REAL HOT PROPERTY
Nearly two months had passed before the VA finally received PwC’s written answers to questions about their draft report. But apparently there was something wrong with them. “I did a lousy job of explaining the concerns about the written responses,” Bruneau wrote January 11. “I should have said we learned that the technical nature of some of the subject matter made a written response less satisfactory and likely to raise more questions. It seemed the simplest and most efficient thing was for you to speak with Barbara (Fallen) so you could deal with things all at once.”
Long Beach-based Fallen, an Operations Officer who is the VA’s point person on the West LA VA CARES initiative, arranged for a face-to-face interview at the VA in late January. The meeting commenced with addressing questions about the radioactive waste under the Brentwood School athletic fields that, according to Fallen, began to be constructed in 1999. Team PwC had stated that in its report that construction of the facilities was from 1996 to 1999.
Actually, the building of these facilities started with grading of the land in June 2000 according to a February 2002 letter from the California Department Health Services to Ben K. Spivey, Chief, Occupational Safety and Health and Senior Industrial Hygienist for the West LA VA. Spivey accompanied Fallen in this conclave which also included VA Asset Management personnel Laurel Daniels and Katherine Steinberg Bluth.
What followed was a series of contradictions and prevarications that can only be described as baffling. Not only did the discussion include misinformation that even a novice in radiation science would catch, so did the written documentation copied for this reporter during the course of two hours of discussion.
“The EPA considers (the dump) a closed site,” said Spivey. “They have confirmed that it is not very radioactive. It is mostly tritium and carbon-14 which have very short half lives. There were about ten different isotopes put in there but these were the most common.”
To characterize these two radionuclides as short-lived, and therefore harmless, is grossly inaccurate. Tritium, with a half-life of 12.3 years, is considered “intermediate lived,” and carbon-14, with a half-life of 5,730 years is “longer-lived” according to numerous sources including the last comprehensive analysis of rad waste done in this state in 2000, “Management and Disposal of California’s Low-Level Radiation Waste: A Report to Governor Gray Davis.”
“It’s no longer radioactive and the half-lives are very short-lived; the carbon-14, phosphorus-32 and the tritium,” Spivey continued, now making the dump seem completely inert. He was at least correct in one aspect; the half-life of phosphorus-32 is a mere 14.29 days making it, indeed, short-lived. But Spivey’s repeated inaccurate assertions regarding tritium and carbon-14 betrayed either an ignorance or guile that perplexed this reporter though I’ll admit that I was taken by the utter aplomb with which these fallacies were imparted.
The group went on to emphasize that the area that they claim the dump is confined to the arroyo below the Barrington Dog Park and buried under 25 feet of debris and was found to be safe in a quarterly EPA inspection that was just completed two weeks prior to the meeting. “In addition to being fenced, there are no public activities in that area,” Fallen said.