There Lies the Fault

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Rocketdyne’s earthquake rift transports toxins down into Runkle Canyon
There Lies the Fault

EnviroReporter.com – October 20, 2009

The mystery of Runkle Canyon Creek’s heavy metal soil and water contamination may be simple to a fault – the Burro Flats Fault to be exact. The earthquake rift runs the length of the former Rocketdyne lab, east to west, and dips into Runkle Canyon and turns north into the city of Simi Valley.

The Burro Flats Fault which sculpted this beautiful land of vernal pools and soaring cliffs may also be the main path that pollutants have found their way down into Runkle Canyon where a citizens group called the Radiation Rangers discovered arsenic, nickel, vanadium and other poisonous metals in the creek water and soil in 2007. The results were subsequently verified by city sampling and tests.

EnviroReporter.com has uncovered evidence that suggests that a Cold War era facility at the neighboring Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), and an adjacent chemical dump, could be the source of Runkle Canyon creek’s heavy metal pollution. Thousands of pages of documents about the site, located in the former nuclear research “Area IV” of the 2,850-acre lab and which sits on top of the Burro Flats Fault, reveal extensive contamination.ESADA in 1988 in southwest corner of Area IV

Recent studies at the proposed nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada and at the Department of Energy-funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have shown that contaminants readily flow down and through earthquake faults. In 2005, the late former state geologist under Governor Reagan, Jim Slosson, confirmed to EnviroReporter.com that the faults in this specific area of the lab were transporting groundwater goo offsite.

The Empire State Atomic Development Authority, or ESADA, sat in the westernmost corner of Area IV of Boeing’s lab on 1.5 acres. The dismantled site is undergoing a costly remediation for a host of toxic waste including arsenic, vanadium, boron, glycol ethers and Dowanol-PM that was used to clean piping and components at the infamous Sodium Reactor Experiment or SRE.

Hundreds of leaking barrels of chemicals have been removed from the unsecured site near an open gate leading to Runkle Canyon. Piping covered by ripped tarps litters the deserted foundations of the ESADA, perhaps the same pipes used to blow apart testing tolerances for use in the SRE.

Late last year, hardware from the contaminated facility was also found outside of the lab perimeter (Image 0036) by EnviroReporter.com in the highlands above Runkle Canyon. Offsite dumping like this, along with the discovery of the contamination connection along the fault line, doesn’t surprise one of Radiation Rangers.Barrels dumped outside of Area IV - 1979

“We’ve always figured that this stuff was coming down the hill from Rocketdyne,” says the Reverend John Southwick. “But now we know from where and how it got here. That’s astonishing. But I’m not surprised that no one has put goo and goo together considering Boeing doesn’t want to be on the hook for any contaminants on KB Home property and KB is determined to develop downhill from a place that had meltdowns.”

There were ten nuclear reactors in Area IV. Six had major accidents including the Sodium Reactor Experiment which melted down in 1959 spewing, by some estimates, hundreds of times more radiation from the uncontained reactor building than the more infamous Three Mile Island meltdown did twenty years later.

The lasting effects of radiological and chemical contamination at Area IV, and the surrounding communities, are still present today and this section of SSFL is undergoing a characterization and cleanup that will cost hundreds of millions and take until at least 2017. Huge fines have been assessed the company that now owns the site, Boeing, for contaminated offsite discharges into the headwaters of the Los Angeles River, where most of Area IV drains to as well.

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  1. LovelyCorruption says:

    Aaah, the money issue. Spot on Constance!

    Environmental felons like Boeing need to do the right thing and buy out the Runkle developer, clean that land up to SB990 standards, then convert it to open space once cleaned to SB990 standards.

    If one checks out Boeing’s income statement, they will find the polluter has enough greenbacks to handle KB with ease. All corporations have insurance companies, maybe EnviroReporter can obtain the insurance policies?

    In fact, the polluter has more than enough to also buy out poisoned Woosley-Dayton where there are similar problems.

    Being that Boeing is a contractor of the federal government may have some bearing on who they hide behind when push comes to shove. The buck might be passed back to DOE, NASA, the Defense Department, and etcetera. It might be a good idea to consult with attorneys from NRDC, CBG, and so forth.

  2. Constance Ng says:

    IANAL, but couldn’t KB Home sue Boeing for the pollution? I don’t think Boeing has any special protection – SSFL is not a Superfund site, right? Assuming KB Home never gets to develop, they’re going to want to recover their investment somehow.

    Unless Boeing simply buys them out to avoid the lawsuit.

