Up a River Without a Cleanup

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“From 1977 to 1981, Building 4028 was used to conduct research on the behavior of molten uranium, resulting in radiological impacts to the building,” the report continued. “Operations were terminated in 1984, and the building remained inactive until 1988 when cleanout and decontamination was conducted.”

EPA 2012 Red Hot Rocketdyne Zones The California Department of Health Services, now the Department of Public Health, said the site was cleared for unrestricted use in December 1995. DOE released the building without restrictions in April 1997 followed by the EPA confirming DOE’s results in December 2002. With the reactor building demolished and gone, the bare site got two more all-clear confirmations in November 2006 and February 2008.

Perfect for a park, right?

So would Building 4023, which used to be called the Liquid Metals Component Test Building and the Corrosion Test Loop. In 1976, nuclear engineers tested activated steel Experimental Boilers Reactor fuel cladding in a small test loop of sodium to see how fast it could make the sodium radioactive.

The building “served as a development and demonstration test facility in support of the Rocky Flats Plutonium Recovery Project in 1987″ according to a site report and “as a support facility for the Transuranic Management by Pyropartitioning – Separation operations.”

Building 4023 was demolished in 1999 but the hot stuff remains. The EPA report found nickel-59 at 69 times background. With a half life of 75,000 years, nickel-59 is “the isotope of most concern at [DOE] environmental management sites such as Hanford,” according to the Argonne National Laboratory. Nickel-59, a beta and gamma emitter, is thought to be carcinogenic if inhaled.

These are just two examples of deadly radionuclides at high levels at Area IV. Most of the radiation over background at the site will be left in place if the EPA and DTSC decision to unilaterally abandon the AOCs is allowed. It appears to be the culmination of a plan hatched with the misimpression that the majority of the residents and their advocates are going to sit back and watch a multi-national polluter and its allies cow the community into silence.

High alpha & beta recently found near Runkle Canyon border-photo by William Preston Bowling

High alpha & beta recently found near Runkle Canyon border-photo by William Preston Bowling

“So we’re now in a situation where $40 million was wasted in several years,” Hirsch said via telephone at the December 5 DTSC meeting. “They determined background, they found where it exceeds it. You’re throwing that all out saying we’ll wait several years saying we’ll come up with new look-up tables that are much higher, that are not the background values, violating the AOC and by your own admission will leave in place a fair amount of soil that EPA has determined is above background. DOE, you are now placed in a position that if you go along with this you’re going to have wasted all of that money and time.

“The money that has been appropriated has now been misused and [DOE] now can’t do an [Environmental Impact Statement], you can’t get cleanup that was supposed to have been handled by EPA, a look-up table and a list of things over [background] so you could start preparing for your cleanup. And now it’s all out the window and I just think that it is absolutely outrageous and, frankly, a violation of the stimulus grant. The people who have waited for three years for you to come up with the study, and have depended upon this AOC to cleanup have now been stabbed in the back. I think it is shameful. It will not be allowed to stand. I frankly think that anyone who has anything to do with it is conducting a grossly, as I said, an unethical act. We will resist it.”

BOEING’S BIDDING

Faced with a community incensed by EPA chucking out its own background standards, the EPA held its own meeting December 12 at the Grande Vista in Simi Valley. This time DTSC tagged along with the federal agency, toxic twins telling tall tales.

Television crews swarmed the hotel lobby looking for concerned folks to interview. They found no shortage of community members as well as a squad of active astroturfers doing Boeing’s bidding.

Amazingly, but not surprisingly because of the monies probably involved, Makeover Earth’s Gary Polakovic showed up even as his Boeing meltdown makeover plan had been exposed in the Daily News and EnviroReporter.com. It appears that Polakovic had read the exposé because his boast that he founded the Society of Environmental Journalists and had led SEJ has vanished from his LinkedIn page. His claim that he pioneered environmental journalism in California, though, remained intact.

L-R Dan Hirsch-Gary Polakovic-WPB

Dan Hirsch tells Makeover Earth Inc's Gary Polakovic that it is shameful to help Boeing sell the polluted SSFL site as clean. Photo by William Preston Bowling

Polakovic waited until Dan Hirsch and longtime community members concluded a pre-meeting press conference about the high radiation hits in the final EPA’s Area IV radiation report.

