A 1994 report noted that “South of Building 1301, the Acid Bay was used for parts cleaning and included several above-grade cleaning tanks, a below-grade solvent pit, and waste ASTs [aboveground storage tanks].” The same survey found that toxic TCA was spilled from solvent ASTs and forced Rocketdyne to dig up 400 cubic yards of impacted soil and asphalt road base.
Twenty-seven oil/PCB chemical use areas were identified at the Instrument and Equipment Laboratories in four general areas near the Building 1301 structure cluster. Eleven metals and inorganic compounds chemical use areas were also identified in the vicinity. That would include “cleaning operations inside Building 1301, where dip tanks were used, and at the Acid Bay Area located south of Building 1301,” noted the 1994 report.
The amount of TCE and TCA found in the soil, that same soil Bowling captured blowing all over the place was staggering: 1,1-TCA up to 2,000 μg/kg in soil and 4,800 μg/Lv in soil vapor and TCE up to 11,200 μg/kg in soil and 2,800 μg/Lv in soil vapor.
Bowling blames Boeing’s demolition procedures as seen on the films on the company’s refusal to abide by the Agreements on Consent (AOCs) which require NASA and the DOE to clean up their parts of the lab to background levels. Boeing wants to bulldoze and be done with it, Bowling says. After all, that does fall in line the Boeing Makeover Earth plan to declare the place already safe and ready for primetime as parkland.
Bowling contrasts Wind with the other video embedded to the left, in which is seen a very carefully done cleanup of Outfall 8 which was ordered by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) because of continuing Boeing exceedances of goo flowing off its property. It involved excavating polluted dirt from the outfall and packaging it up burrito-style and loading into trucks which were carefully cleaned of any toxic dirt on their wheels and undercarriages before leaving SSFL to haul their sullied loads to a licensed dump.
“Here is what is going on,” Bowling says explaining the two films. “Careful and lovely work in the foreground is the Outfall 8 cleanup from the RWQCB. The other outrageous crap in the background is the stuff that makes my blood boil. I have complained that there has been no oversight or public comment periods or even that DTSC is looking the other way, but since Boeing challenged SB 990 [a state law ordering strict cleanup standards], they have been tearing down everything to a standard that who knows what.”
Debating levels of chemicals and radionuclides at Rocketdyne can make the issue of cleanup of the lab confusing. While the majority of the community understands and supports the AOCs that dictate remediating the land to background levels of radiation and chemicals, Boeing’s media campaign and sloppy demolition procedures literally bulldoze the point home that the company thinks otherwise.
Past studies of the health effects of SSFL goo on the lab’s workers and the surrounding communities suggest that ignoring what Boeing would leave in place might suggest serious safety issues for future users of the land as well as those downstream along what becomes the Los Angeles River.
In the 1990s, the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition led the way with then-Assemblyman Richard Katz and other local legislators to pressure the Department of Energy to fund a $1.6 million UCLA study to determine the health effects on 4,563 Rocketdyne workers.
The September 1997 study results weren’t good for the workers of Area IV where nuclear reactors, a hot lab and a radioactive sodium burn pit was used to incinerate hot goo. “All available evidence from this study indicates that occupational exposure to ionizing radiation among nuclear workers at Rocketdyne/AI has increased the risk of dying from cancers,” wrote Dr. Hal Morganstern, director of the UCLA study. “We found the effect of radiation exposure was six to eight times greater in our study than extrapolated from the results of the A-bomb survivors study.”
The other gooey shoe dropped two years later with a January 1999 UCLA’s School of Public Health of long-term study of Rocketdyne employees exposed to a soup of toxic chemicals while working on the company’s giant rocket test-stands. The results were again grim: Increased rates of cancer were found, especially among workers who handled hydrazine, a high-octane gel used as a rocket-engine propellant. Two million pounds of hydrazine were used at Rocketdyne during the ’50s and ’60s.
UCLA found that Rocketdyne workers who had high hydrazine exposures were about twice as likely as other Rocketdyne employees who worked at the site to die from lung and other cancers. The study shows that 44 in 1,053 workers who had frequent contact with the compound, had died from lung cancer. That rate was twice as high as for the employees who had minor or no contact with the chemical, which has been found to be carcinogenic in lab animals and a “possible carcinogen” to humans.
Excessive deaths from cancers of the kidney, bladder, blood and lymphatic system were also observed, although the lung-cancer numbers were the most startling. “While we believe that something is going on with this group of workers, we don’t know for certain what caused the excessive cancer deaths,” said Beate Ritz, a UCLA epidemiologist and co-investigator on the study, in LA Weekly. “Our best information is that it was hydrazine, but it could be something else related to rocket-engine testing. We do know there is an excessive number of cancer deaths among workers in the high-exposure category.”
A five-year study commissioned by the state legislature announced its results in October 2006 detailing the probable cancers caused by the partial meltdown of just one of the experimental reactors that had serious accidents in Area IV, the Sodium Reactor Experiment. The 1959 meltdown likely caused cancer in 260 to 1,800 people within a 62-mile radius of the eastern Ventura County lab hard on the border with Los Angeles County. The $200,000 report released figures for escaping radionuclides that show that the disaster released 459 times more of the deadly radionuclides iodine-131 and cesium-137 than Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island meltdown did in 1979, according to a Los Angeles CityBeat article.
News of offsite illnesses appears to be worse with the release of the November 2012 Public Health Institute’s California Breast Cancer Mapping Project (7.95 MB) which showed that women in east Ventura County have the highest rate of breast cancer than almost all other areas of California. Western Los Angeles County and Simi Valley are one of four California regions that have a 10 to 20 percent higher invasive breast cancer rate than the rest of the state.
Though the study makes no mention of SSFL as a possible cause, the rate of breast cancers in this region, with Rocketdyne right in the center of it, has been consistently higher than the rest of California for the last nine years. Non-Hispanic white women are affected the most with 73 percent of the cases. Hispanic women accounted for 12 percent of the total and 8 percent Asian females. The American Cancer Society says that ionizing radiation causes breast cancer.
These numbers are easier to understand than complicated calculations for contaminants that cause a world of hurt in only the way the Pandora’s Box of pollutants used at the lab can do. Cleaning up to background and trying to right the situation, and not a blizzard of Boeing baloney about why it shouldn’t have to, is also a fairly simple and straight-foward concept.
The longtime residents fighting for cleanup, and the hundreds of community members who support them, know through their own battles with cancer what it means to live next to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. For over two decades, they fought to clean the place up so it couldn’t harm future generations. They thought that the government and responsible parties had finally delivered them from this nightmare in 2010.
They were dead wrong.
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