Alert Issued As Holding Pond Nears Capacity
GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) _ The Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant went on alert today when a holding pond containing toxic substances neared capacity because of heavy rain, authorities said.
State officials disagreed over whether the pond contained radioactive substances and what sort of risk a dam break or overflow posed.
The pond is at 75 percent capacity with its water 2 1/2 feet below the point of overflow, but the level has been rising a quarter foot a day since Friday and is still climbing, said Paul Frohardt, Rocky Flats program manager for the state Health Department.
State operations officer Len Boulas said: ″Our concern was not so much flood damage, but sediment in the pond, whose trace elements are radioactive and toxic in nature.″
However, Frohardt said a herbicide is the only toxic chemical known to be in the pond, which could overflow into a creek that provides drinking water to Westminster, Thornton and Northglenn. ″Even if that water needed to be discharged today, there is not a present or substantial health risk to people downstream,″ Frohardt said.
He said flood damage from a dam break on the pond, which has a capacity of 23 million gallons, could be greater than the risks posed by toxic substances.
Coincidentally, the incident occurred about 10:45 a.m. as the state Division of Emergency Services was conducting an emergency preparedness drill at the plant, said Boulas.
Health Department officials were taking samples from the pond at midday to determine the toxicity of the pond water. Boulas said officials also were examining the pond itself to see whether it might overflow or its dam break.
The Division of Emergency Services drill today involved the hypothetical failure of a pond at Rocky Flats, but not the one officials became concerned about, according to division spokesman Dave Lawton. The drill was called off.
″It is a normal thing - the training exercise - but it was getting to be too similar to what was happening,″ said Lawton. ″And as it was playing out, some people were responding to look at the other situation. That took them out of the exercise, and it was getting too hard to deal with.″
Plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons are made at Rocky Flats, which is 16 miles northwest of Denver and is operated by Rockwell International for the Department of Energy.
FBI agents and investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency raided Rocky Flats on June 6 for evidence of illegal dumping of hazardous wastes. A federal grand jury convened Aug. 1 to look into the matter.