This reporter watched as Polakovic, mid-fifties with tufts of sandy hair, approached Hirsch. Startled, Hirsch faced the former Los Angeles Times reporter, who proclaimed that when he covered the Rocketdyne issue as a journalist, he was fair and reported both sides.

“Yes, I know,” Hirsch said. “That’s what makes what you are doing now so shameful.”

Polakovic then repeated himself, giving this reporter the impression that what he meant was that since he had been an even-handed journalist back in the day, he should be cut some slack for greenwashing the SSFL contamination now on Boeing’s nickel.

Polakovic’s meltdown makeover plan also made it clear that Boeing would need to make use of “third parties who endorse Boeing’s vision for open space” and “grow their stature” so that they could help “blunt allegations of greenwashing.” It was clear just whose stature he’d been trying to grow when local activist John Luker walked in the lobby and greeted Polakovic like a long lost friend.

L-R Gary Polakovic-John Luker

Gary Polakovic greets Boeing “third party” ally John Luker, who waves sarcastically at EnviroReporter.com.

After a few words between the pair, Luker was working the television crews and ended up caging CBS Channel 2 News into interviewing him. Later that night, Luker appeared in TV reporter Dave Bryan’s news story.

“This will be the most thorough cleanup in the industrial site ever [sic] anywhere on the face of the Earth,” Luker said to Bryan. “There is so much political pressure on this and I really wish we could clean it up to background levels but we’d all be living in tents.”

While the comment may seem supercilious, it aimed to create doubt and mock cleaning up to background. Polakovic may have thus earned his thirty pieces of silver from Boeing, this time pioneering in earnest the metamorphosis from professional journalist to paid propagandist for polluters.

After interviewing community members and activists, the cameras rolled into the big EPA event. The meeting mirrored the December 5 DTSC show, where supposed experts tried to convince the audience that while they could detect background levels of radiation and establish a baseline over which remediation is required, they couldn’t guarantee that DTSC could. Therefore, according to this twisted logic, it was necessary to toss the background numbers and come up with an incomprehensible formula that would result in vastly higher cleanup levels.

The only difference, however, was the EPA consumed $41.5 million to come up with none of the requirements they were charged with: determining background and mapping out where was the contaminated soil and groundwater.

EPA's Andrew Bain

EPA’s Andrew Bain

“Why didn’t we provide look-up values?” said EPA’s Andrew Bain in response to Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition member Marie Mason’s question. “We thought that would be irresponsible.”

“But that’s not what the AOCs say,” Mason responded. “I don’t get why you get to change it.”

“We provided recommendations to the state,” Bain said. “We share the benefit of all the research we did and provide them with the cookbook to be able to reproduce these samples when they get there. But we don’t have a crystal ball to say they are absolutely going to hit it. There are variables and things to consider and that’s the responsible thing to do.”

“I’m sorry but that’s like dropping the ball,” said Mason. “Now it’s up to somebody else to determine. The whole point of us fighting for years to have EPA come on board was because you’re the radiation people. So now you have just shuffled it along. I’m sorry but after 23 years, I’m not happy with your ‘it’s the labs’ fault.’”

This reporter asked Bain the same thing I asked Dempsey December 5 at the DTSC meeting. “When did you realize you weren’t going to fulfill the objective of your investigation?”

“Actually we did fulfill the objectives of our investigations,” Bain blithely said. “We characterized the site and what we’ve stated in our presentation is that we certainly have learned from this process and we’ve worked with the laboratories to push them as hard as we possibly could. This is really pushing the boundaries of science to be able to measure down to such low levels, moreover, then to take that measurement and try to reproduce that using a couple of labs. One of our recommendations very clearly to the State is use one lab. We had problems being able to get the results from the labs and be able to turn that around and be able to finish what we started but what we realized was we needed to account for the differences between the labs and, ultimately, that was addressed and we worked very closely with the State to rectify that issue and we feel good about it.”

