based on actual costs incurred at Lowry over five-year periods. These costs include both
day-to-day operations and monies spent on large capital projects, such as the new water-
treatment plant, the slurry wall and the gas extraction system.
In addition to these basic settlement costs, the companies were given the opportunity to purchase
a variety of premiums protecting them from future uncertainties at Lowry that could range from
cost overruns to lawsuits brought by neighbors to a potential radioactive component of the
cleanup. Even fines levied by the EPA are apparently covered. "The greater the assumed
obligation premium a settlor was willing to pay, the more potential future obligations of the
settlor plaintiffs were willing to assume," explained Judge Finesilver in one ruling.
Sixteen companies chose to purchase the radioactive premium, for a total of $1.72 million.
Among them were Safeway, Ball Corporation, Coors Ceramics, Eastman Kodak, Hewlett-
Packard, IBM and the cities of Lakewood, Littleton, Englewood and Glendale.
Sometimes the premiums paid by the polluters surpassed the actual money put toward the
cleanup remedy. Sundstrand Corporation, for example, paid roughly $661,005 in remediation
costs; another $1,582,194 for a cost overrun/risk premium; $640,600 for a combo premium
called "natural resource damage/toxic tort/assumed obligation"; $331,300 for the radioactive
premium; and $800,000 for what was known as an "orphan share."
Nearly all of the settlors got stuck with an orphan share, which represents the amount of money
owed by bankrupt or financially insolvent companies whose liabilities had to be divvied up
among everybody else.
All in all, Denver and Waste Management collected nearly $110 million from the 166 entities.
Included in this total was approximately $53 million for the basic remediation costs, another $38

million in premiums and approximately $18 million in orphan shares. The Adoph Coors
Company was the largest settlor, anteing up $14,824,928 for remediation costs, $4,100,512 for
the cost overrun/risk premium, and another $4,731,360 orphan share. Other large contributors:
• Syntex Chemicals: $14,826,324 in basic costs; $3,706,581 orphan share.
• S.W. Shattuck Chemical Co.: $8,765,081 in basic costs; $2,191,270 orphan share.
• Conoco: $4,323,185 in basic costs; $1,080,796 orphan share.
• AMAX Extractive Research and Development: $2,354,544 remediation costs; $588,636 orphan
These large settlors also have varying "reopener percentages" in their contracts that require them
to kick in more money if costs exceed certain targeted estimates.
Denver, Waste Management and/or the Lowry trust get to pocket the premiums until the event
the premium covers is triggered. Explained Finesilver in another ruling: "By offering to assume
or absorb certain risks in return for the premiums, plaintiffs are effectively acting like an
insurance company. They are performing a task that an outside insurance company could just as
well do, and the fact that it is plaintiffs who are doing the insuring does not somehow tie the
premiums to environmental cleanup costs. Indeed, it would be unjust to require plaintiffs to put
the premiums -- the consideration for plaintiffs' assumption of risk -- toward cleanup, only to
have plaintiffs later spend a like sum in meeting the obligations it assumed in return for the
premiums. Simply put, plaintiffs are entitled to the premiums because plaintiffs have agreed to
assume risks."
It's not clear exactly how the City of Denver and Waste Management divided either the
premiums or the ensuing liability; a master settlement document on file in the city attorney's
office apparently spells out these issues. One document indicates that Waste Management
indemnified the mid-tier settlors against potential toxic tort and natural-resource damage claims
and kept those premiums. It's also possible that the trust itself is the legal entity that is
indemnifying other polluters against future claims.
Coon will only say that the "city did not indemnify the parties."
Exactly how much money is in the Lowry trust has been a closely guarded secret for nearly
seven years. Between 1992 and 2000, approximately $60 million was expended on actual
remediation efforts and monitoring programs, with nearly $3.6 million going toward the trust
management alone, one budget document shows. The expenditures are expected to dramatically
decline in future years, now that all of the construction projects designed to contain the
contaminants are in place. Offsetting these costs are potential gains made by the trust funds in
the stock market.
"I don't know how much is in the trust, and couldn't even tell you if I did know," says Theresa
Donahue, who directs the city's Department of Environmental Health and was closely involved
with the Lowry cleanup effort.
