Jewish camp below Santa Susana Field Lab, aided by troubled state toxics agency, denies toxins have migrated to its property despite decades of evidence; new Dept. of Energy report proposes not cleaning up most contamination
* Over 600 acres of Rocketdyne drain into Brandeis-Bardin and adjacent Runkle Canyon
* 1993, 1995 Rocketdyne reports show 19 elevated Strontium-90 soil sample readings
* Plutonium-239/240, Uranium-238 found in 2004 soil higher than later SSFL readings
* Elevated Strontium-90, beta radiation in 2005 water flowing into Brandeis-Bardin
* 2012 EPA soil and Boeing groundwater Area IV reports consistent with earlier results
* Nov. 2015 DOE finds rads identified as “fission products” and “used in reactor control rods”
* Nov. 2016 NASA report shows Brandeis-Bardin groundwater/wells chemical contamination
* Dec. 2016 DOE report given by camp owner American Jewish University (AJU) to Jewish Journal shows elevated Brandeis-Bardin soil toxins
* Brandeis-Bardin reports released by AJU show perchlorate in fruits and vegetables
* AJU denies all contamination in 2015, 2016, March 2017
* Dec. 2016 DTSC letter claims no SSFL rads migrated north, DTSC maps show otherwise
* Jan. 2017 DOE issues Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) proposing little cleanup
* Ventura County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles City Council pass resolutions critical of DOE’s DEIS
A 13-year-long investigation of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute has revealed extensive radiation and chemical impacts across the 2,878 acre property in eastern Simi Valley, California. Multiple government and media tests and reports from 1993 through 2016 indicate that the site may have been contaminated by the bordering Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), commonly known as Rocketdyne.
The Brandeis Camp Institute began in 1947 on 2,200 acres in eastern Simi Valley and by 1953 Camp Alonim (“oak trees” in Hebrew) was established. The camp soon became a new paradigm in Jewish adult and youth retreats for “a non-denominational, Jewish experience brought to life through sports, the arts, nature, and learning in a safe and embracing community,” according to its website. In 2007, the 250-student Bel-Air based University of Judaism merged with the institute resulting in the American Jewish University (AJU) and its Brandeis-Bardin Campus.
Decades’ worth of tests and analysis done by multiple government agencies, EnviroReporter.com and Brandeis-Bardin itself show what could reasonably be expected in a place downhill from one of the most radioactive and chemically contaminated sites in California. Brandeis-Bardin successfully sued Rocketdyne in the 1990s over contamination of its land, but now aggressively maintains that the lab, which has yet to begin an extensive cleanup, has not fouled its property.
Recent media coverage of Brandeis-Bardin’s radiation and chemical issues, greeted with a howl of indignation by camp owner American Jewish University (AJU), has set the stage for this exposé which fully documents contamination findings and impediments to full cleanup.
“Sludge from Rocketdyne”
Lab tested soil and water samples from Brandeis-Bardin show that elevated levels of radiation. Plutonium-239 (Pu-239/240) and Uranium-238 (U-238) were found in the Jewish camp at levels even higher than they are at SSFL’s Area IV, according to soil tests from 2004 and water readings from 2005 that have been authenticated and verified by EnviroReporter.com.
Area IV is the 280 acre nuclear research part of SSFL, much of it draining into Brandeis-Bardin. Operated for decades by the Atomic Energy Commission and then the Department of Energy (DOE), and owned by Boeing, it is the site of three partial nuclear meltdowns including the Sodium Reactor Experiment in 1959. Area IV is grossly polluted by radiation and chemicals.
Gross beta radiation was double background in both the sampled Brandeis-Bardin dirt and water. Strontium-90 (Sr-90) and tritium (H-3) were also found at levels over twice their background, or normal levels of radiation. Photographs and video obtained and authenticated by EnviroReporter.com show the bubbling muck leaking from the same pipe each year from 2004 to 2007 and again in 2014 suggesting continuous release.
Tests were conducted for soil on December 30, 2004 and for water on November 23, 2005 from mud and a bubbling, chemical sheen-topped liquid at the bottom of a ravine in the upper reaches of Meier Canyon at the camp. Samples were subsequently sent for radiochemical analysis to STL Richland, a prominent Richland, Washington-based laboratory.
