CANCER SUFFERER SEEKS
by RICHARD FLEMING
When Philip Hufford moved to the Denver area in 1962 he was 14 and healthy.
The longer he lived in the area, the more that would change. At 20 he was
diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Three
years of grueling radiation and chemotherapy brought remission - and a degenerative
heart condition. Open-heart surgery was required in 1979. Today the condition
continues to plague him, blocking all but 30 percent of the arterial blood
flow to his heart.
His family also suffered deleterious health effects. In 1988 his mother
died of liver cancer. Three years later his younger brother died of the
same disease. In 1990, Hufford found he had cancer of the salivary gland,
necessitating surgery. Last May he was told he had lung cancer. Last September,
Doctors are uncertain how much time he has. Perhaps a few months, perhaps
a few years. It is enough time to think, and Philip Hufford is thinking
there is something dreadfully wrong with the environment of the metro area.
Prior to moving to Denver, his family had no history of cancer, he says.
And he's found evidence of a cluster of cancer cases in his boyhood neighborhood
near 27th Avenue and Simms in Lakewood.
His mother believed Rocky Flats was responsible for the family's misfortune.
Throughout four decades of nuclear weapons production, the Department of
Energy facility in Jefferson County repeatedly dusted Denver and its suburbs
with radioactive releases.
Hufford looks at the pattern of cancer cases on his old street and suspects
another source: the Coors Brewing Company. In a block and a half stretch
of 27th Avenue, Hufford found 11 cases of cancer that had occurred over
a 20-year period, from 1968 to 1988 - all but one of those on the north
side of the street, which backs up to a ditch carrying water from Clear
Creek to a nearby reservoir. In 1990, Coors was assessed civil and criminal
fines for polluting Clear Creek with solvents and other toxic chemicals
for more than a decade.
His experience made an environmentalist of Hufford, who ran for governor
on the Green Party ticket in 1994. Though he's seen far more disappointments
than triumphs in his career as an activist, Hufford refuses to be discouraged
in his pursuit of a Colorado "where it's safe to raise children."
"The most productive way to use my anger is to organize community groups,"
Hufford says. "If something is going on that you know is wrong and
harmful to the community, you need to get organized and get going."
That belief led Hufford to walk door-to-door in 1989 in subzero weather
to rally voters against a northwest leg of Highway 470, which would have
plowed through plutonium-tainted soil around Rocky Flats for the primary
benefit of a dubious commercial development called Jefferson Center. It
has also allied him with neighbors around Niwot who oppose Boulder's plans
to spray bacteria-laden sewer sludge on land not far from his home. He remains
active with the Green Party, where he's valued for his experience and his
But Hufford has had to backburner both his and his video production business
to deal with the disease that has haunted his body since his college days.
That campaign will not include petition drives or political strategizing.
It is one of CAT scans and radiation doses, of toxic elixirs that may kill
him in the name of curing him.
Hufford is stoic about his situation. He's been down this road before. "It's
the price I have to pay to be around," he says. Since the late-1980s,
Hufford, 49, has been an easily recognized figure at public meetings concerning
the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Lowry Landfill and hazardous waste incineration
issues. A gray-bearded man with a gentle disposition, Hufford was usually
seen manning a professional-looking videocam - his chosen tool for creating
a record that would hold public and corporate officials accountable. Not
one to grandstand, Hufford was content to stay in the background unless
he sensed the meeting was being bent to public relations purposes rather
than public information. Like a home inspector on the trail of dry rot,
Hufford would probe the official line in a politely relentless way, chipping
away at false conclusions and defective reasoning.
"Philip always had his information in order," says Jane Shellenberger,
who heads the Boulder environmental group BREATHE. "He's never been
afraid to ask the hard questions."
Termed a radical by some who have faced his questions, Hufford replies,
"I'm an average citizen who is concerned about poison in the water
and air and land of my friends, family, neighbors and my community. What's
radical is people who don't give a bloody goddamn about the health of their
community and family and friends."
