By Michael Collins
Accused industrial polluter Rocketdyne has ducked several legal bullets, but its problems aren’t over yet.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last month green-lighted a federal class-action lawsuit against the corporation’s parent company, Boeing.
The suit charges Rocketdyne with leaks and releases of radioactive and carcinogenic chemicals from its missile-testing site in the mountains between the San Fernando and Simi valleys from 1949 to the present.
Absent a U.S. Supreme Court reversal, 150 plaintiffs will have a chance to prove that they and other residents were poisoned by muck seeping into their air and water.
The appeals-court decision contrasts with Superior Court Judge Valerie Baker’s gutting of two separate state lawsuits over Rocketdyne pollution. Weighing a stack of old newspaper articles, Baker held that residents had been on notice about runoff from Rocketdyne’s 2,668-acre site and should have filed suit earlier.
Edward Masry, plaintiffs’ lawyer in the state lawsuits, predicted that Baker’s decision will be reversed. “Rocketdyne has repeatedly denied any contamination was oozing off-site, so how would the claimants know that unless someone would, for once, be truthful about the goo contaminating the community?” says Masry.
“You would think with all these lawsuits, the company would stop dragging its feet with regard to cleaning up the site properly,” says Joe Lyou of Bridge the Gap, an environmental-watchdog group overseeing the Rocketdyne cleanup. “If anything, Rocketdyne has become less cooperative now that it is facing these court battles.”