The trust operates much like any large corporation -- hiring staff, buying and selling property,
and undertaking multimillion-dollar construction projects. But unlike large city contracts, which
are signed by the mayor and approved by city council, the trust's financial activities are overseen
only by two co-trustees: Cheryl Cohen, the city's manager of revenue, and Steven Richtel of
Waste Management.

Cohen, citing the confidential nature of the trust's activities, referred all questions to assistant city
attorneys Coon and Sullivan. But beyond appointing one of the trustees, Coon says, the city has
no input into the trust. "The trust is really a private entity," he adds.
Donahue says the trust funds are audited every year by a private firm to make sure everything is
being done in a fiscally sound manner. "This is not a city trust," she points out. "It's not public
But the city certainly keeps an eye on those funds. In fact, with the bulk of the cleanup behind
them, Denver and Waste Management even began thinking about distributing management fees
to themselves from the trust. It's not known whether this plan ever went into effect, but records
suggest that such fees could total millions. The actual amount would be based on several factors,
including how much the funds have earned in the stock market and how much money was saved
during the cleanup.
While this idea was circulating among a handful of city officials, Coon warned them to be
careful with the information: "Please note that the Lowry Trusts are independent entities from
the City and view this information to be confidential, commercial data, in addition to the need for
confidentiality due to the potential for future litigation over these very issues. EPA has also
indicated a desire to find ways to tailor the amounts spent at the Lowry site to the amounts held
in the trusts (which is not an appropriate consideration.)"
The EPA isn't the only entity with an interest in the trust's balance. If Denver and Waste
Management paid themselves management fees, it would reduce the total amount available for
cleanup -- and if the cleanup cost increased over the original estimate, more money might have
to be collected.
Coon declined to discuss any management-fee plans. "Anything regarding the financial operation
of the trust is confidential," he says.

Part 3: Board Games
When a board member refused to go with the flow, Metro's
plan to handle Lowry wastewater got down and dirty.
By Eileen Welsome
Published: April 26, 2001
As she made her way through rush-hour traffic, Anderson thought about how she'd raise the
issue of the Lowry Landfill. She'd done some preliminary research and learned that Metro had
quietly reached a settlement with the City of Denver and Waste Management regarding its
financial liability at the landfill, which the Environmental Protection Agency had named a
Superfund site in 1984. Instead of paying millions to aid in the cleanup, Metro had agreed to
pump contaminated water from the landfill through its sewer system. Anderson found the plan
disturbing, because she'd found evidence that the landfill contained radioactive materials. The
proposal also represented a departure from the cleanup program announced by the EPA in 1994;
Anderson, who was familiar with the laws governing Superfund sites, knew that such a change
would require a public hearing.
At Gaetano's, Anderson joined other members of the Denver delegation, exchanged a few
pleasantries and then launched in. Did you know the Lowry Landfill was radioactive? she asked.
As she reached for her briefcase, she sensed a growing turmoil at the table. Hackworth, she
would later recall, seemed to be turning a deeper shade of red, and boardmember John Wilder, an
excitable Irishman, was breathing heavily. Suddenly, Wilder threw down his fork and thundered,
"Those are very serious accusations, young lady." A moment of stunned awkwardness followed.
Then Wilder, Hackworth and fellow boardmember Robert Werner stood up and stormed out of
the restaurant.
So began Adrienne Anderson's tenure on a little-noticed board that has the unglamorous job of
overseeing one of the largest sewage-treatment facilities in the West. Over the next few years, a
fierce controversy would rage over Metro's plan to pipe the Lowry groundwater through its
sewer system. The firestorm soon engulfed not only Metro's upper management and union, but
also lawyers and bureaucrats at the EPA and Denver's City Hall. They exchanged "white papers"
and swapped e-mails that often disparaged Anderson and other critics. Anderson fired back with
a whistleblower lawsuit of her own; an administrative law judge is expected to rule on her case
within the next few months.
When the EPA and Metro eventually submitted their plan for public comment, not one citizen
embraced it. "We want the ugly corporations to clean up their own mess -- like we learned in
kindergarten," wrote one irate citizen. Yet the project moved forward. A new sewer line was dug,
a small treatment plant constructed, pumps and monitoring wells put in place, and on July 25,
2000, Lowry groundwater started flowing through the public sewers.
