The newly revived SSFL Work Group drew a capacity audience in Simi Valley on February 5th in its first meeting in over two years. Presenters included independent experts, community representatives, and agencies responsible for cleaning up the nuclear and chemical contamination at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (Rocketdyne.)
After an information-packed evening, community members expressed a strong desire for more opportunities to be heard and to hold agencies accountable to their clean up commitments. Thank you to everyone who helped make the evening a success and to all who attended. Your energy and enthusiasm have sparked a renewed determination that Rocketdyne will be cleaned up to the letter of the law.
The SSFL Work Group served for over twenty years to inform the community about the contamination at SSFL and to assure its cleanup. In 2012, it was discontinued by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the agency responsible for overseeing the SSFL cleanup.
Demand for the Work Group’s remained strong, with over 200 people signing a petition to have it reinstated. While DTSC declined to act upon the petition, cleanup advocates never gave up efforts to bring the Work Group back and late last year secured funding from the Community Involvement Fund to reinstate it.The February 5 relaunch began with a viewing of a 2006 History Channel segment about the 1959 partial nuclear meltdown at the site. Dan Hirsch, President of the nuclear watchdog organization Committee to Bridge the Gap, followed the film with an overview of the SSFL site history which included other nuclear accidents, spills, and toxic releases. Click here to see video of this and other presentations.
Mary Aycock, Remedial Project Manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9, presented on the EPA’s 2012 Radiological Survey of the site, which found 500 samples of elevated radiation at the site, some hundreds to thousands of times over background. Click here to see the Ms. Aycock’s PowerPoint presentation on the EPA’s findings (14 MB).
Dr. Bob Dodge, a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, presented on radiation and health. He drew attention to studies by the UCLA School of Public Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that found increased rates for certain cancers with proximity to SSFL. Click here to see the studies.
Bonnie Klea, a former SSFL Worker, then addressed the federal Worker Compensation program for workers who became ill while working at SSFL and other Department of Energy (DOE) facilities. Klea said that workers who worked in Area IV at SSFL from 1955-1988 and DOE remediation from 1988 through present, who have suffered one of the 22 covered cancers, are eligible for compensation.
Peter Zorba, SSFL Project Manger from NASA, one of the parities responsible for cleaning up the site, presented on contamination in NASA’s area of the site. “As a result of the rocket engine testing and cleaning operations, a number of COCs or chemicals of concern made their way into the soil and groundwater.” said Mr. Zorba. “Solvents such as TCE…petroleum products like TPH, total petroleum hydrocarbons, or PDHs, dioxins, metals, and PCBS were all some of these contaminants of concern.” DTSC Project Director for SSFL, Ray Leclerc, also presented on these and other hazardous contaminants in Areas I and III of the site, which are owned by Boeing.Cassandra Owens, Chief of the Industrial Permitting Unit for the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board, presented on some of the water contamination and fines levied against Boeing for exceedances of pollution limits leaving the SSFL site. From 2010 – 2012, Boeing has been fined $672,000. Dan Hirsch followed up her presentation by noting that in the period of 2008 to 2012, Boeing had 180 violations of exceedances or bench marks for contaminants leaving the property at levels above the pollution limits set by the Water Board. These include cadmium, dioxin, lead, iron, phthalates, copper, chromium, zinc, and manganese, and others.
The program then shifted into a discussion of the cleanup agreements for the site. In 2010, the DOE and NASA entered into Agreements on Consent (AOCS) with DTSC to clean up their portions of the site to background levels of contamination, meaning that they would clean up any contamination they found. Click here to see the DOE cleanup agreement, and here to see the NASA cleanup agreement. The Boeing Company, which owns the largest portion of the site, had refused to enter into such agreements.