Philip Hufford shows the dot tattoed on his skull used to
precisely align radiation equipment targeting his cancer.
The world is too full of those who care nothing for others, believes Philip's
father Tom Hufford, who lives near Portland, Ore. "We glorify killers
and exploiters and predators," he says. "In our world, violence
pays off. Exploiters get what they want." What we need are individuals
who are the opposite of predators, individuals who run on compassion, non-violence
and reverence for life, he believes. Tom Hufford has coined a word for that
kind of person: "Amitor." It is apparent who serves as a living
definition for Tom Hufford's words. "Philip is a true amitor."
Amitor Productions became the name of Philip Hufford's video company. While
Hufford focused on documenting public meetings, press conferences and debates
concerning environmental issues, he also spent a year recording the rebuilding
of the longest narrow gauge railroad in operation in the country, which
runs out of the northern New Mexico town of Chama into the San Juan mountains
Prior to starting his video company in 1993, Hufford worked for two years
as regional director of the Fair Trade Campaign, a coalition of labor, agriculture
and religious groups opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Hufford came to his citizen activism by way of the '60s. Majoring in political
science at CU in the latter half of that politically tumultuous decade,
Hufford acquired an alternative perspective that led him to question authority
and think for himself. As president of the Residence Hall Association on
campus, Hufford led the fight to house both men and women students in the
same dorms. When that barrier fell, he was interviewed by Time magazine
about the then-novel concept of coed living.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Hufford never abandoned his ideals or
his commitment to them. "He went to college, got a hell of an education
and he didn't go into real estate," says Tico Embury, another Green
Party principal. "Philip has stayed very true to his beliefs."
His education and campus activism were interrupted in 1968 when a biopsy
of a lump on his clavicle turned up Hodgkin's. There was no known treatment
for the cancer.
"We felt overwhelmed," remembers his father, Tom. "I cried
for him. I thought it was the end."
Hufford seemed to take the news calmly, says his sister, Rebecca, eight
years his junior. "He used to call the lump his 'wing-butt,'"
she recalls. "He joked he was growing an angel wing."
The place Hufford was headed was no heaven. The National Cancer Research
Center in Baltimore admitted him to an experimental program for Hodgkin's
patients. There were about 15 young adults in Hufford's group. He would
be the only one who survived the treatment.
Philip Hufford isn't just fighting the cancer that's ravaging
his body - he's going to the source.
"The doctors sounded very confident," he remembers. "I didn't
realize how experimental it was. I would fly in for chemotherapy or radiation
and ask about other patients and I'd hear they had died."
The stays at the Research Center were wrenching in other respects. "You'd
walk down the ward and see people with chunks of their heads missing, or
shoulders gone, or people having seizures, or puking their guts out for
days." The drugs came in syringes the size of pipe bombs, shot in a
single spurt into the arm, unlike today's slow-drip intravenous method.
The result was immediate - violent illness that lasted more than a day.
The chemo regimen required two-week stays, radiation three. In between,
Hufford flew back to Denver and tried to act like a college student. The
treatments went on for three years and delayed Hufford's graduation for
In the meantime, his family learned of other cancer victims on their block,
all young adults, five in all. "Two were high school kids," Rebecca
Hufford says. "They died of brain cancer. My mother had a real strong
feeling the cancers had something to do with Rocky Flats."
Hufford was less interested in what caused his cancer than in getting his
life back. Graduating in 1971, he moved to the mountain community of Sugarloaf.
The rest of his family left for San Francisco, where Tom worked as a marketing
executive for the Schlagge Lock Company.
Tom found his son's decision to leave a conventional career path baffling.
"He had some very good job offers that he passed up," Tom says.
"I wanted to find out what life was like for people who didn't go to
college, who weren't privileged that way," says Philip Hufford, who
did stints as a drywall rocker, dishwasher and cook before landing a job
as a machinist with a "leisure products" company in Broomfield.