The discharge will continue for fifty, a hundred years, maybe longer. "We made our decision. It
was a final decision. And that's the way it was going to go down," Hackworth would testify years
after that aborted dinner.

By July 1995, only a year after the EPA issued its Record of Decision spelling out how the
Lowry Landfill was to be cleaned up, Denver officials were pressuring Metro to take the
Metro was the last holdout in the massive litigation brought by the city and Waste Management
against the companies that had dumped at Lowry, some of which had banded together in an
organization called the Lowry Coalition. Together Denver and Waste Management had cajoled
and browbeaten at least 166 entities into paying almost $110 million for the cleanup and
"premiums" that would protect the polluters from such potential liabilities as cost overruns and
lawsuits. Some of that money had subsequently been placed in privately managed trust funds
known collectively as the Lowry Environmental Protection/ Cleanup Trust.
Metro had spent nearly $4.5 million defending itself. The litigation was so costly and time-
consuming that the district had assigned one full-time employee and two clerical staffers to keep
up with the paperwork. Metro had argued that its liability should be less than that of other
polluters because the sewage sludge spread at the landfill in previous years wasn't toxic. But the
district had been dealt a major blow just two months earlier, when U.S. District Judge Zita
Weinshienk ruled that Metro's sewage sludge did indeed contain hazardous wastes. Soon after
that ruling was issued, Denver and Waste Management stepped up the pressure. "The only
reason they wanted us," Metro manager Robert Hite would later testify in Anderson's
whistleblower lawsuit, "is because we were the only ones who had the capability to clean up the
In a letter identified as "privileged and confidential settlement communication," Assistant City
Attorney Steven Coon pointed out that Metro was Lowry's largest volume generator and had
probably dumped as much as 51 million gallons at the landfill -- a far higher number than what
the district had reported to the EPA. Coon claimed that the huge volume, coupled with the
alleged under-reporting and the toxic chemicals added to the waste stream, could result in a $22
million judgment against Metro at trial. But, he wrote, in lieu of payment, the city was willing to
take in-kind ser-vice: the right to discharge the Lowry effluent through the sewer system --
provided the district did not impose overly restrictive pretreatment standards. "Thus, it is of
substantial economic value to Metro to assist in gaining EPA and Aurora acceptance of this plan
and to assure that pretreatment requirements do not defeat the purposes contemplated," he wrote.
Although Coon didn't mention it in his letter, the arrangement would also benefit the Lowry
Cleanup Trust. In one analysis prepared by the city, four proposed methods for treating the
Lowry groundwater, ranging in cost from $5.8 million to $12.7 million, were examined. The
cheapest option -- and the one ultimately chosen by the city -- simply called for removing the
organic compounds from the groundwater at a small water-treatment facility on-site and then
dumping the water into the sewer system and letting Metro handle the rest.
This option, referred to in numerous documents as the "POTW option" -- the publicly owned
treatment works option -- was also a bargaining chip in ongoing discussions that the city and
Waste Management were having with the EPA and its legal representative, the Department of
Justice. The EPA had alleged that Denver and Waste Management owed it millions of dollars for
work at Lowry. Until that bill was settled, according to David Dain of the Justice Department,
the federal government would not proceed with discussions regarding the use of "Metro's POTW
to treat wastewater from the site."

The closed-door negotiations were delicate; tempers were frayed. Finally, in June 1996 -- the
week a trial over the issue was set to begin in federal court -- the deal was finalized. In addition
to treating the Lowry effluent, Metro agreed to ante up $1.9 million in cash.
This wasn't the first time public sewers had been used to flush away Superfund waste. In fact,
Metro accepted wastes at one time or another from several Superfund sites, including ASARCO,
a smelter in the Globeville area of north Denver. The various discharges include "hundreds of
thousands of different chemicals at varying levels," testified Steve Pearlman, head of Metro's
regulatory and connector relations.
When the Lowry groundwater mixes with the 160 million gallons of sewage that flow daily into
Metro's treatment system in north Denver, it's diluted by a factor of 5,000 or more.
"Do you know if it's possible to dilute plutonium?" Susan Tyburksi, an attorney representing
Anderson, asked Hackworth during a deposition.