The 2004 STL Richland soil test results had to wait eight years before they could be compared to a reliable standard. The dirt’s radionuclides were then compared to “Background Threshold Values” (BTVs) developed for Area IV by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2012. The government’s tests cost taxpayers $41.5 million and found high radiation as reported in Radiation Readings Soar at Rocketdyne.
The 2005 STL Richland water test readings were compared to the local and national averages. Both the soil and the water came from the same spot sitting over a thousand feet down a steep poison oak-choked canyon leading down from Area IV. It’s referred to in one Brandeis-Bardin report as “Campsite Area I,” suggesting people stayed at the site.
Area IV’s Former Sodium Disposal Facility (FSDF) drains down Channel D into Meier Canyon where the toxins were detected. The FSDF was used to dispose of barrels of radioactive sodium. Sodium reacts violently with air or water so workers would take lots on who would get to shoot the barrels with a rifle to make them explode outdoors. Debris was blown in all directions including down into Brandeis-Bardin according to an eyewitness account from a former Rocketdyne security guard recently recalled to EnviroReporter.com.
Gurgling goo was still flowing unimpeded in the exact same Meier Canyon location in 2014 when Simi Valley resident Brandon Manwell contacted EnviroReporter.com. Manwell had found the place hiking with friends. He videotaped and photographed it in April 2014 and the result is a YouTube video entitled Sludge from Rocketdyne. The skateboarder first thought he was in the upper reaches of Runkle Canyon, one mountain ridge away to the west, where KB Home’s controversial development called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands is being built.
“Me and my friend found a few places just like this back in that canyon,” Manwell wrote in an April 19, 2014 email to EnviroReporter.com. “We wouldn’t have thought too much of it except for the fact that the water running out of this old pipe was iridescent, kind of like when water has oil in it, but it had a weird consistency when we touched it with a stick in the video. We weren’t sure what to make of it to be honest, we thought we should go back and get samples.”
The 2004 and 2005 STL Richland radiological testing isn’t the only data available showing Brandeis-Bardin pollution detections. A DOE map showing chemical contamination reaching far into Brandeis-Bardin that is marked for possible remediation was shown at a public meeting April 22, 2014. That map listed offending chemicals on Brandeis-Bardin property which included dioxins, poly aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates and pesticides.
A 2015 Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) version of the map shows that even more of Brandeis-Bardin is potentially contaminated. It was made public April 28, 2015 by DTSC, California’s lead government agency on the cleanup of SSFL.
At the same meeting, DTSC officials straight-faced told the audience that SSFL pollutants were staying onsite, above and below ground. But the department later made public more information that confirms what the DOE and DTSC maps had already shown, this time with diagrams carefully plotting toxic trouble spots in the upper reaches of Brandeis-Bardin.
DTSC sent to EnviroReporter.com December 3, 2015 a Boeing report including maps of Brandeis-Bardin contamination [pp. 55-57/138 PDF pages; 10.89 MB] down what is called “Channel D.” This 2008 report explains that Boeing owns Area IV and the Northern Buffer Zone (NBZ), land transferred to Boeing in 1997 as part of the confidential settlement with Brandeis-Bardin over the camp’s land allegedly being contaminated.
The maps show at least eight chemically-impacted places in Channel D on Brandeis-Bardin property that would be cleaned up applying the standard that the DOE and NASA have committed to with DTSC in 2010, normal background. Boeing’s report suggests that’s unreasonable and recommends a drastically smaller cleanup, which is shown on its own map as removing from remediation the eight chemical hot spots in Channel D on Brandeis-Bardin’s property.
At an April 12, 2016 meeting, DTSC produced a presentation [pp. 28-30 PDF pages; 6.4 MB] stating that Brandeis-Bardin is safe. The presentation included maps showing both Sr-90 and Cesium-137 (Cs-137) migrating offsite into Brandeis, but declared the contamination posed no threat according to what it claimed was a residential Risk-Based Screening Level (RBSL.)
