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Historic Rocketdyne cleanup agreement between state and feds nears signing

12:30 PM, December 6, 2010

EnviroReporter.com has confirmed through two independent sources that signing of final agreements between the California EPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and the Department of Energy (DOE) and NASA for the cleanup of the former Santa Susana Field Laboratory site in Simi Valley will happen later today.

The agreement calls for the cleanup of the DOE and NASA parts of the 2,850-acre laboratory, commonly known as Rocketdyne, to be cleaned up to “background” levels of radiological and chemical contamination, restoring the site to its natural levels of pollutants in a multi-million remediation of the property scheduled for completion in 2017.

Lab owner Boeing has not agreed to clean up its massive area of responsibility at the site to background levels. Boeing is currently suing DTSC in court over what it perceives are too strict cleanup levels.

This is the same agreement that EnviroReporter.com wrote about in “Sleight of Land” on September 23, 2010, the same day Michael Collins’ LA Weekly article “Rocketdyne Cleanup Won’t Help Runkle Canyon” was published.

Updates to this announcement, along with comments and analysis, will be forthcoming later today once the agreement is formally signed. Check back here for our expanded and exclusive coverage.

4:15 PM December 6, 2010

News of the agreements between between California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and both the federal Department of Energy (DOE) and the federal National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) set off a wave of euphoria rarely experienced in the long saga of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

From government officials to activists to community members, news that the long fought for agreements were now a reality brought out a wide range of reactions including the desire to see Boeing sign on to the same simple concept – clean up the lab back to its natural background level of radiation and chemicals.

Boeing, however, shows no signs of backing down. Company officials say that excavating 1.6 million cubic yards of soil will have to be dug out of Rocketdyne to get rid of the contaminated dirt rendering the lab a “moonscape.” The Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition says Boeing’s estimates are nonsense.

Digging their heals in even deeper, on a recent Internet recorded chat, Boeing head Art Lennox said that the 1.6 million cubic yards of soil didn’t include the radioactive dirt at Rocketdyne nor the soil impacted by toxic vapors, suggesting that Boeing claims that the number could be far higher.

Even after listening to Boeing’s story change over the last thirteen years, it is still surprising that the company, supported by a smattering of fringe cleanup agreement naysayers, has come up with the argument that the lab, essentially, is too polluted to be cleaned up. This after years of saying there was barely any pollution at all.

Regardless, this selection of press releases and quotes sent to EnviroReporter.com illustrate that years of dedicated work and common sense science can sometimes win the day.

But at the end of the day, all the good science in the world means nothing if there aren’t people there who care about it enough to stand up for themselves.

“I have worked for this day for 31 years, since helping bring to light the long-secret 1959 partial meltdown,” says Dan Hirsch of the nuclear watchdog group Committee to Bridge the Gap. “All I can think of at this time is how grateful I am to have been permitted to see this day. The community members that worked so hard for this result, who never gave up, deserve all praise.”

That praise follows with these selected press releases, snippets and quotes:

DEPARTMENT OF TOXIC SUBSTANCES CONTROL PRESS RELEASE

State signs historic agreements with DOE and NASA to clean-up the Santa Susanna Field Lab site

SACRAMENTO, Calif., – An historic moment in the environmental cleanup at the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) site was reached today with the signing of agreements between California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and both the federal Department of Energy (DOE) and the federal National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The agreement incorporates the provisions of the State’s stringent environmental standards and an accelerated approach to cleaning up low‐level radiation and toxic chemical contamination.

“This historic agreement is great news for nearby residents in Ventura County and the people of California,” said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I applaud all parties for their commitment to working on a solution that will clean up the environment and protect the health of residents in the bordering communities.”

“I am thrilled that DOE and NASA have agreed to clean up the property to the highest environmental standards so that local residents can once again trust in the safety of their surrounding environment,” said Linda Adams, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) who has lead this effort. “I’m happy that after 3 years of intense negotiations with the responsible parties, we have been able to reach agreement that will provide the protective cleanup that the community has sought for over 50 years. This is an historic day and I thank all of our partners for bringing this to fruition.”

The agreement meets the high bar set by Senate Bill 990 which requires the entire SSFL property to be cleaned up to stringent and protective standards, and places the cleanup of both chemical and radioactive contamination under the oversight of DTSC. The agreements cover DOE’s 290 acres and NASA’s 451 acres of the SSFL site. The remainder of the property is owned by the Boeing Company.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D‐CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said “The landmark agreements announced today between NASA, the Department of Energy and the State of California are an important step toward real protection for families who live near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. For many years I have strongly supported the state’s and communities’ efforts to ensure that a comprehensive cleanup is conducted at Santa Susana that protects the health of the public including children and pregnant women. I am pleased that NASA and the Department of Energy have stepped up to the plate and agreed to clean up the Santa Susana site to the levels California has determined will provide the greatest protection to nearby communities.”

“This is a milestone that fulfils commitments we made earlier this year to the community and brings to an end a years of negotiation,” said Maziar Movassaghi, DTSC’s Acting Director. “It allows us to focus on cleaning the property, and we are truly pleased to get on with the work of cleaning this site for the surrounding community.”

SSFL is a former rocket engine test and nuclear research facility on more than 2,800 acres along the border of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The Boeing Company, NASA and DOE operated facilities on portions of the property from 1949‐2006, and are responsible for the cleanup overseen by DTSC. The state has been in negotiations with all three responsible parties for several years. DOE once operated several nuclear reactors, associated fuel facilities and laboratories on what is known as “Area IV” of the SSFL facility. NASA conducted liquid‐fuel rocket engine testing on its portion of the facility (Area II and part of Area I).

The agreement integrates the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) radiological survey work into the site investigation, using U.S. EPA’s expertise and resources to identify areas of radiological contamination needing cleanup. The timing of the agreement allows for the state to maximize resources by using U.S. EPA’s survey, accelerates the cleanup timeline and also avoids costly duplication of effort. Radiological wastes will be disposed at a permitted DOE facility, while hazardous wastes will be taken to a permitted hazardous waste disposal facility.

In December 2008, Boeing sued DTSC over the enforceability of the bill, and continues to clean up the property under an earlier agreement that is not to the stringent environmental standard called for in SB 990.

Despite the lawsuit, the state continues to negotiate with Boeing
“We hope we can reach a similar agreement with Boeing, and that our continued negotiations bear fruit as they did with DOE and NASA,” said Adams.

Copies of the agreements and the response to comments can be found at www.dtsc.ca.gov.

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  1. Bill G says:

    What are/were the “natural” levels?
    What are the radiation levels now?
    What does Boeing say the levels should be?
    Thanks.

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