"I have no idea," he responded. "But I know that...dilution is the solution to pollution."
Once on Metro's board, Anderson quickly alienated the key boardmembers who had crafted the
Lowry deal. When she tried to bring up the issue, she was repeatedly rebuffed. Some
boardmembers balled up newspaper clippings and other documents that she'd left on their chairs
and threw them into the trash. One boardmember told her to sit down and shut up; others
sniggered openly when she stood up to speak. They would later testify that she was "rude" and
"aggressive." Richard Plastino, who chaired the monthly meetings, said he came to dread seeing
Anderson's hand shooting up in the crowded boardroom: "She made meetings disruptive. I
remember my stomach tightening up in a ball when she raised her hand, because I knew
something disruptive was coming."
Marilyn Ferrari, a retired Metro employee, longtime union official and Anderson supporter, said
the meetings grew so hostile that she became physically frightened. "I was afraid for her, and I
was afraid for myself," she testified.
But Anderson, who had already survived several bruising environmental campaigns, was not
someone who scared easily. And she had little positive to say about her fellow boardmembers,
whom she described as a bunch of "elderly white guys" who approved the agenda in twenty
minutes, then "bolted" for the desserts. She also alleged that it was a "captive board" that simply
served as a rubber stamp for Metro manager Robert Hite and his cronies.
It was a clash not only of ideas and ideologies, but also of genders and generations. A longtime
advocate for public-interest groups, Anderson had started out lobbying for lower utility rates for
senior citizens, then became involved in union and environmental issues. For six years she was
the western director of the National Toxics Campaign, a grassroots organization focusing on
hazardous-waste issues. One of her most intense battles centered on the allegations that toxic
chemicals from Martin Marietta's aerospace complex had contaminated the drinking water in the
Friendly Hills neighborhood, causing cancers and birth defects among children who lived there.
In 1992, Anderson started teaching environmental-studies courses at the University of Colorado
in Boulder. The classes, which focused on real-life case studies involving such companies as
Coors, were popular with students but periodically triggered threats of funding cutoffs from
university administrators.
Anderson was a superb strategist -- "If I had her in one of my undergraduate classes, I'd give her
an A," says Steve Frank, Metro's public-relations officer -- and in a short time, she had an

impressive coalition of students, farmers and union workers rallying behind her denunciation of
the district's Lowry deal.
The Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers opposed the plan to discharge the Lowry effluent, arguing
that spreading Superfund wastes would create an unnecessary risk to the public and to workers.
The union also contended that the proposal made little economic sense, since discharging the
effluent through the sewers rather than treating it on-site would save only $1 million over thirty
years. "This is an insignificant amount of money considering the potential clean-up costs
associated with leaking sewer pipes and adverse effects on the river and the farm land," wrote
health physicist Richard Hillier.
But Metro officials fought hard to get their point of view across. One of the district's most
effective proponents was Steve Pearlman: No matter how high tensions were running, his frank
and laid-back demeanor invariably calmed the audience. "The word 'Superfund' scares people,"
Pearlman once explained to a reporter. "It conjures up images of toxic waste and fuming pits, but
that's not what Superfund is about, necessarily."
It was Pearlman's job to examine the health and safety ramifications of accepting the Lowry
effluent. He concluded that Metro could easily absorb the groundwater without endangering
workers, harming the quality of the district's biosolids, or exceeding state standards established
for water that would eventually be discharged directly from the plant back into the South Platte
"We took a look at every pollutant that was known or supposed to be at Lowry," he says. "And
we built such safety standards into the permit that even if something did come through, you
would still be safe."
The Lowry Landfill contains hundreds of radioactive and non-radioactive chemicals.
Approximately 165 of the 275 chemicals that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry has declared as presenting the "most significant potential threat to human health" are in
the landfill. Only about a third of these substances -- fifteen radionuclides and 53 chemicals --
are regulated under the Metro permit; the remainder simply flow through the sewers.
Every morning, heavy trucks rumble out of Metro's headquarters in north Denver, laden with
steaming black sludge known in the business as "beneficial biosolids." The trucks make over
twenty trips a day to Deer Trail, where the district's "Metrogro Farm" is located. There, backhoes
transfer the sludge into gigantic machines that trundle over the hills, scattering the material
across the fields. From a distance, the sludge resembles nutrient-rich soil, dark and loamy. But
up close, it's unnaturally black and has a claylike texture.