Problem was that the standard of 3.85 picocuries per gram (pCi/g) for Sr-90 that it used, apparently provided to DTSC by Boeing, was hundreds of times less protective than the current EPA Residential Preliminary Remediation Goal of 0.00121 pCi/g. DTSC falsely declared almost of all the Strontium-90 in Area IV to be to be less than a residential risk-based standard, when in fact they are almost all above it. DTSC also should not have applied any risk-based standards to Area IV, since it is under the Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) to be cleaned up to background. (DTSC signed identical AOCs with the DOE and NASA in 2010 agreeing to remediate their areas of SSFL to background levels of radiation and chemicals under state authority.)
The maps strikingly, visually, and directly contradict recent statements by both AJU and DTSC. AJU has linked to just one page of that April 2016 presentation on its website, neglecting to include the maps that were in the very subsequent pages. Not to be outdone, in a December 22, 2016 letter to California Assemblymember Matt Dabaneh, DTSC claimed that, “there was no migration of radiological contamination north of SSFL.” This “nothing to see here, keep moving along” approach flies in the face of hard data, reports produced by DTSC itself, and established EPA regulations.
A November 2016 NASA groundwater report obtained by EnviroReporter.com also shows chemical contamination in a Brandeis-Bardin artesian well discharging water down a canyon, with toxic levels detected that exceed California Maximum Contamination Levels (MCLs) for drinking water. All water courses draining through Brandeis-Bardin, perennial and non-perennial, are considered ‘blue line streams’ protected by the Clean Water Act. The MCL overages in Brandeis-Bardin should, normally, be reported to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB). EnviroReporter.com has found no evidence that any such notification about Brandeis-Bardin’s MCL exceedance were ever reported to the board.
A DOE soil testing report published by the Jewish Journal December 7, 2016 shows high chemicals in Brandeis-Bardin dirt in drainages off of Area IV. AJU had sent the test results to the non-profit weekly newspaper after the publication inquired about the readings. “The sources of the chemicals are not known,” the paper said. “Some may date to early agricultural operations on the land, which later housed the laboratory, the DOE information indicates.”
EnviroReporter.com has also uncovered additional evidence of SSFL toxins impacting the Jewish camp including 1993 and 1995 Rocketdyne reports showing Sr-90 over background in 19 separate soil samples. Cesium-137 was found in a NASA drainage into the camp and radioactive cow flops in Area IV were so hot that they threatened to re-contaminate the FSDF after one of its remediations. Camp videos feature revelers playing traditional Jewish instruments dancing near the potentially hot heifers.
None of this should be unexpected. Brandeis-Bardin borders and is in the drainage of the former Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) which partially melted down and released hundreds of times more radiation outdoors than did Three Mile Island in 1979 from the unfortified building. The SRE site and its surroundings still have massively contaminated areas with radiation at thousands of times background.
Radiation in the Dirt
When first found in 2004 at the bottom of a ravine under Area IV, the suspect substance looked as if it had been coming out of the pipe and ground for years. Based on eyewitness observations, photographs, videotape, and Rocketdyne and Boeing reports, EnviroReporter.com estimates that the liquid leaking into Meier Canyon Creek and flowing through Brandeis-Bardin has likely been in existence for decades.
The sampling site sits about 1,200 feet downhill of the Radioactive Materials Handling Facility (RMHF), the former SNAP experimental space nuclear reactors and the FSDF. Small space reactors partially melted down in Area IV in 1964 and 1969 releasing radiation into the environment.
The entire 2,850-acre mountaintop lab drains 612 of its chemically and radioactively impacted acres into Brandeis-Bardin. The AJU property is the largest Jewish-owned institutionally owned property outside of Israel. Ironically, it borders the lab which was started to test V-2 rockets under the guidance of the former Waffen SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) and rocketeer, Wernher von Braun.
The flowing Brandeis-Bardin water seems to be connected to an artesian groundwater well or pipe running down the ravine from Area IV above, or both. The water makes it way past signs stating, “WARNING – DO NOT DRINK OR USE THIS WATER” and “NO HIKING BEYOND THIS POINT” into Meier Canyon Creek which flows intermittently through Brandeis-Bardin in rainy seasons or during significant precipitation events.
Pu-239/240 was found considerably higher in the Brandeis-Bardin dirt tested than the highest sample analyzed in the EPA’s 2011 radiation soil testing report in Area IV. A potent radionuclide with a half-life of 24,110 years, Pu-239/240 was collected and tested in a 2004 Brandeis-Bardin soils report [17 PDF pages; 805 KB] completed in 2005 by STL Richland. Both soil samples had higher Pu-239/240 than found in Area IV soils.
