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Study: Residents Near Rocky Flats Experienced Unusual Illnesses

By Andrea Flores and Jeff Todd

DENVER (CBS4)- Preliminary results from a Metropolitan State University study show residents who lived near the Rocky Flats Plant between 1952 and 1992 may have experienced unusual illnesses, including specific cancers linked to radiation exposure.

The early results may confirm decades-long speculations about the effects of living in communities near the former nuclear production facility.

(credit: CBS)

MSU's Head Investigator, Carol Jensen, says the findings get them one step close to a solution.

"This whole project is about helping the community get as healthy as possible, regardless of what we find," Jensen said. "The preliminary data is concerning."

Researchers surveyed 1,745 people. Preliminary reports show 848 of those participants have cancer.

(credit: CBS)

"And in this case 48.8 percent of the cancers we're seeing are rare cancers. And that to me is worth further investigation," said Jensen.

Metro State also found a prevalence of thyroid cancer, only second to breast cancer. Thyroid cancer is usually the ninth most common form of cancer in Colorado and across the country.

Jensen added the "rare cancers" were something researchers didn't expect to find. The survey started looking at cancer rates because it has the most readily available data to compare to the survey.

(credit: CBS)

Dale Simpson's stepfather worked and the plant and died of advanced lung cancer back in 2015.

"The results so far have not surprised me," Simpson said. "I think it's not going to surprise a lot of Arvada residents. We've suspected it, we've wondered, and now we're going to know."

""For one thing we have decades of denial on the part of the government and the private companies that have operated rocky flats that say no problem don't worry about it," said Kristen Iversen who worked at Rocky Flats and Grew up in Arvada.

Rocky Flats
Rocky Flats (credit: CBS)

Iversen has written a controversial book about the health of herself, family, and neighbors.

"I think we must have new studies and we can't do that without some level of government involvement. We need new health studies; we need new soil studies," Iversen said.

Researchers say independent plans to sample soil and tissue from cancer patients are in the works.

The survey is ongoing and open to residents who live within the boundaries of Highway 128 and 120th Avenue to the north, I-25 to the east, I-70 to the south, and Highway 93 to the west.

United States Department of Energy Rocky Flats Plant
United States Department of Energy Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado (file photo credit: CBS)

The study currently has respondents spanning more than 60 years, but many are concerned the health effects will last for future generations.

"I get emails from people whose children are sick. This is not just a problem of people in their 40s, 50s or 60s. This is an ongoing health legacy that is affecting the children, our children and grandchildren," said Iversen.

To be eligible for the survey, residents must have lived in the area from the plant east to Interstate 25 during the years the plant was in operation.

Andrea Flores is a reporter for CBS4. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @AndreaFloresTV.

Contributions to this report from Jeff Todd; Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he's been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.

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