Some of the farmers who own land near Metro's 50,000-acre Deer Trail spread were disgusted to
learn that the district's dank-smelling sludge, already known to contain heavy metals and
chemicals, would soon contain plutonium and other radioactive substances. They were also
concerned that runoff from the fields could harm their water.
During one Metro board meeting, John Kalcevic, whose family has ranched in eastern Colorado
for a hundred years, said he was "astounded" that Metro had agreed to accept Lowry's wastes.
"Why in the hell do you people want to take on someone else's problems?" he asked. "You're
going to create for yourself a problem that you're never going to get rid of."
Another farmer, Dolores Tippett, pointed out that growing crops in sludge isn't even economical
these days. "People don't want chemicalized food. Why are we going to produce it?" she asked.

"Our kids and our grandkids are going to be buying this, and they're going to get sick from it, and
here we just let it go on. I'm ashamed of it. I think I'd rather move to another state that's cleaner
and more organic."
But not all farmers feel this way. In fact, the district has a waiting list of farmers who want the
stuff spread on their land, according to Metro spokesman Frank. "It's a good solution, because
you're simply returning nutrients to the land," he says.
Tony Boncucia, a former Metro truck driver who'd been fired for a time-card violation, testified
that the sludge often was applied too heavily and in creek beds and valleys. He remembered
seeing cows allowed to graze in fields immediately after a sludge application, their faces covered
by thick, black gook. "I never worked with anything so bad," he said. "Rubbers, Kotexes, needles
-- it's unreal what you would find."
But Metro officials point out that such items normally are strained out in the early stages of the
treatment process. The remaining solids are sent to huge anaerobic digesters for two weeks,
where microorganisms destroy many of the pathogens. "It's the 'yuck factor,'" says Frank. "When
you talk about making fertilizer from human poop, people can't process that."
Tensions between Anderson and the rest of the board escalated in early 1997, after she found a
letter delivered to the EPA in December 1991 by the Lowry Coalition alleging that the landfill
was contaminated with dangerous amounts of plutonium and americium -- radioactive waste that
could only have come from Rocky Flats, the former nuclear-weapons plant. Metro was a member
of the Coalition, and Anderson was aghast that the district hadn't mentioned the letter -- "the
smoking gun memo," she calls it -- during the first year she was on the board. "Here they were
libeling me all over town as a 'nutcase' and a 'wacko,' and they had not even shared this
information with their own employees," she later testified.
Soon after she discovered the letter, Anderson and members of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic
Workers Union held a press conference to announce their findings. A few days later, the EPA
issued a two-page response, stating that there was "no evidence" that radioactive wastes from
Rocky Flats had ever been dumped at Lowry. "We've done things in the past, but dumping
plutonium at Lowry wasn't one of them," said Pat Etchart, spokesman for Rocky Flats.
Anderson intensified her research, filing numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests
with the EPA. During this process, she says, documents that had previously been available
publicly were restamped as "privileged." Among the documents that appear to have been
reclassified is a letter from John Haggard, then the EPA's project manager at Lowry, describing
allegations of illegal dumping made by former state patrolman Bill Wilson, as well as lab
analyses performed for the EPA showing plutonium contamination at the landfill.
Jessie Goldfarb, an EPA attorney who often handles FOIA matters, says she doesn't know
anything about any document reclassifications. "I've never done that," she adds, "and I know of
no one else who would have done such a thing."
But Westword has obtained documents through its own public-records requests filed with the
EPA and the City of Denver which show that the EPA has been unwilling to turn over public
information regarding Lowry. These records also show that the EPA has occasionally consulted
with the city about whether documents should be made public.
For example, Anderson had filed a FOIA request for a letter from the Department of Justice's
David Dain, in which he advised city officials that they were breaking off settlement

negotiations. Goldfarb subsequently faxed the letter to Assistant City Attorney Shaun Sullivan,
who sent a memo to Ed Demos, Dennis Bollmann and Theresa Donahue, three Denver officials
intimately familiar with Lowry:
"The EPA has received a FOIA request for the attached letter from the DOJ to us. EPA does not
want to give it to AA [Adrienne Anderson]. Unfortunately, there is no express exception to
FOIA for this purpose so EPA must rely on the need to protect the public interest (presumably in
frank, open settlement discussions). Jessie Goldfarb has asked our view on disclosure/non-
disclosure. Could you call me so we can discuss this matter?"
