Brentwood nuke dump controversy mushrooms

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With the release of Millennium’s Phase One report imminent, with no abnormally high radiation to be reported according to Noel, what will the results reveal? The ”walk-over” examination of the areas Millennium actually did test, while useful for detecting gamma radiation which travels great distances, wouldn’t have detected buried tritium or carbon-14. These low-energy beta radiation emitters can’t be readily detected with a surficial sweep because of the inch or less they radiate.

This was a problem when the dump was initially signed off on as safe, as we reported in our initial expose:

On May 7, 1981, five NRC inspectors went to the Brentwood dump site and did a 45-minute walking inspection with two gamma detectors and picked up nothing but background measurements. They noted that 20 – 30 feet of “fill material and dirt” had been added to the burial sites and “there were no radioactive materials detected.”

“That’s not going to tell you anything,” Joseph Karbus, head of the Radiological Health Unit of the LA County Health Department, said at the time regarding Geiger Muller counter inspection of the dump. “You have to go down and take a core sample to find out anything.”

ENVIRON’s Whipple noted this ineffective survey as well. “I did read a report that the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] did their final site closure with a team of half a dozen people walking around the site doing a gamma scan. When I asked the NRC guy ‘why you would do a gamma scan where it was thought tritium and carbon-14 were disposed of?’, he said, ‘we wondered that too.’”

This is the same manner that Millennium swept the acres it did manage to cover in its $78,500 survey over several days in December 2006.

Whipple notes that while no students, faculty or employees may be being exposed to radiation at Brentwood School presently, if the waste were buried deep underground like the PricewaterhouseCoopers report says, that doesn’t mean they didn’t miss it in their $150,000 survey. “I can’t state positively that there is no radioactivity at the site.”

The ENVIRON chief noted that if there is radioactive material buried under Brentwood School fields, or in any unexcavated ash pits, and the land were to be further developed at sometime in the future, say for a high-rise building, there would be cause for concern. “It probably would be worthwhile to worry about exposures to the  workers while they’re digging it up. Exposures to residents living in the high-rise building? Probably not.”

This scenario encapsulates the Brentwood nuke dump conundrum: does the public accept leaving radioactive waste in place, or does the VA make sure to adequately characterize the entire site in Millennium’s Phase Two and take the appropriate measures to remove any radioactive waste?

Buildup to testing Bombshell — A mid-December 2006 perspective

As a direct result of EnviroReporter.com and Los Angeles CityBeat‘s “Real Hot Property” expose on the nuke dump on Veterans Administration property in Brentwood, followed by pressure from Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, the VA has hired Millennium Consulting Associates to begin testing 27 acres of land for nuclear and chemical soil and groundwater contamination. This historic initiative is outlined in the December 7 CityBeat article “Nuclear Reactions“.

Phase One of the testing concluded December 8, with a report due in late January 2007, and will cost $78,500 according to the VA. Phase Two will begin this spring and will bore up to 80 feet into the ground to search for radioactive waste, and will cost much more than the initial “walk-over” inspection and radiation measuring.

Cutting down much of the dump’s vegetation and weeds has revealed 18 mounds that register high in ambient radiation and match old maps of the biomedical disposal areas used by the VA and UCLA from 1952-1968.

EnviroReporter.com discovered more evidence of radioactive debris laying on the ground adjacent a burial mound associated with the construction of neighboring Brentwood School.

Photographs of the place past and present are in our nuke dump gallery.

EnviroReporter.com has also obtained aerial photographs taken between 1999 to 2003 that clearly show several dumping piles thought to contain radioactive biomedical waste.

Numerous television crews descended on Barrington Dog Park Nov. 30 when the Los Angeles Times published an article describing the testing. The Times article read:

The dumping was largely forgotten until earlier this year when reporter Michael Collins, writing for the alternative weekly Los Angeles City Beat and EnviroReporter.com, raised new concerns about the dump area. Collins said in the story that he used a nuclear radiation monitor and found “shards of radioactive glass that registered over four times normal.”

The VA introduced an environmental firm to about two dozen residents, government officials, and dog park people, at a Nov. 27 community meeting at the Barrington Park Recreation Center. The media presence included KNBC Channel 4′s Beverly White, EnviroReporter.com’s Denise Anne Duffield, and international nuclear expert and columnist, Dr. Bennett Ramberg, who has commented extensively on the Brentwood dump.

“We want to do good science,” said Millennium Consulting Associates’ president, Michael Noel, CIH. “We don’t want to be here in the future saying we didn’t do it right.”

The two-phased assessment of the soil and water of the dog park, adjacent arroyos, a swath of the VA’s golf course, and land at Brentwood School began Nov. 28. That’s when Noel’s team traveled to Westwood Park to take “control” samples for radiation reference readings.

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