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, brain cancer.

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 soft-spoken insight.

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 of Colorado.

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 two.

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 his job.

"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 all media.

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 way.

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 in Golden.

"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 water drinkers.

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," says Anderson.

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 1981.

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 modest progress.

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."

for information on page sponsorships of the Boulder Weekly site, e-mail:

Boulder Weekly home page
copyright 1996 Boulder Weekly, Inc.

[this article posted for educational purposes in accordance with the fair use doctrine.]