Goldfarb says she had an obligation to consult with the city because the letter contained
confidential settlement information. "We couldn't release it without the city's consent," she adds.
And apparently the city opposed the letter's release, because Anderson says she never received a
copy of it.
But the EPA was trying to keep a lid on Lowry long before Anderson was appointed to the Metro
board. In one document dated March 12, 1990, EPA officials discussed how to handle inquiries
from Bryan Abas, then a reporter for Westword. "I expect there will be a Westword piece in the
near future, and we will need to react with the 'facts,'" Haggard wrote in a letter to his supervisor,
Barry Levene. "Lowry has been the only major project (Superfund) in the Front Range that has
been relatively quiet, and you may want to consider activities to coalesce all the interested parties
at Lowry so that it remains fairly quiet."
EPA and Metro officials routinely contacted networks and newspapers to complain about Lowry
coverage; these letters were then circulated by e-mail or regular mail to their counterparts in
Denver and at Waste Management. No news agency was too large -- or too small.
Jillian Lloyd, a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, spent nearly a year
investigating Lowry before writing her exhaustive 1998 piece, "A Trooper, A Dump, and A Tale
of Doubt." After its publication, Metro manager Hite wrote a lengthy letter to Lloyd's supervisor,
claiming the article was "totally biased and unsubstantiated."
"The arguments parrot those of a dissident Metro Wastewater Reclamation District Board
member who is routinely ignored by Denver's two dailies, The Denver Post and the Rocky
Mountain News, and by her fellow Board members," Hite continued, referring to Anderson. "Yet
you quote her as though she is a respected authority."
William Yellowtail, director of the EPA's Region VIII, which includes Colorado, wrote a lengthy
letter to an Erie resident in 1997, rebutting three stories published by the Boulder Weekly. "These
articles contain much misinformation about the EPA's cleanup proposal for groundwater at the
Lowry Landfill Superfund Site," he began. And Jack McGraw, another high-ranking EPA
official, sent a similar letter to a citizen in Milwaukee in response to another critical article that
appeared in In These Times.
In spring 1997, Metro officials threatened to censure Anderson for speaking out at a Lowry
hearing; in response, she filed a whistleblower suit that May. After several hearings and appeals,
a federal judge is expected to rule on the case sometime in June.
Anderson was often the subject of e-mails and memos that flew back and forth between the
public agencies. One of the most frequent writers was Metro's Frank, who had formerly worked
as a public-relations officer for aerospace giants Lockheed and Martin Marietta, which have
since merged to become Lockheed-Martin.

Martin Marietta was the company that Anderson and others alleged had dumped toxic chemicals
into water that was then piped to the Friendly Hills neighborhood and other south and southwest
suburban communities. Although Frank was knowledgeable about the Friendly Hills case, he
testified that he wasn't directly involved in it. Referring to Anderson in one e-mail, Frank wrote:
"I am greatly bothered that she is able to publish this garbage from a University of Colorado e-
mail address, which I help fund via my taxes. However, c'est la vie." (Frank used a taxpayer-
funded computer to send his message.)
From time to time, Assistant City Attorney Sullivan reported to his colleagues what Anderson
was saying at various public forums. In an October 19, 1999, memo, he wrote: "Having been
unsuccessful by alleging significant plutonium contamination at Lowry, Adrienne Anderson has
broadened her alleged concerns to include all radionuclides. At least this appeared to be the
thrust of her testimony at the [EPA] ombudsman's hearing on Saturday. It may be wise to hire a
radiation expert separate from Parsons to ensure we have the best analysis available to answer
any questions that may be raised. Ms. Anderson has made the Lowry site her pet project, and she
will continue to raise new questions unless we can respond authoritatively. You may recall that
she started by alleging Section 6 was the site of Army chemical weapons training or storage
during World War II (she had the wrong section and probably the wrong operation), then she
alleged plutonium contamination (no evidence), and now she is alleging shipment of radium and
depleted uranium waste by Shattuck."