The peak 2004 Pu-239/240 sample exceeded its BTV by 55.2 percent. This extremely toxic, cancer-causing radioisotope produced during a nuclear reaction was precisely 21.6 percent higher than the “Maximum Value Detected” (MDV) for the radionuclide found in Area IV in the EPA’s October 2011 Final Radiological Background Study Report – SSFL [PDF page 282/286; 16.5 MB].
Read more at BRANDEIS-BARDIN’S TOXIC DENIAL INVESTIGATION
Photos, videos, reports, figures, tests, data and special analysis
Plutonium-239 is a nuclear reactor byproduct that has been called one of the most toxic substances on the planet due to its lethality and use in nuclear weapons. With a half-life of 24,000 years, it also hangs around for a very long time.
Rocketdyne and its successors have repeatedly denied the presence of Pu-239/240 on Brandeis-Bardin property, first in the 1995 report Additional Soil and Water Sampling – The Brandeis-Bardin Institute and Santa Monica Conservancy [535 PDF pages; 11.9 MB]. “Isotopic plutonium was not detected in any of the field samples collected during the study.”
Uranium-238 in the mud was likewise found in the 2004 test at a higher level than any U-238 EPA detected in its extensive radioisotope survey. The sample was exactly 74.4 percent higher than the U-238 BTV reported in the EPA October 2011 Background study report. That amount was above the highest reading of U-238 in Area IV by 27.4 percent.
“The field lab sits at a higher elevation than the Brandeis-Bardin, any third-grader can tell you how the Plutonium 239/240 and Uranium 238 migrates offsite onto the camp,” said William Preston Bowling, founder of the SSFL-themed Aerospace Contamination Museum of Education, in a January 19 email to EnviroReporter.com. Bowling first came upon Brandeis-Bardin’s warning signs in Meier Canyon in 2007 as well as the water dribbling into the creek, as evidenced by this article’s cover photograph. “The sad thing is, the camp owners know about the contamination, even going as far as putting up signs – Do not drink or use water – they would rather put people at risk than upset their “Cash-Cow” aerospace neighbor.”
The 2004 soil from Brandeis-Bardin showed substantially elevated beta radiation in both samples according to background numbers for California developed by the nuclear experts at U.C. Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering. The highest gross beta soil sample reading was 2.18 times higher than background for this kind of ionization, the measurement of which is used to determine if man-made radionuclides are impacting a tested medium.
Alpha radiation in the camp’s 2004 sludge also came in at over two times the median average according to a U.C. Berkeley nuclear expert’s “range of gross alpha.” Alpha radiation is between 20 to 1,000 times more dangerous to the human organism than other radiation due to its “relative biological effectiveness” in causing cell-death and cancer according to numerous sources.
These soil and water readings in 2004 and 2005 were done in just one spot. An entire area above the hot spot has never been tested. The 1995 Rocketdyne Brandeis-Bardin report included criticism from the camps’s veteran environmental tester for not checking out the ravine leading down from Area IV above the gurgling goo. The report indicates that this area may have actually been a campsite at a later contamination testing site designated BB-03 at the bottom of the ravine below Rocketdyne.
“Regarding the Campsite Area I drainage, please acknowledge the limitations of that work,” radiation physicist Joel I. Cehn says in the report, critiquing its inadequacies. Cehn has been Brandeis-Bardin’s an environmental contractor for decades. “There is a 1,200 ft. gap between the lowest soil sample at the top of the hill (BB-17) and the highest soil sample at the bottom (BB-20). This area was not explored. Thus, we cannot confirm that only one ravine is involved, nor how far down the hill the contamination extends. Recall that both tritium and Cesium-137 were detected at the bottom of BB-17. Samples further down the hill could not be collected due to steep terrain, resulting in this 1,200 ft. gap.”
The 1995 report showed that tests at BB-03 in 1994 found both Cs-137 and Sr-90 that would be substantially over background values derived by the EPA in 2011 and published in 2012. A Cs-137 sample radiated 65.9 percent over its background. The tests provided to EnviroReporter.com a decade later showed it was still there lending credence to the likelihood that Cs-137 and Sr-90 may still plague the Campsite Area I site.