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  1. Another Simi Mom says:

    There is a story going around that a group of Bell Canyon residents deny that the reactor melt downs at Rocketdyne ever occurred, deny that radioactive contamination at Rocketdyne exists, and seek to disrupt any use of the main roads in Bell Canyon for trucks to remove radioactive soil from what is now euphamistically called the Santa Susana Field Lab aka Rocketdyne. Clearly these “radiation deniers” are being manipulated by Boeing to some extent. Clearly, DOE could require Boeing to build a new “haul road” in a location which would protect residents of all surrounding communities from radioactive dust flying off trucks as they head towards proper dump sites.

  2. Joyce norton says:

    I lived in Simi Valley from 1963-1975 and was in the first graduating class of Royal high. One of the things that struck me, growing up in Simi, was the strange diseases I saw cropping g up in different families I knew. During the years since then, I often wondered if these problems came from the continual exposure many of us faced living at the base of the mountain that housed rocketdyne. I have friends who grew up to have children born with severe abnormalities, unusual cancers and seemingly healthy people dropped dead from heart attacks. I sincerely hope that more research is done so the people living in Simi will be protected.

  3. Joan Bien says:

    It is disheartening to hear a representative from the EPA say such ridiculous and condescending things. The public does not deserve such scurrilous treatment from the very people we pay to do a job. They owe everyone a legitimate reason for utterly failing at their task. Not unlike the tobacco dwarves, this bunch needs to be called before Congress and required to reimburse the taxpayers. After which, they should be sentenced to ten years of living in Area IV, eating only what they grow in the contaminated ground and drinking only the contaminated water.

    Dream on.

    Any person who can say Michael Collins and Dan Hirsch are disingenuous, uninformed, or grandstanding is basically an idiot with an agenda. They have both given the rest of us the freedom to go about our daily lives, knowing that someone is watching the store and taking inventory.
    Boeing may believe it is all over, especially when they say so repeatedly. Boeing can lie like a rug, but the truth never changes.

    Now, it has been written down in detail.

    My heartfelt thanks to all of the citizen-soldiers who have taken up the battle at great personal cost.

  4. Troy Ng says:

    “Another Simi Mom” has got a hell of an idea — it would be awesome if Collins could rip the lid off the EPA’s performance on all these toxic sites. The EPA seems to treat the Rocketdynes and coal companies of the world as clients — not as the miscreants they are.

    Even more exposure might not help, though — it’s frustrating to read all this and to realize that despite the exposure, the polluters are getting away with it — aided and abetted by stooges and PR hacks.

  5. Margery Brown says:

    Michael,
    By the time I finished reading this final article, I was seriously nauseated and absolutely OUTRAGED!

    The Government agencies involved here, have accepted and now spent $41.5M of the tax payers’ money, and yet have not provided the agreed upon look-up table and other necessary information. Nevertheless,they seem to be planning to depart with their task undone. This just has to be illegal!

    Meanwhile, they have apparently decided that we really don’t need to excavate all of the contaminants down to background…only 1%..which means leaving 99% of it in the ground. Go figure that one!

    Meanwhile also, Boeing, the billion dollar corporation, is sponsoring a public relations campaign to get public APPROVAL for leaving the SSFL acreage still heavily contaminated with radionuclides and toxic chemicals…to be declared Open Space and a “Park” for everyone to enjoy.

    Unfortunately, this is the plot of an all too familiar story like Downey, Rocky Flats, Hanford and probably other nuclear sites. The story has to do with accepting public money, making acceptable sounding promises..but then doing a bait and switch…and finally…LEAVING when the money runs out…..leaving behind carcinogenic radionuclides and toxic chemicals…but taking with them, their army of government and corporation attorneys.

    It seems to me, that at this time, ALL of the environmental activists absolutely need to talk to each other, work with each other and make sure that the public is informed, no matter how divided their strongly held opinions may be on how deep we should dig. This needs to be done, lest Boeing have an opportunity to exploit these divisions in the Community to the detriment of everyone.

    We simply cannot afford to take this RISK!

