May 11, 2017
On May 2, 2017, the Department of Toxic Substances Control Technical (DTSC) released a deeply troubling memorandum, which, ignoring a wealth of evidence to the contrary, claims magically that no radioactive or chemical contamination from the Santa Susana Field Lab, site of a partial meltdown and many other accidents, can migrate off that site to the Brandeis Bardin Institute (BBI) children’s camp below.
DTSC’s memo is not a scientific document, but rather a super-sized word salad filled with extraordinary misrepresentations of the existing data. The Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) is a grossly polluted former nuclear and rocket-engine facility located in the hills directly above BBI and a half million people. Numerous detailed and credible studies indicate offsite migration and harmful health risks from SSFL contamination. BBI itself even sued and settled with Boeing over the contamination. Yet none of this and other critical information was included in DTSC’s paper.
Instead, DTSC put forth a thinly veiled pre-emptive strike designed to grant SSFL polluters’ wishes to breach the longstanding cleanup commitments for a full cleanup. Boeing has long pushed DTSC to allow it to leave most of the contamination on site, claiming that SSFL will become open space and no one will ever live there. But people live all around the site; their properties are not open space and they will continue to be at risk if SSFL isn’t fully cleaned up. By pretending there can be no offsite migration of SSFL contaminants, DTSC has provided the basis for signing off on Boeing’s proposal to walk away from cleaning up 98% of the nuclear and chemical contamination at SSFL. This DTSC memo threatens the entire cleanup, and puts at risk all who live in the area.
DTSC’s authorship of the memo also begs credulity. Revelations over the last few years have shown DTSC to be a deeply troubled agency, captured by the polluting interests it is supposed to regulate (see Consumer Watchdog reports Golden Wasteland and Inside Job: How Boeing Fixers Captured Regulators and Derailed a Nuclear and Chemical Cleanup in LA’s Backyard.) DTSC cannot credibly perform an investigation as to whether its own failure to regulate Boeing and the other operators of SSFL resulted in the migration of harmful contaminants offsite.
DTSC’s BBI memo depends on more than alternative facts – it depends on alternative logic. It asks the public to believe that in essence there is a tall glass wall around all of the 2800 acres, preventing any contamination from moving off the hill. DTSC claims essentially that gravity doesn’t work at SSFL, that the wind doesn’t blow and the rains don’t fall. Communities near SSFL know better and deserve better.
It is not DTSC’s job to waste tax-payer money denying well-documented contamination findings to appease moneyed corporations and institutions upset by unflattering media reports. DTSC’s job is to protect the public from toxic materials, and the best and obvious way to do that at SSFL is to clean up all the contamination per the 2010 cleanup commitments. The health and wellbeing of current and future generations near the site is at stake.
Key flaws in DTSC’s BBI memo:
- DTSC ignores detailed studies that showed migration and offsite risks. These studies were far more extensive and thorough, took years to produce, were independent, and have vastly more credibility. A comprehensive independent multi-year study by led by UCLA Professor Yoram Cohen found a wealth of data showing contaminants had migrated offsite substantial distances at levels that exceed EPA’s levels of concern. A federally-funded multi-year research by a team led by the University of Michigan’s Prof. Hal Morgenstern found a greater than 60% higher level of key cancers within 2 miles of SSFL than further away. A state-funded study by Cal State Northridge Professor Ali Tabidian showed that perchlorate had migrated miles off SSFL, contaminating numerous wells in Simi Valley at levels above Safe Drinking Water Act limits.
- DTSC ignores – or inappropriately tries to dismiss – all the data showing offsite migration of contamination. For example, there have been more than a hundred instances in recent years where contaminants have left SSFL in stormwater in excess of pollution limits, resulting in violations, cease and desist orders, and more than a million dollars of fines from the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board. When it rains, the rainwater picks up the contaminants and carries it offsite. Measurement after measurement that is above background DTSC ignores or misrepresents the fact that they are above background.
- DTSC falsely implies that EPA’s studies have determined there is no offsite migration or risk. EPA has done no such thing. Furthermore, DTSC misrepresents the EPA contamination findings at SSFL itself.
- When DTSC does concede radiological contamination above background, it falsely claims it is above the Risk Based Screening Levels for residential exposure, when in fact the readings are above those levels. DTSC does this by misrepresenting the residential risk based levels by factors of thousands. It claims, for example, that the EPA residential preliminary remediation goal is about 4 picocuries per gram, when in fact it is 0.0036.
- There were no actual DTSC measurements at Brandeis performed for its paper or otherwise. One exception is that DTSC had some years ago taken repeated measurements of water from a well at Brandeis and found repeatedly perchlorate at levels in excess of safe drinking water limits. That finding is not mentioned in DTSC’s memo.
- Buried in the memo is the revelation of numerous new findings of migration from SSFL to Brandeis of toxic chemicals such as dioxins and antimony, at levels that exceed the cleanup limits DTSC requires for SSFL and for pollution that migrates from SSFL. But here too DTSC misrepresents the risk, claiming that the levels are below Risk Based Screening Levels for residential exposure, when in fact they exceed their own residential risk levels.
- At the core of the DTSC paper is the claim that models – which are in fact, Boeing models – predict that no airborne contamination (e.g., from open air burning of toxic materials or from plumes from rocket engine tests can travel more than a few hundred feet. It is a ridiculous claim. The UCLA Cohen study utilized a whole team of air dispersion modelers who did very extensive work showing the plumes could travel miles with contaminants at levels above EPA levels of concern.