There he walked into a labor battle that pitted a heavy-handed company owner
against employees who felt underpaid and under pressure to continually up
their production. Hufford became one of the spokesmen for employees during
a drive to unionize. When the effort was crushed by illegal tactics used
by the company, according to Hufford, the neophyte labor organizer lost
"People were bought off or scared off," says Hufford. "It
was a big lesson for me. I saw there's got to be a change in the perception
of ordinary Americans that they can't do anything except what they're told.
People have the notion that their reach only extends as far as those in
charge say it extends. It's a control mechanism."
It was an observation that Hufford would explore as a graduate student in
social psychology at the University of Denver, one of the few universities
then that allowed students to create their own interdisciplinary degree
programs. Hufford combined psychology with international studies. In his
master's thesis he tied theories of brain functioning to group behavior.
"Everything we do is rooted in our biology," he explains, warming
to the subject. "What we think, feel and what we believe we can do
is all based on what we can perceive, or sense. We use that information
as feedback to evaluate how we're performing a task as simple as reaching
out and picking up a cup of tea to something as complex as interacting with
other people." From such feedback, reference frames are constructed
to facilitate the process of learning acceptable behavior in a particular
culture. By controlling the way those reference frames take shape, a society
can manipulate the perceptions and behavior of people. In American society,
that has led to a malaise of powerlessness, Hufford believes.
"People are conditioned to accept authority and not question it,"
he says. "They're made to believe they have no power and can't change
anything. And the media - papers like the Denver Post and Westword, which
have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, deny the truth to
people. Most of us don't realize how manipulated we are."
Hufford got firsthand experience with the media during his 1994 run for
governor. Though he had gathered sufficient voter signatures to earn a place
on the ballot Hufford found himself snubbed by the press. Not even voter
guides published by daily papers gave him and other third party candidates
the same status accorded Democrat and Republican candidates.
Out of the media eye, Hufford scored a noteworthy coup in maneuvering Governor
Roy Romer into a debate. As Romer railed against Republican challenger Bruce
Benson's refusal to debate, Hufford loudly challenged the governor to face
him instead. Put on the spot in front of a pro-environment crowd at CU,
Romer agreed to debate the Green candidate.
The opportunity proved largely fruitless, however, after the governor's
handlers staged it in Colorado Springs and insisted that another candidate,
Kevin Swanson of the American Taxpayers Party, also participate. Pooh-poohed
by Romer flacks as a throw-away event, the debate was ignored by almost
Hufford managed to total 2 percent of the vote, enough to gain the Green
Party official status as a political organization but not enough to spare
party members the election year task of gathering signatures to place their
candidates on the ballot.
Hufford was no stranger to the frustrations of going up against the state's
political pit boss, Roy Romer. Working for the National Toxics Campaign
in the late 1980s, Hufford organized a coalition of citizens groups opposed
to the incineration of hazardous materials. Responding to pressure from
the coalition and other environmental groups, the governor appointed a panel
to study the pros and cons of incineration and make a recommendation. The
Governor's Hazardous Waste Incineration Advisory Committee consisted of
environmentalists, citizen activists and health department officials. In
l991, after months of study sessions and discussions, the committee voted
to recommend a moratorium on the incineration of hazardous waste. The governor
was again on the spot. Perhaps sensing that few were watching, he rejected
the recommendation, siding with minority opinion voiced by industry representatives.
"It was incredibly empowering to bring the issue to the state level,"
remembers Brian Andreja of the Sierra Club. "We worked inside of the
process and we won. Romer said he wanted scientific input and citizen input
on incineration and he got it. Philip deserved a lot of credit for bringing
people together on both a grassroots and political level. It was unfortunate
Romer chose to ignore the advice of the committee he appointed."
