Supervisors vote to require groundwater testing

By Michael Collins

Ventura County Reporter – August 5, 2004

Caution Radiation - VC Reporter cover

On August 3, Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks’ precedent setting initiative to require testing for pollutants near the heavily contaminated Rocketdyne facility in Simi Valley won approval from the county’s Board of Supervisors on a 3-2 vote. Cheers erupted from a crowd of over 50 people as the board passed the measure that requires developers of property with¬in a two mile radius of Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory to check for the toxic rocket fuel oxidizer perchlorate and the poisonous industrial solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE.

Perchlorate affects the thyroid and is especially dangerous for fetuses, babies and toddlers and can cause lowered IQ, mental retardation and diminution of motor skills. TCE causes liver, kidney and immune function damage and can volatilize in groundwater and soil, resulting in lethal gases collecting at dangerous levels in above-ground structures.

Parks had proposed the two mile radius-testing scheme May 4, when it was approved also on a 3-2 vote and sent to the county’s Resource Management Agency for a full fleshing out. When the matter came up for consensus before the board on July 27, Oxnard-based Supervisor John Flynn had reservations about the measure, saying he didn’t know enough about the issue, and the final vote was delayed until last Tuesday. Previously, Flynn had told the Reporter that he supported Parks’ program.

With his swing vote at stake, the meeting began with Simi Valley-based Super¬visor Judy Mikels attacking the plan as yet another salvo aimed at “good corporate citizen” Rocketdyne. The supervisor pointed out that if the regulations were really about health, they would apply to all new development around Rocketdyne, not just to major projects. “This is not about health or perchlorate; this is about Boeing/Rocketdyne and what bad actors they are,” Mikels said in Ventura-speak so odd, even for her, that she had reporters scratching their heads. “The field site is regulated to the nth degree,” she continued. “This is an exercise in harassment and dominance one more time.”

Fellow supervisor Kathy Long also opposed the proposal and stressed that the board already relied on the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board for groundwater pollution data, making the Parks initiative redundant. “My concern is local government stepping into that mandate,” she said. “It’s an issue of creating fear in the community.”

Parks then pointed out that the Regional Control Board had requested the county’s help in identifying potential places in Simi Valley that may need to be tested for groundwater pollution in a June 28 letter. She also straightened out the record by rioting that it was only because of citizen pressure that the water board tested a well on the Rocketdyne-adjacent Ahmanson Ranch property in 2002, which ended up reading positive for perchlorate. Parks noted that out of 337 sampling events for took issue with Mikels’ characterization of the issue. “It is a public health issue because if we don’t take this step, it could endanger public health,” Parks said. “It will be useful to give developers a clean bill of health.”

With board chair Steve Bennett in Parks’ camp, the decision came down to Flynn, who pointed out that a government report noted that there is a “high level of mistrust of the government” regarding the contentious Rocketdyne issue. But Flynn was troubled by the two mile radius and sought to have it pared down. He also wanted to make an exemption for the Brandeis-Bardin Jewish day camp that sits on Rocketdyne’s northern border. Parks quickly acceded to the compromise, but Bennett made clear that he’d withdraw his support for the proposal if it was modified without further study. In the confusion that followed, the original Parks proposal was finally adopted with Bennett and Flynn siding with Parks—but not before Mikels had one final comment about Simi Valley drinking water, of which 20 percent is blended groundwater. “You don’t want to drink the local water,” she said. “It sticks between your teeth.”

“This is a significant victory,” said Rocketdyne critic Dan Hirsch who, along with two Simi Valley residents, had met with Flynn on July 30. “For the first time major new developments close to this horribly contaminated site will need to undergo testing for pollution before children could end up living there and get¬ting exposed. It’s nice to win one.”

Reached for comment after the decision, Supervisor Flynn appeared confident that the right thing had indeed been done, saying, “I think the vote came out fine. I like it. I think it’s what we needed to do.”