Up a River Without a Cleanup

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No background look-up table table determining remediation and no map of what has to be remediated and the EPA folks “feel good about it.” This might rank as one of the most costly pollution placebos in EPA history, but the problem is that no one other than DTSC, Boeing and its astroturf team feel the same way.

Makeover Earth's Vicki Cho Estrada and Gary Polakovic listen to Dan Hirsch - photo by William Preston Bowling

Makeover Earth’s Vicki Cho Estrada and Gary Polakovic in the foreground as Dan Hirsch explains the problematic EPA report. Photo by William Preston Bowling

“Excuse me but you’re a government agency and you just misappropriated $41.5 million,” Hirsch said after Bain had finished. “So people need to understand. They got $41.5 million. They were supposed to come up with a table for background and that was supposed to be the cleanup level. Everything detected above background is supposed to be cleaned up. With some intervention, in the last few weeks – we are going to get to the bottom of who was involved in it – they completely reversed course and ended up with EPA failing to do what it had promised to do. That puts at risk the cleanup.”

ROCKETDYNE RIVER

Boeing’s big bamboozle not only effects local residents on both sides of the lab in the Simi and San Fernando valleys, the reach of its effluent stretches the 48-mile length of the Los Angeles River and down Runkle Canyon and Brandeis-Bardin into the Arroyo Simi and Cahuegas Creek. In either direction, this goo ends up in the Pacific along Southern California beaches where millions of people swim, surf and fish.

“Surface water drainage in the northern portion of the Area IV Study Area flows north into Meier Canyon, which is a tributary to the Arroyo Simi, flowing westward and terminating in the Pacific Ocean,” says the $41.5 million EPA study. “Drainage of the majority of the Area IV Study Area flows to the southeast into the Bell Creek drainage system as suggested by the location of the northeast-southwest trending drainage divide (Figure 2.4). Bell Creek is the headwater and tributary of the Los Angeles River, which flows south and eastward terminating in the Pacific Ocean.”

That surface water will continue to pollute both sides of SSFL as recent offsite radiation readings show, such as the huge alpha readings in a Brandeis-Bardin water well on the American Jewish University campus which includes a working ranch with animals drinking well water.

Less than 300 feet uphill from Runkle Canyon into which it drains, is an Area IV hot spot of strontium-90 that tested 114 times background for the deadly radionuclide which, along with cesium-137, are the two most widespread SSFL hot toxins. This silent pestilence has been explained away by DTSC in Runkle Canyon.

That gave Westwood-based KB Home the all-clear to build in the contaminated canyon earlier this year despite the fact that the Clean Water Act applies to polluted Runkle Creek and was not adhered to. KB Home’s numerous omissions of fact last summer when convincing the city of Simi Valley’s planning commission and city council that Runkle Canyon should be given an extension to build could come back to confound the developer.

ALFA Rocket Engine Test Stand at LA River headwaters by William Preston Bowling

ALFA Rocket Engine Test Stand at LA River headwaters – photo by William Preston Bowling

The highly contaminated Alpha rocket test stands are the headwaters of the Los Angeles River beginning in eastern Ventura County. Failure to fix Boeing’s defiled dirt and water will sully plans to renovate and rejuvenate the river to the tune of $2 billion over the next 50 years because of the continued pollution sluicing down the headwaters and other SSFL canyons into it.

The Los Angeles River is the centerpiece of the city of Los Angeles’ Master Plan. Ambitious design ideas have been learned from the Cheonggyecheon River renovation in the heart of Seoul, South Korea, where the waterway was made more natural again encouraging the public to literally come into contact with it.

The October 19 unveiling of the winning design for the $401 million new 6th Street Bridge east of downtown Los Angeles showed just how vibrant the vision is for the L.A. River’s renewal. Diagrams show how the public will be able to access the water with ease.

Fouling the river from its very headwaters could make river improvements futile since the goal includes safe water for wading, kayaking and fishing. Around 118 million gallons of Rocketdyne runoff pour into the Los Angeles River every year through Bell and Dayton canyons in Canoga Park. The gushing goo prompted a $471,000 fine from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2007 for 79 pollution violations of it slushing into the river.

Friends of the Los Angeles River, FoLAR, has fought since 1985 to “protect and restore the natural and historic heritage of the Los Angeles River and its riparian habitat through inclusive planning, education and wise stewardship,” according to its website. One of its co-founders is Lewis MacAdams, a much-lauded poet, activist, journalist, and the L.A. River’s most powerful advocate.

Last February, MacAdams went with Bill Bowling to look at the headwaters of the Los Angeles River itself, Rocketdyne. Accompanied by Merrilee Fellows, a manager in Risk Communications at NASA, they explored rocket test stand complexes and runoff waste “ponds,” one even equipped with an old Rockwell International row boat nevertheless kept shipshape.

