As EnviroReporter.com began investigating the biomedical nuclear dump on Veterans Administration property in the west Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood in 2001, the history of the site was passing into urban legend. Dan Hirsch, president of the nuclear watchdog group Committee to Bridge the Gap, had given up on investigating the place, gave his photographs to us and shared copies of documents and copies of maps drawn from workers’ recollections. That ended Hirsch’s involvement in the issue.
Hirsch did, however, keep talking about it. The 2002 book L.A. Exposed — Strange Myths and Curious Legends in the City of Angels (Thomas Dunne Books), relegated the place to a mere curiosity with Hirsch claiming he wasn’t sure if it was a hazard. “I don’t know,” Hirsch said to author Paul Young. “And I’m not alleging that it is. We were never allowed to do the proper testing to determine that. What we do know is this: that radioactive material was buried there, the VA failed to let people know about it, and the park was built without any adequate testing. That’s all.”
Former Los Angeles Councilman for the area, Marvin Braude, saw things differently. Though he arranged to have a helicopter ferry Hirsch over the site, in retrospect he thought the issue overblown. “My understanding was that there may have been some contaminated items buried there, syringes, whatever,” he told Young. “But the contamination was very, very minor. The VA was very conscientious in its investigation in the matter and the results were negligible. These people that were making the claims were very inexperienced [in these matters], and were doing it just to make some big announcement of some kind. But no one took it very seriously.”
That isn’t the case today. The VA’s ineffective and controversial December 2006 Phase I retesting of the dump, prompted by our investigation and revelations, reportedly cost $78,500 yet City Hall sources told us that the amount was closer to $200,000. That testing was followed by sampling and lab analysis by Brentwood School, which rents VA land impacted by the dumping, which cost around $200,000 according to sources close to the school. Then in September 2007, the VA committed Real Hot Property,” that was published May 18, 2006:
CBG’s Hirsch was at his wit’s end. “It’s not like you can go anywhere on the field to find contamination,” Hirsch said. “So a geologist told us that what needed to be done was to fly over this property and to take infrared photographs because vegetation will show up as red. If there were radioactive or chemical wastes buried beneath the surface, they would likely migrate upward and kill off the vegetation. So if we could plot where vegetation wasn’t growing, we would know where we could dig it and take a soil sample or do more detailed Geiger counter work.”
(Click thumbnail to view entire photograph)