Dan Hirsch presented an overview of the cleanup agreements, noting that the AOCs included not just soil but also “sediment, and weathered bedrock, debris, structures, and other anthropogenic materials.” Hirsch further explained some of the exceptions to the background standard, such as for endangered species, Native American artifacts, and special circumstances. Though Boeing successfully sued the State to overturn SB990, a law that was passed in 2009 to ensure a cleanup to strict standards, the Court made clear that it’s ruling “will not affect the cleanup efforts and commitments of the federal agencies pursuant to these AOCs.”John Jones, Federal Project Director for the Department of Energy, discussed DOE’s progress in executing the AOCs. “Yes, things happened. Yes, they were unfortunate…Is DOE committed to the AOC? Yes.” Peter Zorba of NASA then spoke about NASA’s progress in carrying out the cleanup agreement, noting that NASA may not be able to remediate the soil down to the chemical lookup tables required by the AOCs. Ray LeClerc concluded the cleanup discussion by affirming DTSC’s commitment to the cleanup agreements, stating. “We are committed to the AOCs, and as necessary, we will enforce the AOCs.”
Dan Hirsch asked Peter Zorba to clarify if NASA indeed remained committed to the AOCs, playing a video of NASA testimony in September 2013 before the Science and Technology Committee of the US House of Representatives in which NASA Associate Administrator Richard Keegan told Congresswoman Julia Brownley that NASA was committed to the AOC. Zorba said that nothing had changed the testimony.
The final presentation of the evening was by Ethan Miska, a student at UC Santa Cruz who assisted Dan Hirsch the creation of a report detailing the demolition and disposal of contaminated debris from Boeing-owned buildings at SSFL at recycling centers and dumpsites not licensed for disposal of low-level radioactive waste. The Sacramento Superior Court has issued a temporary injunction against DTSC blocking further such actions until final judgment by the court. Click here to see Miska’s PowerPoint presentation (1.5 MB), and here for the full building demolition and debris disposal report.An audience question and answer period followed, with questions regarding health concerns, worker compensation, concern over dust from the current development at nearby Runkle Canyon (strontium-90 had been found in the Runkle property), idodine-131 released during the 1959 meltdown, and the depth the sodium iodide detectors were able to penetrate in the EPA radiological survey.
One notable question came from Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, who asked why NASA is trying to sell its property at SSFL to the federal government before it is cleaned up and if the land sold to the Santa Ynez Chumash, would the Tribe be required to clean it to State and Federal standards.
Zorba said that the NASA property has been declared excessed, and that the General Services Administration (GSA) would take receipt of it after is cleaned it up. Dan Hirsch noted that GSA has repeatedly said it wants to transfer the land before cleanup, which concerns people because the Chumash have a casino north of Santa Barbara and SSFL would be extraordinary valuable land for a casino here in the area. He said the issue is whether a tribe can claim sovereignty and be exempt from cleanup requirements.
The final question of the evening was a tongue in cheek reference to Boeing’s plans to convert SSFL into a park. Simi Valley resident John Detwiler asked, “Do they still plan to open Glow in the Dark Park as I have named it for the SSFL site?”
Dan Hirsch responded, “Let me explain what’s behind the question. The Boeing company as I have mentioned has sued to block the cleanup law and it refused to sign the agreement that NASA and DOE did sign. It has argued it would like to declare the land uninhabitable, forever, and restrict it to day hikes and picnics and make it into a park…And that’s what’s their motive because they would save a lot of money. It doesn’t do any good for the people who live nearby. They’re still living in homes. So, there is still pressure to have them exempted from the cleanup agreements and leave vastly larger amounts. I’ve done calculations about it and essentially none of the radioactivity would be cleaned up at all. NASA itself estimated that about 90% of the contamination on their land would not be cleaned up if they use the parkland cleanup standard.”
The meeting concluded with community members expressing gratitude for the Work Group’s return as well as desire to have more opportunity to ask questions directly to the agencies responsible for cleaning up SSFL.
The SSFL Work Group would like to thank all who participated in helping bring the Work Group back, and in making its relaunch meeting a success. The next meeting will be announced soon.