Adrienne Anderson, longtime environmental activist who worked with labor unions, low income and other neighborhoods affected by industrial pollution, Denver neighborhood associations, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, and a host of organizations on behalf of environmental justice, passed away on September 7, 2011, after a five month battle with brain cancer. A memorial service and celebration of Adrienne’s life is planned for November 6, 2011, from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at the Altona Grange Hall, #127, 39th and Nelson Road, Longmont, Colorado, just east of North Broadway (Hwy 36) in Boulder. Adrienne’s friends, supporters, and coworkers are invited to share light refreshments and remembrances and to honor her life. In lieu of flowers, a donation may be made to the college fund set up for her daughters at the Public Service Credit Union. Checks may be made out to Erin and Sarah Smile and sent to them for deposit at 306 Peery Parkway, Golden CO 80403.
With Anderson’s death, Colorado lost a courageous fighter for environmental justice. Adrienne worked with many environmental organizations in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, and Oregon. Her projects ranged from improving services provided by electrical utilities to rural communities, to protecting Pinon Canyon from encroachments by the US military, and to fighting contamination of farmlands, watersheds, city parks and lakes with toxic and radioactive wastes. Though environmental work is always tough, Adrienne never shirked from really hard tasks. While it is relatively easy to take on less controversial causes such as wilderness protection, energy policy, general air and water quality enforcement, and global warming, it is an entirely different matter to challenge defense contractors, Denver Water, and the corporate establishment of Colorado. Adrienne was an activist with the Toxic Alliance Campaign when she came to Colorado. There, she helped to publicize the failure to truly protect workers from plutonium contamination, and the subsequent failed clean up of the remains of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Plant. Her most celebrated campaigns began with the Friendly Hills neighborhood in Southwest Denver. Unusually high cancer rates were discovered there near the Martin Marietta plant, especially among young children. Cancers were associated with Martin Marietta’s practice of pumping effluent from production of rocket fuel into aquifers and pipelines serving the area’s water supply.
After being appointed by Mayor Wellington Webb to the Denver Metro Wastewater Reclamation District Board specifically to represent worker and union concerns, Anderson uncovered a massive cover-up of ground and surface water contamination by rocket propellants in suburban southwest Denver by Lockheed-Martin, and ground water contamination by toxics and radio-nuclides from Rocky Flats and other sites. These toxic materials were being illegally dumped into the Lowry Landfill, whose effluent enters the Platte River and leaches into aquifers providing water to the Denver Metro area. While the city of Denver has always claimed that there has been no plutonium contamination at Lowry, it is undeniable that the Lowry landfill received toxic materials from Rocky Flats, Coors, and other corporate entities. Workers with Metro Wastewater sued under the OSHA because they had no protection against the contaminants that were being flushed into the wastewater system at Lowry Landfill.
Anderson was asked to serve as an expert witness in the case. Federal whistleblower Judge David W. DiNardi of Boston fully vetted Anderson’s documentation of radiation at the Lowry Landfill and found it “most credible” and “well-founded.” Comparing her to top whistleblowers like Erin Brockovich and Karen Silkwood, he ruled in her favor on every issue before him. His ruling was subsequently reversed by Bush appointees in the Department of Labor on a technicality. The contamination against which Anderson fought continues in the Denver area.
Judge DiNardi’s analysis and a series of articles in the Westword by Eileen Welsome remain the most thorough discussions of Anderson’s work. Welsome’s articles won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, and provide detailed analysis and key documents that substantiate the full range of Anderson’s controversial claims about radioactive material that was dumped at the Lowry Landfill and now is being clandestinely removed.
Anderson often ended up on the losing end of tough fights. She was repeatedly vilified publically and threatened by those whose crimes or duplicity she attempted to expose. Thugs threatened her in front of her home. A public relations firm was hired to smear her. Newspapers and media campaigns impugned her intelligence, her work, and her morals. And pressure from politicians and corporate donors to the University of Colorado—the same corporations whose actions she had sought to uncover—caused her to lose her job as an instructor in environmental ethics and environmental research at CU, where the content and balance of her classes and her pedagogy had received the highest ratings for teaching excellence for a dozen years. Not long after Anderson’s dismissal from CU, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center hired her as the foremost investigative environmentalist in the Rocky Mountain region to continue her fight against pollutants, especially plutonium and other radio-nuclides. While continuing her association with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, her last employment was with the LIUNA construction workers’ union, where she investigated potential development sites to assure that they were free from toxic contamination.
Adrienne Anderson was an extraordinarily courageous woman. She never flinched when challenging those arrayed against her. She was a role model as a community organizer and strategist. She was an inspiring teacher who influenced generations of students and future activists. Her passion for keeping families safe went far beyond her duties as an environmental scientist. She fought to keep corporations accountable to all of us so we could have acceptable clean water and a toxin-free environment. She truly did pass her legacy on to her children and all those who work very hard to keep their families safe from contamination. At the time of her death, Adrienne was working with Denver neighborhood organizations to stop the use of recycled water contaminated with Lowry effluents in City parks—resulting in the drowning death of numerous waterfowl—and contamination of playgrounds, schoolyards and recreational areas.
Adrienne Anderson was born on February 10th, 1952 in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in Texas and received her BA in Sociology from Southern Methodist University and her MA in Environmental Sociology from the University of Oregon. She is survived by her two daughters, Erin, 20, and Sarah, 16, and a host of life-long friends, family members, admiring co-workers and supporters. Adrienne never stopped fighting. In 2005, she was awarded the very first Edward Abbey award for support of the environment. In June 2011, just weeks before her untimely death, she broadcast a call on KGNU radio to the public, warning people about the danger of harmful toxins in their water.