The 13-0 vote on Councilman Mitch Englander’s resolution sends a strong signal that the city isn’t going to sit idly by watching NASA transfer its property at the lab before full cleanup. Aerospace giant Boeing owns the majority of the 2,850-acre former Rocketdyne site in the hills between the Simi and San Fernando valleys, including the nuclear research area where three partial meltdowns took place.
The strong showing from the city comes in the wake of revelations from EnviroReporter.com’s Boeing’s Meltdown Makeover series showing a concerted effort by Boeing to “greenwash” the issue. That ongoing effort is intended to convince the public that the land is safe enough as it is for a park.
The first five parts of Boeing’s Meltdown Makeover were followed a month later by a scathing report on the state agency overseeing the supposed cleanup of the laboratory, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The Consumer Watchdog report “Golden Wasteland” exposed a wide range of DTSC’s failings including gross mismanagement and collusion with Boeing.
In the face of such formidable and entrenched foes, it was no small victory for groups like the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition which showed up today to support Englander’s resolution, which was formally seconded by Councilman Dennis Zine, another Republican on the council.
“[W]ith the concurrence of the Mayor, that upon the adoption of this Resolution, the City of Los Angeles hereby includes in its 2013-2014 Federal Legislative Program OPPOSITION to any legislation or administrative action which would transfer the NASA owned land at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory until all cleanup and remediation of the site is complete.”
“This is in Mitch’s district and those people who didn’t know about SSFL on the City Council now know and trust Mitch’s leadership, said Bonnie Klea, a West Hills resident who has advocated for the rights of nuclear workers at the lab for over a decade. “Finally we have the whole city behind proper cleanup for the future generations.”
Even though NASA had committed to DTSC to clean up to background, it nevertheless declared its 450 acres to be excess in 2010. The resolution notes that this is “the first step towards transferring the land to a new owner.”
NASA’s land is the object of interest to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians which operates the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Barbara County. The resolution states that, “[I]t is important that the clean-up plan for the site as required by the consent agreement between NASA and the Department of Toxic Substances Control be fully completed, and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians may not be subject to the State’s regulatory clean-up requirements.”
Some cleanup opponents have advocated for NASA’s property to be transferred to the National Park Service (NPS). However, the NPS can’t accept polluted land let alone a site as impacted with trichloroethylene (TCE), perchlorate, PCBs, dioxins, heavy metals, and other contaminants which cause cancer.
NPS also doesn’t have the money to pay full market value for the land which would be more valuable if it weren’t sitting on a sea of goo. SSFL has upwards of 800,000 gallons of TCE in its groundwater. This carcinogenic solvent which vaporizes up through the soil into the air is one of the reasons that now-defunct Washington Mutual’s lab-adjacent Ahmanson Ranch development tanked ten years ago.
Before Boeing terminated its 2006 groundwater charcoal-activated air stripping towers designed to remove TCE, the system succeeded in venting off about 10 gallons a year. Boeing’s reasoning for ceasing the remediation included the notion that since the groundwater is so toxic, no one would ever consider using it, so why clean it?
If the system were actually functioning, it would have to be active for a long time, more than 80,000 years at the piddling rate the air stripping towers put out.
NASA’s property also includes an entire mountain of contamination made up of antimony, asbestos, pipes, an other aerospace detritus. Gigantic rusting rocket test stands are in mountaintop canyons that are the headwaters of the Los Angeles River.
Over 30,000 rocket tests shook the hills and rattled windows down below for nearly fifty years ending in the 1990s. This legacy includes gross contamination that remains undisturbed after years of cleanup delays – undisturbed, that is, until seasonal rains come. Millions of gallons of dioxin and PCB-tainted storm water have sluiced down into the Los Angeles River for decades.
NASA would save a bundle if it could transfer title of its two areas of SSFL before cleaning up to background. The agency has also waxed on about the historic rocket test stands knowing full well that in order to remediate areas around the stands to background, they would have to come down.
The City of Los Angeles certainly has a stake in the clean up of Rocketdyne because the Los Angeles River runs through it, a river that is envisioned to be reborn into its more natural state. The 52-mile long river is the object of a $2 billion restoration effort over the coming years and is the centerpiece of the City of Los Angeles’ 50-year master plan.
“This is important to the people of L.A. because it has been undercover for generations and now we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel hopefully while we are alive,” Klea told EnviroReporter.com.
“Boeing’s meltdown makeover is embraced by some but hopefully protection from cancer of future residents will be the most important factor in the cleanup,” said Klea. “Human health is more important than old test stands.”
NASA’s toxic Rocketdyne legacy has been called out. The second biggest city in the United States is telling the space agency to clean up its act, really clean it up. It’s one small step for SSFL cleanup, one giant leap for Los Angeles.
(Rocket test stand photos: Courtesy William Preston Bowling)