Aerospace giant Boeing plans to declare the former Rocketdyne site in the Simi Hills clean enough for public open space even with recent findings of high radiation in the soil and continued chemical releases headed toward the Los Angeles River.
A new public relations campaign targeting local and national media outlets will recast the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) in a more positive light according to the Los Angeles Daily News and document inadvertently revealed online.
The plan seeks to erase SSFL’s infamously polluted past which includes at least three partial meltdowns, countless spills and mishaps involving radiation and chemicals, and open burn pits where some of the most lethal toxins ever made were set ablaze. Now the soil and groundwater are highly contaminated.
The Daily News piece “Contamination at Rocketdyne site still a source of division,” makes some startling revelations about “astroturfing” and “greenwashing” by lab owner Boeing. The paper also independently confirmed what EnviroReporter.com has known for months: Boeing plans to peddle Rocketdyne as an environmental oasis instead of a polluted nightmare by using a well-connected media consulting firm.
The PR campaign, created by a company run by a former Los Angeles Times environmental reporter, aims to ‘greenwash’ the pollution at the site declaring SSFL an asset to the community. No longer will SSFL be the decades-old polluter that has spewed uncontrolled radiation, chemicals, and heavy metals, PCBs and dioxins off its huge hillside site between the Simi and San Fernando valleys. It will be glorious open space and prime property for a park.
But in order for Boeing to machinate the media, it must know who to target and what buttons to push. Doing that takes a pro, award-winning reporter who knows everyone and can be trusted, a man who says he “pioneered environmental journalism in California.”
The “Draft Media Campaign for the Santa Susana Field Laboratory” was created by Burbank-based Make Over Earth, Inc. for Boeing and is dated August 3 according to an image of the document obtained by EnviroReporter.com. The plan begins:
“To help change public opinion about the SSFL site, we need to reach a diverse array of news media, ranging from journalists at local, state and national organizations who may reasonably be expected to have interest in the SSFL cleanup or Boeing’s corporate environmental initiatives, to environmental and industry trade publications. In addition, we need to reach new audiences via websites, social media and blogs.”
The targeted local press includes the Los Angeles Daily News, which broke the Rocketdyne meltdown story in 1989, as well as the Los Angeles Times, Simi Valley Acorn, Ventura County Star, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles magazine and the Ventura County Reporter.
The last two publications are curious choices as the magazine’s June 1998 cover story “Hot Zone” was the first article this reporter wrote about the lab’s pollution problems.
More curious still is targeting the Ventura County Reporter which has had the extensive coverage in Ventura County of Rocketdyne and neighboring Runkle Canyon, where KB Homes aims to build hundreds of homes downhill from radiation-impacted Area IV where the partial nuclear reactor meltdowns occurred in 1959, 1964 and 1969. It would be unlikely that the VC Reporter editor would be receptive to a deceptive PR ploy about Rocketdyne.
Perhaps LA Weekly and Pasadena Weekly should feel snubbed for not making the Boeing makeover list since both papers have had in-depth coverage of SSFL and Runkle Canyon for years, covered by this reporter and others. [KB Home’s Runkle Canyon development is now called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands.]
Environmental groups with publications and blogs fare better with “On Earth” by the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Earth” by Sierra Club, and “Switchboard” again by NRDC making the meltdown makeover cut.
Dozens of radio shows, national newspapers and news services are marked for the ooze schmooze as are popular and influential websites like LA Observed, Environmental Health News and, not surprisingly, Ron Kaye L.A.. The former Daily News editor distinguished himself in 2009 by publishing a screed by a self-professed Rocketdyne meltdown denier who assumed the identity of 20 former workers to debunk the 1959 partial meltdown of the Sodium Reactor Experiment as proof that the polluted property posed no public health menace.
“These media were targeted by their proximity to the SSFL site, past and potential interest in the SSFL cleanup or proximity to other Boeing facilities or spheres of influence” the campaign brochure says. “Note: Media targets will evolve contingent on outreach progress, personal relationships with journalists and developments at the SSFL site or with Boeing’s environmental initiatives.”
The program includes multiplying allies by “growing their stature” if they “endorse Boeing’s vision for open space at the SSFL site.” That is precisely what Boeing has been doing since 2009 when it offered a cleanup obstructionist the money to fund a CAG that was ultimately approved by DTSC September 21 over the outrage and protest of hundreds of people around SSFL.
“Third parties who endorse Boeing’s vision for open space at the SSFL site will be key to the media relations campaign,” the plan reads. “Third parties add credibility and authenticity and blunt allegations of green-washing.”
Greenwashing is PR spin to make places like the 2,850-acre old Rocketdyne lab not look so bad, maybe even look good despite its history of multiple nuclear meltdowns, gross radiological and chemical pollution of the soil as well as so much TCE in the groundwater that it would take tens of thousands of years to clean up.
Boeing turned off a trichloroethylene remediation system, capable of extracting just 10 gallons of TCE a year by venting it into the air, in 2006 and now maintains that groundwater remediation decisions should be tempered with the ironic fact that no one in their right minds would use Rocketdyne’s groundwater anyway so why spend the money to remediate it.
“Journalists will look to third parties to truth-check the company’s message,” the campaign says. “The media outreach campaign will benefit by prominently including third-party allies as much as possible.”
Incredibly, given the grimy cornucopia of goo impacting the site, including recently revealed high strontium-90 detections on lab land on the border with Runkle Canyon and Ahmanson Ranch, the “Key Messages” part of the Make Over Earth brochure says:
• “The site poses no significant risk to human health today.
• Cleanup far exceeds what’s needed to restore beneficial use and protect public health.
• It’s time to move the SSFL cleanup to its conclusion.
• Boeing is building an impressive track record of environmental gains on many fronts.”
It seems like a tall order selling this spin to the media which has reported for decades on the accidents, spills, dumping, meltdowns and all the attendant contamination that comes from a site that saw over 30,000 rocket tests. The campaign compensates for that.
“Overcome negative perceptions using a countervailing narrative of environmental values, safety and corporate responsibility. Show another side of SSFL: We propose pitching diverse story ideas about people, nature, history, business and technology at SSFL to reduce the secrecy and perceived dangers at the site. Showing a human side of SSFL can help build empathy and connect people for a common purpose for open space.”