Broken pipe revealing substance believed to be toxic heavy metal antimony found outside lab during demonstration where protesters outnumber hot zone tourists
The number of attendees to Boeing’s latest Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) bus tours appeared to have plummeted August 6, three weeks after EnviroReporter.com exposed high levels of radiation and chemical contamination on both the hiking and bus excursions.
Those who did participate in the controversial trip had to first brave a gauntlet of two dozen shouting protesters with signs that included “STOP THE DECEPTION – NO TOXIC TOURS!”
The last time the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition demonstrators showed up to protest Boeing’s SSFL hikes and bus tours on April 23, about 100 hikers came and the protesters numbered 18. Now the ratio had flipped and demonstrators more than doubled the number of tour-goers.
This astonishing drop-off of lab tour attendees came after the continuing protests and EnviroReporter.com’s July 13 exposé Critics question safety of Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Lab hikes. That investigation revealed that hikers and bus riders are being allowed in areas that have thousands of times the normal amount of radiation including cesium-137 and strontium-90 as well as chemicals, PCBs, dioxins and heavy metals.
One of the August 6 demonstrators even found what appeared to be carelessly left contamination near the gates of SSFL. A long pipe running from Woolsey Canyon Road towards the lab entrance was pointed out to this reporter by “Wild Bill” Bowling, a Runkle Canyon Radiation Ranger and founder of the Aerospace Contamination Museum of Education as being stuffed with toxic foam goo.
The pipe, visible in photographs and video in this piece, was filled with an insulation Bowling knew quite well. That insulation, as this reporter saw and recorded, was deteriorating into the environment from the aged thin metal tubing it was in which was about four to five inches in diameter and ran for several dozen yards.
“It’s antimony, the same stuff found in the northern drainage,” Bowling said. “It is insulation for liquid oxygen and my guess is that pipe was a liquid oxygen pipe that they forgot about. The area that it would most likely service is the B-1 area of the SSFL just to the left if the front gate.”
Bowling should know about antimony. He helped discover it in 2007 nearby in drainage of Area I of the 2,850-acre lab that leads down into the Brandeis-Bardin campus of American Jewish University below. The area of the suspected antimony pipe near SSFL’s front gate also drains to the Jewish property.
“Small amounts of antimony cause dizziness, headache and depression and greater doses can lead to death after several days of frequent and violent vomiting,” this reporter wrote in the 2007 story Cleaning up Rocketdyne.
“This area will have approximately 500 cubic yards of the tainted soil trucked offsite to a licensed landfill. 8,000 cubic yards of soil polluted by PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] will be excavated as well from with the former shooting range and along the Northern Drainage. The work will require approximately 764 truckloads which will be covered and cleaned of tire soil and debris before leaving the cleanup site.”
The cost of that cleanup of was about $11 million according to Bowling. Now right adjacent to the entrance of SSFL is a corroding pipe looking like it’s also leaking the same foamy goo into the environment, even though transparent tests of the substance that the public can trust are needed to confirm that it may be antimony. Its presence has apparently been missed or ignored for decades by employees of North American Rockwell, then Boeing and the lead government agency for the remediation of the former Rocketdyne facility, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).
Bowling says he informed DTSC August 9 of what he had discovered, only to be told that DTSC would have Boeing look into it. When Bowling objected to the polluter being given the lead responsibility for investigating the pipeline, the DTSC official said she misspoke and it would be the DTSC project manager for the site who would be notified.
Keeping an eye on Boeing’s cleanup is a good idea. Bowling did just that in 2009 when he installed trail cameras in SSFL-adjacent Sage Ranch and filmed Boeing’s knocking down and ‘remediating’ parts of Area I near the front gate. EnviroReporter.com exposed the sloppy, and potentially dangerous, demolition in 2012’s Dirty Deeds. Bowling’s videos show clouds of possibly toxic dust blowing the direction of the San Fernando Valley where a new housing development below is being built. That indicated that Boeing had not followed what should have been required by DTSC, remediation best practices that include spraying down the soil to mitigate dust.
EnviroReporter.com’s recent revelations that SSFL ‘nature walks’ and bus tours took participants (who signed away their rights through Boeing waivers) to places with high chemicals and radiation included unanswered questions for the company.
“Why do hikers only get to see the waiver they must sign at SSFL itself at hike time and not beforehand where they would have more of a chance to read the fine print?” this reporter asked Boeing’s Kamara Sams July 1. “By allowing hikers to walk through the SSFL Southern Buffer Zone, does Boeing maintain that there is no risk to these hikers from any contamination in these areas?” [Original emphasis]
Sams responded July 18 yet failed to fully answer our questions. “After decades of investigation, we have an extensive understanding of the Santa Susana site and gladly share this knowledge with the public and media,” Sams wrote as she did not share, gladly or not, the information we sought. “We welcome the opportunity to work with journalists who strive to provide balanced reporting and factual information about the site. It is unfortunate that this does not appear to be your intent.”
After reporting on this site for 18 years, not once have I ‘worked’ with Boeing to report on them. Reporters don’t work ‘with’ the cause of the problems they are uncovering unless they are, say, former journalists who have turned their craft into greenwashing for Boeing like ex-Los Angeles Timeser Gary Polakovic did.
It is quite ironic for Sams to question this reporter’s intent while failing to answer the questions asked of her. It seems that Boeing has no intention of answering anything having to do with its ongoing greenwashing and astroturfing scheme to sell SSFL as safe without meaningful cleanup.
“I am shocked to find further SSFL contamination in areas easily accessible by the public, similar to what was found at Sage Ranch, which is offsite contamination,” said Bowling in an August 8 email. “This new discovery is in the Northern Drainage that impacts the American Jewish University.”
Now with protests increasing and apparent contamination found at the lab gate, Boeing’s meltdown makeover isn’t going very smoothly. Protesters even discussed the possibility of seeking an emergency injunction against Boeing for endangering public health and safety in its quest to convince the public that the contaminated site is fit for a park and doesn’t need much cleanup.
In the meantime, the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition launched a petition demanding that SSFL not be designated a National Monument or included in the Rim of the Valley Corridor until it is fully cleaned up. Hundreds of people have already signed it.
Undaunted, Boeing is pushing forward with its greenwashing campaign. It’s summer newsletter includes a notice that the next SSFL tour will take place on September 10.