  3. John says:

    Michael,

    I’m very surprised to see you didn’t mention Tom Seckington or interview him for this piece. Without him weighing in, this report has much less credibility. For those who don’t know, he’s the DTSC Hydro-geologist who’s been studying groundwater movement at SSFL for (I think) 17 years. I’ve been working and consulting with him for the last 3 years and I find him to be the acknowledged expert on SSFL groundwater as well as one of the most honest people working on this project. He’s been totally dedicated to helping our community.

    Perhaps you could do a follow up on this report after you talk to him.

  4. LovelyCorruption says:

    Nice work, Mr. C.

    I am frankly alarmed that there is a newish citizens group on the other side of the pass from the wonderful rangers that takes in ‘donations’ from the environmental felon mentioned above in the second comment above. This is something it is hoped will not impact the clean-up effort, but this writer feels otherwise. Do you think you can possibly check out the ‘donation’ history and find out more regarding the frequency and amount of polluter’s contributions? It sure sounds like dirty money is on its way to usurp the Hill’s detox marathon that we know is still in its infantile stages at the moment.

    Btw, your good work does not go unnoticed.

  5. AutocratHallucination says:

    The Radiation Rangers rock! Indeed, it would be a grand day if and when Runkle follows the example of Ahmanson and is never allowed to be used for residential space, NEVER EVER. Hats off to Mary Weisbrock who sets the bar high for Hawkeye, Toxic Terry, Good Rev John, and the rest of the crew with Mary’s (and her group, Save Open Space) previous involvement in the saving of Ahmanson Ranch. It looks like Runkle is on the same path (fingers crossed). We are very fortunate to have these wonderful people by the community’s side.

    Hopefully, the derisiveness of recent noted in the article above, will come to an end. It’s just plain silly to let the badgering fester on, even though the article’s author is 100% in the right. Hypocrisy has a definition and it is this: “having desirable or publicly approved attitudes, beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually possess” — the email exchange with DTSC as mentioned is but one erratic example of many; some of which will most likely be uncovered as time goes by, having known the antics of said local perpetrator. . .

    Advice: please focus on your marvelous investigations and don’t stop! You guys are just too valuable to let little things get in your way. The community can see through the pettiness, the fraud, the abuse, the indecency, the injustice. We have your back and we scorn the backstabbers out there be it an errant regulator, a mal-adjusted activist, or an ignorant neighbor. Keep on keeping on!

  6. Margery Brown says:

    Michael,
    This is truly an amazing piece of investigation that you have done. It seems as if you are now extending your terrific reporting skills into becoming a discovery making geologist. Would that you could also do a similar scientific reporting exploration of the whole SSFL—all 2850 acres. Dream on!

    From everything I have been able to read or hear discussed, it certainly seems to me that these underground acquifers and earthquake faults could absolutely be the source of our most scary, on-going and long term contamination nightmares. And, they are frequently described as being “poorly understood”. By comparison,soil sampling and removing dangerous surface contamination may turn out to be child’s play.

    I certainly hope that you will keep up your good work in Runkle Canyon, and that you will continue to keep the KB builders paralyzed. So far, you and the Radiation Rangers have been more successful at doing this than even the recession.

    When you have some free time, I hope that you will come over to Chatworth Park-South, which is just a few blocks away from where I and over 750 Rockpointe condo owners live. We have an underground water situation here involving the longest 7,000 ft.train tunnel (#26) in the USA,located at the North end of our beautiful Chatsworth Park S. The trains go from the Chatsworth station to Simi Valley.

    This train tunnel happens to be located at the Southern end of the Chatsworth geological formation…which, I believe, originates up on the SSFL. We have 4300 gallons of underground water flowing, DAILY, through sump pumps in the tunnel, and being ultimately dumped into Chatsworth Park S., which is slowly being turned into a wetland.

    The original Railroad builders ran into this water problem in about 1898, when they were constructing the railroad tracks. That’s how long this problems has been going on. Although the tracks have since been raised, the tunnel still gets flooded during the rainy season.

    The Water Quality Board has been contacted, has visited the tunnel, and, they in turn have ordered the Railroad to obtain an NPDS permit to “de-water”. This permit process is pending, and we are all very concerned about radionuclides or toxic contaminants that could possibly be in this water…since it could very likely be flowing down underground all the way from down the Chatsworth Formation,from the SSFL. The railroad is apparently required to do some water testing before they can be granted a permit.

    In the meantime, the Rangers and other residents should give you an ACADEMY AWARD.

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