Rather than do the "best analysis available," however, Lowry officials didn't even bother to
resample any of the wells that had turned up hot. A database maintained by the City of Denver
shows that with the exception of one shallow well, no sampling whatsoever was done for
plutonium or americium during a seven-year stretch, from roughly 1991 to 1998. "It wasn't
required by the EPA," explains Dennis Bollmann, who supervises the city's activities at the
During this period, workers were quietly plugging dozens of monitoring wells, including many
that had registered high readings for plutonium and americium, records show. Federal and city
officials say the wells were plugged to ensure the integrity of the landfill cap and to increase the
efficiency of a gas-extraction system. But the plugging also prevented any additional sampling in
those disputed wells.
According to Bollmann, the plugged wells had been drilled years earlier in order to better
ascertain the nature of the contaminants present in the landfill. Once the EPA's Record of
Decision was issued in 1994, the goals changed, and sampling was performed to determine
"whether the site was in compliance with the regulations," he says.
As for the four aquifers that lie beneath the site -- the Dawson, the Denver, the Arapahoe and the
Laramie-Fox Hills -- Bollmann says they haven't been contaminated. "We have samples from the
lignite bed, located on top of the Denver formation, that are clean," he says. "We have samples
from the upper Denver aquifer that are clean. And with a few scattered exceptions, the samples
in the unweathered Dawson are clean."
Although water samples taken from wells drilled deeper than 300 feet contain numerous
chemicals, including solvents and heavy metals, those solvents are most likely the result of
contamination from the labs doing the analyses, Bollmann says. The metals, he adds, are not
present in levels exceeding "background concentrations."

And what, exactly, are the "background concentrations" at Lowry? At the landfill, contamination
is defined as the "presence of a chemical above background concentrations." But the wells that
have been designated as "background" wells are not free of pollutants, either.
Many of these "background wells" are located south of Quincy Road -- one of the areas where
patrolman Bill Wilson saw tankers dumping their loads decades ago. According to the city's
database, these wells also contain numerous chemicals and radionuclides -- but since they are
"upgradient," or upstream of the landfill, the EPA has allowed them be used as background
wells. The result? The contamination that is present in the on-site wells is downplayed.
One of the deepest wells, dubbed WW-40, descends more than a thousand feet to the Arapahoe
Aquifer; it's located near the Gun Club Road entrance to the landfill. According to both
Bollmann and the EPA, no contaminants were found in this well. But the database tells a
different story: Arsenic, lead and mercury were among the chemicals detected when WW-40 was
sampled in 1993 and again in 1994. Apparently no testing was done for radionuclides or volatile
organic chemicals, which are extremely prevalent at the site. And despite the well's clean bill of
health, landfill workers are drinking "commercially bottled drinking water," EPA records show.
Several other deep wells -- GW-116, GW-117 and GW-118 -- were drilled near the center of the
landfill, but the database contains no sampling results for these wells. According to Bollmann,
the wells were drilled not to test for contaminants, but to determine whether a fracture existed
below the landfill. No such fracture was found, he says.
In 1998, landfill officials finally began testing wells again for plutonium contamination again --
but these samples were mostly taken from newly drilled wells located just outside an
underground barrier wall. Even so, the database shows that these wells, which are all relatively
shallow, contain plutonium and americium, albeit in low amounts.
The database reveals other puzzling trends. For example, there are 436 results in the database
showing plutonium and americium levels ranging from a few hundredths of a picocurie to
hundreds of picocuries. But 278 results, including nearly all of the highest readings, are
dismissed as "undetected" and marked with a "U" in an adjoining column. When asked about the
notation, Gwen Hooten, the EPA's current project manager at Lowry, says it represents the
"detection limits" of the laboratory doing the analysis and not the actual concentration.
Detection limits are the levels of contamination that a lab detects in samples sent for analysis.
Normally, laboratories provide their clients with the actual results of their analyses, as well as
such qualifying information as detection limits and counting errors. So, for example, if the
detection limits for plutonium were set at 50 picocuries and a sample came in that contained less
than 50 picocuries of plutonium, the lab would mark a "U" on paper and report the amount as an
undetectable -- a "nondetect," in cleanup lingo.