Lewis MacAdams next to Rocketdyne boat-WPB

FoLAR co-founder Lewis MacAdams next to Rocketdyne boat – photo by William Preston Bowling

This was the first time MacAdams had been to the river’s headwaters and he was none too pleased. “Speaking for myself, the headwaters of the L.A. River are a stinking cesspool visually,” MacAdams told EnviroReporter.com, ‘and can’t help but have negative implications for the river downstream.”

Bowling, who first made FoLAR aware of the SSFL pollution problem in 2008, says the contaminated surface water pouring off SSFL during seasonal rains threatens to turn Los Angeles’s main watercourse into “Rocketdyne River.”

“If we all saw the chemical sheen floating on top of the green pools of water like we all saw on that tour, we would fight for a cleanup to background,” Bowling said in a November 2012 interview. “Every time it rains that cesspool heads down river. We need offsite testing to know the extent of its reach to ensure the health and safety of future river patrons.”

UP A RIVER WITHOUT A CLEANUP

Boeing, DTSC, the state and federal EPA and their community collaborators have made clear their intentions to subvert the agreed-to cleanup. Whether political leaders have the willpower to stand up to this onslaught, now jettisoned along with $41.5 million taxpayer dollars, remains to be seen. An investigation into fraud and misuse of government funds might find some answers.

A good greenwashing plan, however, relies on stealth, secrecy and solid players. On all three counts, Boeing and its allies have failed.

EnviroReporter.com’s Greenwashing Rocketdyne exposed Boeing’s secret plan to co-opt the media, thanks to Polakovic’s indiscreet layout artist. The former reporter pioneered a spectacular and dangerous deceit that shames the Pulitzer Prize he won with 43 other people from the Los Angeles Times where Polakovic still contributes.

As covered in Dirty Deeds, Bill Bowling’s films of Boeing’s dust cloud-creating cleanup in Area I shined a spotlight on the company’s bid to knock down as much of the contaminated buildings as quickly as possible, perhaps done with tacit DTSC approval or simply department ineptitude.

COCA test stands at the SSFL by William Preston Bowling 2012

COCA test stands at the SSFL – photo by William Preston Bowling 2012

The consequences of this kind of cleanup are plain to see: huge clouds of contaminated dust made aloft and blowing into the San Fernando Valley and all over what is supposed to become public open space. The negligent bulldozing goes on seemingly without regard to the workers doing the grading or to the property that Boeing says “poses no significant risk to human health today” according to Make Over Earth’s SSFL draft media campaign.

Boeing has also botched its efforts to replace the community, as reported in Operation Astroturf, pinning its hopes and money on an activist who left reams of evidence of her alliance with the aerospace giant to create an astroturf CAG in 2009, and of her continuing inappropriate and hostile behavior toward the community, agency representatives, and public officials.

DTSC also swallowed this spiked lemonade, killing the longstanding SSFL Inter-Agency Work Group over the objections of hundreds and spending thousands to set up a CAG that many community members view as illegitimate. But, as Toxic Department reveals, the agency may simply be doing the bidding of Boeing lobbyists paid to derail the cleanup and the community dedicated to it.

As this article exposes, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act may well have taken place. Millions of dollars from Obama’s stimulus plan have evaporated at SSFL in a flurry of sampling and testing that was comprehensive and accurate until it was reinterpreted into irrelevance.

Without the Work Group, the community has been challenged in fighting back. No longer can press, elected officials, and public attend these quarterly meetings that may have caught the agency shenanigans before it was too late. This censorship fits in perfectly with Polakovic’s scheme to massage the meltdown makeover so it feels good to folks who couldn’t be bothered with cleanup fights and just want to go for a hike at the picturesque site dotted with Cold War relics and ruins.

Longtime Rocketdyne activist and resident Barbara Johnson, herself like the other three leaders of the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition a cancer survivor, says that while she is personally dismayed, her biggest concern is for others.

“The past 22 years has encroached on our personal lives, our health, and our welfare, which we were willing to expend for the outcome of seeing the site cleaned up to make it safe for future generations,” Johnson told EnviroReporter.com in November. “Now, in a stroke of the pen from the honchos at DTSC, this sacrifice has been demeaned and discarded. Of course, I, among others, resent what has been done to us, but most of all, we mourn the loss of a thorough cleanup to protect future generations.”

San Fernando Valley resident Marge Brown agrees. “I will be personally be leaving instructions in my will…for my great -grandchildren….to stay away from that Boeing Park…it is still contaminated.”

Related Galleries: “EPA Radiation Report meeting 12-12-12” & “EPA Radiological Survey of Area IV and the Northern Buffer Zone” & “2012 SSFL FOLAR photos

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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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