One video shows heavy machinery in Area I of the lab roaring around destroying and grading the last of what once was the Instrument and Equipment Laboratories or IEL complex. Huge clouds of dust are launched into the air landing on any SSFL subcontractors and full-time lab workers that may have been in the area as well as drifting towards the San Fernando Valley. Most of the contaminated dust falls out on hills that drain down Happy Valley above Chatsworth into Dayton Canyon Creek and finally the Los Angeles River.
The IEL and the land around it are contaminated from decades of use of the toxins trichloroethylene, perchlorate, trichloroethane, hydrazine, perchloroethylene, hexavalent chromium, and heavy metals. This dangerous dirt appears to have been blown all over the place by Boeing’s plainly sloppy procedures.
The clouds of dust are particularly disconcerting when considering that the area had a leach field where unknown amounts of goo were poured for years with no records. The films do not show if the workers were wearing masks but it’s clear no effort was made to keep the giant billows of toxic filth from flying up in the air with water truck sprayers to keep the dust down.
The recording to the right shows the distant demolition of an extremely contaminated area of Area I with seemingly no regard for the huge clouds of toxic dust that the heavy construction equipment was creating.
Beginning at 9am June 4, 2009, according to the video time stamp, a rising cloud of dust from demolition is seen until about 11:15am. Then there’s a break, maybe for lunch, and subsequently the billowing dust starts back up again at 12:15pm and lasts until about 4:30pm.
Farther along on the tape on June 6, a great wind starts up at noon blowing all sorts of dust around from the now graded site. On June 7, intermittent blasts of dust from tractors begin at 10:40am and continue to about 3pm. The dust clouds start up at about 8am on June 8 and continue to 3:30pm at the end of the tape. The tape’s June 8 wafts of dust recorded the highest and densest plumes traveling off-screen and down into Woolsey Canyon at the northwest end of the San Fernando Valley.
“From what I can see is they have already torn down building 408,” Bowling wrote in a May 16, 2012 e-mail to EnviroReporter.com. “Look at about 5:38-5:40, there is a red crane tearing down buildings 1303, the igniter packing building and 1396, explosives storage – Perchlorate!”
Building 1303 was used as a propellant laboratory using perchlorate and other energetic compounds. A February 2009 Boeing environmental assessment report required by DTSC said of 1303 “This laboratory was indicated as discharging to a former industrial dry well located in a topographic low near current Building 1436.” In other words, the dregs of perchlorate tests were dumped in a hole dug into the ground in a ditch outside. This is the area that Bowling caught on film being bulldozed in clouds of dust.
The mini cyclones of contaminated crud Boeing made aloft on film comes from one of the most polluted places on the entire SSFL property – Area I. The film captures the final demolition and grading of a cluster of some of these poisoned places where buildings had been knocked flat and presumably hauled off to a dump.
Building 1301 just north of 1303, the Equipment Laboratory TCA Distillation Unit and Used Product Tank, was constructed in the late 1940s and used as a machine shop and then utilized for servicing, cleaning, and testing engine valves and manifolds. Chemicals used for valve repair included nitric acid, phosphoric acid, and hydrofluoric acid along with the carcinogenic solvents TCE and TCA. “In 1987, approximately 175 to 200 gallons of TCA were released accidentally from the solvent distillation unit on the northwest side of the building and flowed across the Area I Road, and into an adjacent asphalt-lined drainage ditch where it was contained by use of vermiculite,” according to a 1987 Rockwell report.
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.