Although a layman hearing the word "nondetect" could easily think that meant a sample was
uncontaminated, that might not be the case. The actual amount of the nondetect could be
anywhere from 0 to 50 picocuries -- three times the EPA's safe-drinking-water standard. "The
lab's not saying the concentration is zero if a 'U' is there," concedes Bollmann. "What it's saying
is that it can't say with certainty the compound is present in any concentration."
Some of the wells contain results ranging from hundreds, to thousands, to a million picocuries or
more for americium, arsenic, iodine and neptunium; these results are also recorded in the EPA's
Record of Decision as the "maximum detected concentration." According to Hooten, however,
the numbers do not reflect the actual radionuclide concentrations that exist at the site, but rather

detection limits. "It was just a first run," she says. "I can't given you a specific reason for why
those detection limits were chosen."
Or why they were set so high. According to Dan Hirsch, a California expert on nuclear-policy
issues, the detection limits in the Lowry database are so high that, in many cases, they effectively
mask any evidence of contamination. "If the data are reported correctly, the agencies are using
detection limits that grossly exceed safe drinking-water levels," he says. "If this is indeed what
they have done, it would be inappropriate from a health standpoint, because their monitoring
techniques would be incapable of seeing contamination at the levels that these agencies say
produce unacceptable health risks."
This practice of labeling high results as U's, or nondetects, extends to numerous other
radionuclides and many of the non-radioactive compounds as well.
"I don't know the reason behind it," Hooten responds, when asked why the detection limits for
the database were set so high. "It could have been the Lowry Coalition, CH2M Hill or Waste
But according to Lori Tagawa of Waste Management, the lab sets the detection limits. "We don't
tell them what the detection limit should be because we don't have any idea," she says.
As the federal regulatory agency overseeing Lowry, the EPA could have ordered its contractors
to come up with results that would have showed the actual levels of contaminants present in the
landfill. In an undated paper, Milt Lammering, the EPA's own radiation expert, notes that the
detection limits at Lowry had been set so "unrealistically high" that it was impossible to know
with certainty what the concentrations of plutonium and americium were in some wells.

Despite public opposition, landfill officials moved ahead with the project, and on the morning of
July 25, 2000, Lowry groundwater began flowing through the sewers. A few hours later, a
manhole on East Hampden Avenue blew its cover and spewed 1,880 gallons of contaminated
water across the ground.
After fixing the manhole and reporting the incident to the EPA, Lowry officials turned the water
back on. For three months, the clear-looking liquid whooshed through darkened sewers at a rate
that was roughly equal to four garden hoses running at full strength.
Before leaving Lowry, the water was pumped into a small treatment facility, where it was passed
through carbon filters and a tank filled with ultraviolet light. These processes are supposed to
reduce volatile organic chemicals such as solvents, but they do nothing to remove the heavy
metals, radionuclides, PCBs or pesticides still present in the water.
A round of sampling done just days before the discharge began showed 0.32 picocuries of
americium present in the water. While that was a very small amount, it's still twice the state
standard for groundwater and much higher than what you'd except to find in a normal
background sample.
Other samples showed a total of 0.15 picocuries of plutonium-238 and -239 in the treated water.
Again, it was a small amount -- but still higher than what you'd expect to find under normal
Lowry officials had hoped to pump a mix of water through the sewers: 70 percent from the
northern portion of the site and 30 percent from a much more contaminated area near the center

of the landfill called the "North Toe." But the North Toe water proved to be so contaminated that
officials soon began debating whether they should reduce that portion of the mix to 5 percent.
On October 20, the discharge was again halted when a lab discovered that the water was toxic to
a small organism called Ceriodaphnia dubia. These small crustaceans do what canaries do in
underground mines: They alert scientists to potential problems that could later affect larger
creatures, such as fish and humans.
For three months, officials from Metro, Denver and Waste Management tried to figure out what
was wrong. Eventually they concluded that it was the test itself -- and not the water -- that was
causing problems. On January 12 of this year, the flow resumed.
Asked how long the discharge could go on, Metro's Pearlman responds, "You should continue it
going on in perpetuity."
That's too long, says Lloyd Hesser, a trucker who hauled chemicals to the landfill years ago.
"They'll never get that water clean," he adds. "There's no way you can dilute that stuff."