Despite such setbacks, Hufford never broke stride as an activist. Adrienne
Anderson, then regional director of the National Toxics Campaign, calls
Hufford the tortoise of environmentalists - steadfast, sure, unwavering,
persistent. "The greater the power and wealth of corporate polluters
and government agencies involved in the abuse of power, the greater is his
determination to set things right," she says.
Anderson, who now teaches environmental ethics at CU, met Hufford in 1988
after the death of his mother, who asked him to find the cause of her fatal
cancer and those of other residents of Applewood Knolls.
"That was the turning point for Philip," recalls his sister, Rebecca.
Hufford abandoned pursuit of his doctorate and went door to door in his
old neighborhood looking for answers. Besides his case and his mother's
he found nine cancer cases in a block and a half, including the death of
a woman from the same disease that killed his mother, liver cancer. The
woman and her husband had bought the Huffords' former home after the family
moved to California.
And there was a puzzling pattern: all but one of the cancers struck victims
residing on the north side of 27th Avenue. If fallout from Rocky Flats had
caused the disease, as his mother suspected, those living across the street
should have been hit equally hard, Hufford speculated. The only difference
between the rows of houses was that those on the north side backed up against
a water ditch.
In 1990, Hufford brought his puzzle to Anderson, who had helped residents
of the Friendly Hills subdivision in the southwest metro area battle defense
giant Martin Marietta over what they believed was industrial contamination
of their water supply. Using water routing maps and records from the state
health department, Anderson established that toxic chemicals from the company's
Waterton Canyon plant had been entering the Denver water supply since the
l950s, and the state health department had done little but look the other
When Hufford brought his findings to the National Toxics Campaign, Anderson
recalls, "A big bell went off." She knew that a l984 study by
the health department had found the rate of childhood cancers in Friendly
Hills among the highest in Jefferson County - second only to an area that
included Applewood Knolls. Using water routing maps, Anderson and Hufford
followed the water flowing in the ditch behind the old Hufford home upstream
to Clear Creek, which eddies through the site of the massive Coors Brewery
"The ditch actually branches off from Clear Creek on the Coors plant
site," says Hufford.
Examination of state health department records by Hufford revealed a string
of nearly monthly water pollution violations by the beer company dating
back as far as the records went, 1978. Most of the episodes involved heavy
metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, silver and cadmium.
Hufford and Anderson continued their research into the following year, talking
to Applewood Knolls residents as well as workers at the plant. In the spring
of 1990, Anderson says, Coors employees were reporting that drinking water
at the plant "tasted like poison."
NTC held a press conference in June l990, criticizing the health department
for allowing Coors' discharges of toxic chemicals into Clear Creek to go
unchecked. Anderson demanded a criminal investigation of the brewery's chronic
pollution and a health study of the effects of that pollution on downstream
In the following months, Coors admitted solvents and other chemicals had
been leaking into the ground beneath its canning plant and several other
buildings, causing the contamination of several wells used as brewing water.
The wells had been taken off-line and pumped into Clear Creek in an effort
to purge them, a process that had been going on for more than a decade.
In the fall of l990, the company pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors for
water pollution and agreed to pay $650,000 in civil and criminal penalties.
Today, Coors spokesman Jon Goldman claims the solvent contamination actually
migrated from a gas station and dry cleaning facility not on the plant site.
The company's mistake was in trying to get rid of the contamination by pumping
it into Clear Creek, a practice begun in the late '70s, he says.
"That was stupid and illegal," he acknowledges. "But any
claim of negative health impacts from that pumping is erroneous. Those chemicals
evaporate when they're exposed to the air as the creek gets churned up.
The health of the local population was never impacted."
However, the health effects of water pollution by Coors have never been
assessed, Hufford and Anderson point out. In fact, the state health department
continues to withhold death and disease data from independent researchers
who want to conduct epidemiological studies on such issues. "The big
red flag is that that area has high rates of cancer and other diseases,"
Admissions by Coors officials in 1990 undercut Goldman's claim that off-site
sources caused the pollution. The company's own groundwater maps show an
extensive underground tomb of contamination beneath the plant's can factory,
and officials acknowledged in correspondence with state regulators that
the plume emanated from corroded pipes, causing solvents and other waste
chemicals discharged from the can plant.