  6. Bonnie Klea says:

    These stories are staggering. I have been an observer and been in the middle of the battle since 1995. Thank you Dan Hirsch for supporting our community. I have seen you pounded down when you accurately uncovered motives and truths to rise up stronger than ever. Michael Collins has brilliantly and silently stored data to accurately report in detail our long struggle to clean up Santa Susana. William Bowling is also brilliant in his fact finding and picture taking to capture details that most of us missed. This slip-shod cleanup of nuclear facilities is sadly going on all over the United States. Rocky Flats is one example of an “accelerated cleaup” that went wrong. The plutonium found after the cleanup was as high as precleanup numbers. Their nature park never opened and a proposed new highway would have been built on residual plutonium with high levels of breathable plutonium under houses.

    The biggest mistake that Boeing made was promoting a CAG. The thousands of letters that were sent out seeking participation only advertised the local mess in our community to new people who didn’t know about it. At the Decembe 12 meeting there were lots of new people with their own horror stories of cancer and sickness who wanted answers from the EPA thinking that the EPA would protect them.

    As a former worker and cancer survivor, I learned a long time ago that people are expendable and corporate profits are king. It is an eye opener when the corporation does everything in their power to stop sick workers from getting federal compensation.

  7. Yet Another Simi Mom says:

    Amazingly well thought out story Mr. Collins. Thanks for helping normal Simi Valley residents and alumni understand what is at stake.

    The only relevant “facts” which I can add are that Simi Valley’s new Congressman will be none other than Howard “Buck” McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Buck’s resume, before entering Congress, was that he and his brothers owned a cowboy boot store in heavily contaminated Canyon Country, which ultimately went bankrupt stiffing a lot of local creditors. Buck’s major, in college, was animal husbandry. So that gives you a clue about the intellectual level of Simi Valley’s new Congressman whose principal job, theoretically, is to protect his constituents from harm at the hands of the Federal government.

    In the run-up to the November 2012 election, Buck found himself on the hot seat in the center of his District, because, in the previous 10 years, he had failed to follow through on his promise to Santa Clarita, Lancaster and Palmdale constituents that he would protect those communities’ access to the San Fernando Valley and beyond by arranging for the BLM and a Mexican gravel mining company to move their proposed “biggest gravel mine in the U.S.” away from the 14 Freeway out to the desert near Barstow. Congressman Buck following through on his promise to his constituents would have had the added benefit of protecting the air quality in Santa Clarita, which has one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the country. However, Congressman Buck couldn’t get the job done for his constituents because he was “too busy Chairing the House Armed Services Committee” and worrying about whether all of his defense contractor campaign contributors were happy and busy collecting Federal dollars.

    During the November 2012 re-election campaign, Congressman Buck’s constituents learned that one of his “Top 5″ contributors is Boeing. When interviewed on CNN about the “fiscal cliff” all that Congressman Buck could talk about was his conversations with Presidents of major defense contractors, who were very worried that under Sequestration the dollar amounts of their defense contracts would be cut.

    When asked, at a campaign forum, what he was going to do to support the remediation of Rocketdyne, Congressman Buck feigned ignorance, and tried to make his audience believe he knew nothing about Rocketdyne or its owner, Boeing.

    So it’s absolutely no surprise that Boeing is advocating a lowered remediation standard at Rocketdyne when it’s clear they will be supported by the Congressman in whose District Rocketdyne is located.

    As to DTSC’s top-to-bottom treachery towards Californians’ health, Michael Collins has told us all we need to know.

    As to the EPA, if one digs through national and local press stories, one can see EPA’s top political appointee decision makers back-peddling left and right on rigorously protecting the public health in terms of clean air, clean water and toxics remediation. Those not deluded by President Obama’s rhetorical flourishes understand that he and his staff, full of young Wall Street investment bank alumni, do not want the EPA being tough on private polluters let alone using a significant part of the Federal budget by spending money for remediation of former Federal facilities. I dare not ask Michael Collins to write one of his thorough exposes concerning EPA’s failings nationwide during the Obama Administration. Perhaps he’s told us all we need to know about EPA, by telling us they shut down their radiation monitors in Hawaii, after the Fukushima melt down began.

    To Dan Hirsch, the ladies from the Knolls, and all of the other honest activists demanding a thorough remediation at Rocketdyne, God bless. I hope 2013 becomes a successful year for you.

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