RFETS
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RFETS

 Shannon Peil
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 Shannon Peil
RFETS
by Shannon Peil  FollowFollow
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Shannon Peil lives and writes in Boulder, Colorado. His work has appeared in a few dozen online publications and once or twice on real paper,...read more but more importantly he edits for people who actually know what they are doing at http://amphibi.us. He gets referred to as Ms. more often than not in e-mails and still cannot figure out the best way to correct that - not to say that he is offended or isn't a fan of women. He has known a few and they seemed alright.
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RFETS
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I DON'T KNOW where to start this story. That isn't a point of narrative - it's just my being honest with the story, the truth, and you. I do, however, know where to end it.
I would strongly advise against drinking the water in the surrounding areas of what used to be known as the Rocky Flats Environmental Technical Site in Colorado, located about 16 miles northwest of Denver.
As a native of Boulder, I'm accustomed to my tap water being provided by the Boulder reservoir - which, all things considered, is clean. I cannot say the same for Denver or its surrounding area. RFETS was a U.S. Department of Energy-run site that was part of the United States' nuclear weapons production efforts that I had the opportunity to work in during the years of 2005 and 2006. During this time, I worked as a subcontractor tasked with cleaning the remaining buildings on site in preparation for their inevitable demolition.
Two (disclosed) and separate building fires took place on the site in the '50s and '60s, resulting in admitted surface soil and water contamination. The amount of contamination released during these events is unknown, but out of 5,000 steel drums filled with plutonium contaminated oils and other materials stored in the area, approximately 420 of these drums leaked during the fires, introducing an estimated 5,000 gallons of liquid containing plutonium and uranium to the surface water and soil, as well as to the south and southwest by prevailing winds.
All of this information is readily available on the internet, but I am presenting it here as a launching pad, hopefully to explain a little back story on what I like to call Hell.
In 2005, I was hired by a subcontractor to the DoE that was responsible for asbestos abatement in the buildings remaining on the site. Buildings in RFETS were constructed during a time when asbestos was a seemingly miracle product; lightweight, nearly fireproof, and amazingly cost effective for the benefits it provided. Knowing what we do now, the widespread use of asbestos was a mistake, but it became a very lucrative opportunity for myself and many other uneducated workers on the U.S. government dime. I worked 60 to 70 hour weeks with a crew of union Laborers on the remediation work prior to demolition of these buildings, mostly creating negative air environments within the buildings to take down, bag, and ship out contaminated insulation and tiles before the final cleans of the buildings to ensure they were ready to knock the buildings down.
You may ask why anyone would do that kind of job, but at 20 years old with no college education - 26 bucks an hour plus overtime wasn't something I could turn down.

Before shifts, we were required to don government issue clothing. After our initial meetings of the day, we would prep our respirators and make sure that our breathing air was filtered. Before entering any of the contaminated areas of any building, we would dress in the necessary attire, depending on just how dirty the area we planned on going into was. In areas of a building with high levels of depleted uranium or plutonium, we were normally required to wear layers of radiation gear accompanied with full mask supplied air respirators, topped off with the normal asbestos gear. I cannot describe to you the feeling of slowly approaching an air plenum (a receiving chamber for air used to direct air flow through HVAC systems) knowing that a half century worth of plutonium contaminated dust was waiting for you.
I have many stories from this chapter of my life. I could tell you about the time I was scrubbing out of a shift when a radiation tech with a Geiger counter announced that I was too contaminated to leave the area. I could tell you about any number of times our negative air containments were compromised, letting dangerous particulates float free. I could tell you about the health and safety regulators who spent most of their shifts asleep. I could tell you about the waste technicians (whose sole responsibility was to verify cargo container's contents before clearing them for shipment) that never looked in a single box before signing off on them. I could tell you about the time I cut myself through 3 layers of clothing on a rusty nail and had to duct tape it closed and lie through my teeth about it out of fear of losing my job. I could tell you about being personally threatened with death for telling these stories by an ex-con foreman, who according to popular belief, had personally buried people for less. I don't need to tell you any of these stories. In fact, I can't. They would indict a lot of people who were also in the situation I was in, and made poor choices the same as I did.
What I need to tell you is that I would strongly advise against drinking the water in the surrounding areas of what used to be known as the Rocky Flats Environmental Technical Site in Colorado, located about 16 miles northwest of Denver.

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