Deadly Rocketdyne vapor threatens Ventura and Los Angeles Counties
By Michael Collins
When the poisonous rocket fuel oxidizer perchlorate was recently discovered in a Well #1 adjacent to Ahmanson Ranch intended for use in irrigating the proposed massive project, the news made national headlines and a cover story in the Reporter. Perchlorate tested positive at a level of 28 parts per billion (ppb), 14 times over what California currently considers safe for drinking water. Perchlorate disrupts the thyroid function and may impact the fetus and newborn causing changes in behavior, delayed development and diminished learning capability.
The Ahmanson Ranch development — 3,050 luxury homes, two golf courses and 400,000 square feet of commercial space on 2,783 acres of now virgin wilderness — planned to use 660,000 of Well #1’s water for irrigation. That scheme was nixed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors December 19th when they voted 4-1 in favor of the environmental impact report for the project with the proviso that Well #1 be destroyed and no groundwater be used for irrigation unless it was cleaned of the perchlorate.
Critics of Washington Mutual-owned development have maintained that the perchlorate is emanating from the adjacent Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL). That 2,668-acre complex, site of rocket test stands, concrete bunkers and experimental nuclear reactors had its share of radioactive and chemical mishaps and spills since it opened in the late 1940s. In 1959, one reactor had a partial meltdown with one third of the core melting and released into the environment from the unconfined building. Another reactor melted in 1964 with 80% of the core fusing.
But what really concerns environmentalists of late are new revelations concerning the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), “a nonflammable, colorless liquid with a somewhat sweet odor and a sweet, burning taste,” according to a document supplied to the Reporter by the public health association Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). Shockingly, in December the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that the agency now believes that “TCE is 5 to 65 times more toxic than previously thought when inhaled,” according to the PSR document. And according to information provided to the Reporter by a California-EPA Department of Toxic Substances Control environmental geoscientist, who requested anonymity for this article, that could spell very bad news for Rocketdyne, the field lab’s adjacent neighbors and the proposed Ahmanson Ranch housing development.
Rocketdyne performed 21,509 rocket engine tests from 1954 to 1983. 77% of those firings were for the Department of Defense to test engines for such nuke-tipped rockets as the Navajo, Atlas and Jupiter missiles. In the process, during the `50s and `60s, the company slopped 1.73 million gallons of the solvent onto the ground which was then sluiced into open-air ponds. Approximately 500,000 gallons of the goo has sunk into the substrata and groundwater underneath the facility and has begun migrate off from under the SSFL site. One plume is moving towards Canoga Park in Los Angeles County. In 1997, Rocketdyne settled out of court with the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, in eastern Simi Valley, over charges the company had polluted the institute’s groundwater and devalued its property. “Rocketdyne data reveals that its closest extraction well to the (Ahmanson Ranch) development is over 480 times the toxic level of the government’s standard for trichloroethylene,” Mary Wiesbrock of the environmental group Save Open Spaces told the Reporter.