“We hired the LA Conservation Corps to put BMPs in the Northern Drainage,” Costa told the crowd of around forty people according to Bowling who was accompanied by an official from Friends of the Los Angeles River, FoLAR. “We just sent them the check!”
Bowling knows all about the Northern Drainage. In 2007, with then-partners Christina Walsh and John Luker, Bowling discovered a huge amount of toxic debris from NASA’s LOX plant on the northern edge of the property that utilized liquid oxygen and, in the process, created tons of waste. EnviroReporter.com and the Ventura County Reporter both covered the remarkable cleanup:
“The Boeing workers in the otherworldly suits looked out of place trudging through the dry creek bed that separates Sage Ranch Park and the Santa Susana Field Laboratory Nov. 20. Outfitted in head-to-toe translucent plastic uniforms with air filter masks, goggles and gloves, they chain-sawed a swath through the brush and trees blocking the seasonal stream. As they worked, their quarry appeared: black and grey blocks of lung-destroying asbestos and broken pipes with the toxic heavy metal antimony. All the while, a worker used a high pressure hose to spray down the area to keep the lung-destroying asbestos from becoming airborne.”
Expensive professionals come equipped to protect themselves from the types of toxins that have contaminated Rocketdyne. The less costly LA Conservation Corps workers do not have a history of donning haz-mat outfits when working sites like SSFL.
Usually unskilled but eager to learn, the LACC’s teams of at-risk young adults and school-aged youth built or maintained an astonishing 393,373 linear feet of trails from 2009 to 2010 according to the non-profit’s annual report for the period. With 993 young employees, LACC also managed to plant and maintain 2,521 trees and 204,332 square feet of gardens, remove 75,418 square feet of graffiti and collect and dispose of 1,543,395 pounds of litter and debris.
Using potentially unawares youth to work the land that previous skilled workers in hazmat suits had toiled in to remove the goo made Bowling livid. He was shocked hearing Costa announce this at the dinner especially with such pride.
“This is very disturbing, how they are taking these kids to install BMPs in the Northern Drainage of the field lab, the same drainage where they had to remove 3 football fields of contaminated soil and they still keep finding stuff, like 1100, yes Eleven Hundred Class C explosives buried under some trees,” Bowling said in an e-mail September 24. “This area was a dumping ground and they planted on top of it, hence the findings under trees. What Boeing is doing is getting around paying experts to do this work and having the LACC do it for minimum wage all the while the LACC does not know the dangers of working up there.”
Perhaps it’s a case of Boeing drinking its own PR Kool-Aid believing that it’s A-OK to have these kids on the site instead of professional remediation experts. After all “The site poses no significant risk to human health today” according to the Make Over Earth plan.
AN AWARD ONLY A POLLUTER COULD LOVE
“Boeing Receives Environmental Recognition from Wildlife Habitat Council – Educational programs certified at Santa Susana Field Laboratory” read the release which blithely said that a “transformation is underway at the 2,850-acre site as it evolves from a legacy of testing and research toward a future as open space benefitting the community.”
Longtime members of the communities surrounding SSFL might take issue with this glowing take on Rocketdyne. Boeing has spent tens of millions on settlements with people who said the site has made them ill over the years, studies show elevated cancers near the site, and recent EPA studies revealed contamination thousands of times over background remains at SSFL.
Judging the recent press release, however, the suffering of workers and public health concerns aren’t the legacy that it is thinking of according to its site director, Boeing’s Tom Gallacher. “Most people are aware of the site’s significant role in the historical research of rocket engine propulsion development and energy research,” said Gallacher in the press release. “What surprises most people is that this site is a key habitat for a variety of native plants, flowers and wildlife.”
The award that Boeing received from the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) came from a group dominated by massive international companies infamous for their environmental degradation and disasters even as the group claims it “devotes its resources to building partnerships with corporations and conservation groups to create solutions that balance the demands of economic growth with the requirements of a healthy, biodiverse and sustainable environment.”
Current WHC board members include chemical giant DuPont, multi-national oil and energy company ExxonMobil Corporation and multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto. Monsanto was the source of 99% of the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) used by U.S. industry until 1977 when the company was forced to stop production on the toxic and persistent organic pollutant which still flows off of SSFL down into the Los Angeles River.
Recently, Monsanto spent $8.1 million opposing the passage of Proposition 37 in California, making it the largest donor against the initiative which mandated the disclosure of genetically modified crops used in the production of California food products. Prop. 37 led in polls until Monsanto’s heavy contributions began to garner results and was rejected by a 53.7% majority in November. DuPont, the world’s third largest chemical company, was second in contributions to defeat Prop. 37 spending $5.4 million.
But perhaps Boeing does deserve an award for its greenwashing efforts. The company has done a fine job of exploiting lovers of birds and bees in an attempt to evade cleaning up SSFL. In a June 2012 Los Angeles Daily News article entitled Environmental groups weigh in on Santa Susana Field Lab’s future,” features Mark Osokow, a board member of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society who has been vocal in backing Boeing’s open space initiative.
The article quotes Osokow, “‘The environment here is very good for the birds,’ said Osokow, who has a deal with Boeing to study birds on the property. ‘It’s about as pristine as you can get.'”
Osokow didn’t mention that polluted Rocketdyne water awaits birds and wildlife in that “pristine” environment. The Silvernale reservoir is polluted by hydrazine, DCE, trichloroethylene, methylene chloride and trichlorotrifluoroethane.
Plus, it smells like a “cesspool” according to Lewis MacAdams, co-founder of FoLAR, who visited the site with Bowling in February 2012. Certainly not the avian nirvana that Boeing is trying to fly by birders and the public.
Also in June Boeing debued it’s first ever “Bee Fest” in celebration of National Pollinator Week. The event included information about pollinators, guided biological walks and activities for children like “Pin the Stinger on the Bee”, according to Boeing’s November newsletter which looks more like a Sierra Club newsletter than that of an aerospace corporation faced with cleaning up an astronomically polluted site.
Dubious awards from polluters gifted to their aggressive and powerful colleagues are just one challenge in shaping public discourse faced by people like Bowling. The Malibu and Topanga-area real estate agent doesn’t seem fazed by the might of Boeing and its award-giving industry allies.
“Wild Bill” Bowling is also a Radiation Ranger who has been fighting development at adjacent Runkle Canyon where Westwood-based KB Homes plans to build 461 homes and condos. He has been at the forefront of citizen activism over cleaning up Rocketdyne since first reading this reporter’s coverage of SSFL at the turn of the millennium.
Bowling opened the Aerospace Cancer Museum of Education in Chatsworth Lake Manor downhill from Rocketdyne in May 2008. “I started ACME with an application for fiscal sponsorship in my name only as was told to do so by Lauren Bon, chair of the Annenberg Foundation,” Bowling told EnviroReporter.com. “She told me, ‘I can give you money, but you need an umbrella [non-profit organization to accept donations for [ACME-LA] first.’ Then I found the building and signed a lease and paid for first, last and deposit with my own money, even before the grant was gifted.”
Part of the grant money was used to set up a time-lapse photography camera in a blind on Sage Ranch Park hard on Rocketdyne’s northeastern border near the guarded entrance to the property in June 2009. From a vantage point on a hill across from Area I, the hidden-in-plain-sight camera filmed the videos which are embedded below. The films capture Boeing’s haphazard demolition techniques.