Goldman also maintains that Clear Creek water was never drunk by residents
of Applewood Knolls.
Consolidated Mutual Water Company, which serves the area, does not now use
Clear Creek water to supply Hufford's old neighborhood, says Wally Welton,
president of the concern. However, he could not rule out the possibility
that the company had done so before his employment there, which began in
Goldman insists Hufford is "beating a dead horse."
In Hufford's view, the issue remains alive as long as people are dying.
"All I know is there's a cancer cluster in that neighborhood. And some
of those cancers are consistent with chemicals Coors was pumping into Clear
Creek for at least 13 years. Corporations always say there's no proof that
what they did 20 years ago caused any harm, so let's forget it. But the
health effects of what they did are being seen today. For people who are
ill or have loved ones ill or dead, they're never going to forget."
Linda Gore married Philip Hufford last May. They had known each other for
20 years, dated when he was 28 and she 25. She remembers complaining about
her birthday that year; 25 was a big number for her, a sort of line of demarcation
between youth and middle age. She remembers Philip telling her, "I
love my birthdays. Every birthday makes another year I've had when I shouldn't
even be here." She smiles. "That was a gift to me. Birthdays were
never a problem after that."
Linda knew what she was getting into when she married Philip. A physician's
assistant at the Boulder People's Clinic, she is thoroughly familiar with
medical terminology and Philip's medical history. It was his heart, she
believed, that would be the problem. He had been short of breath, fatigued
and pale for several weeks. Artery blockage was suspected. A few days before
he was to undergo a heart catherization and possible angioplasty, they went
to the Boulder courthouse and were quickly married. The expected blockages
were found but could not be dealt with due to their problematic locations:
an angioplasty would have likely killed the patient on the operating table.
Doctors also advised against open-heart surgery; previous surgery and radiation
treatments for Hodgkin's had left his sternum weakened, hurting his chances
for recovery. Then, searching for a cause of Hufford's anemia, a doctor
found cancer cells in the pleural cavity of the left lung.
"That was the rude shock for me," Linda says. "I thought
it would be his heart, not cancer."
Doctors could not locate a central tumor responsible for the cancer cells
in the pleural cavity. They advised against chemotherapy for the time being;
he had already lost 25 pounds in a month and with his heart in a weakened
state might not have withstood the rigors of treatment.
The newlyweds spent the next few months strengthening Philip through diet
and moderate exercise. They also planned their honeymoon, a September hot
springs tour to Canada. Philip seemed to be holding his ground and making
Then a day before they were to leave for Canada, he began seeing double.
The problem occurred only when he looked at a distant object from a certain
angle. He said nothing to Linda and they departed. But two days out the
problem worsened and he could not drive. They phoned Philip's doctor, who
urged him to immediately return.
"I thought the hard part was having to miss the trip," says Linda.
"It turned out that wasn't the hard part."
A CAT scan showed four brain tumors, one of which was pressing on a nerve
that controlled the tracking movement of his left eye.
His head was shaved and three dots tattooed on his skull: one on his forehead
and one on each side - reference marks to precisely align radiation equipment
targeting the growths.
Twenty times the patient positioned himself on a long narrow table and listened
to a machine click on to send gamma radiation into his brain, the sterile
hospital air charged eerily with the smell of ozone. After four weeks he
had received 4,000 rems of radiation. Federal regulations limit nuclear
workers to 5 rems of exposure a year.
The treatment is considered palliative, perhaps slowing tumor growth enough
to prolong the patient's life some months or a even a few years.
Hufford also began chemotherapy last month. He knows it might kill him,
and he knows the odds are long it will drive the cancer into remission.
But he has beaten the odds before.
"I feel lucky," he says, "to have lived this long."
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