The Workgroup meeting is held quarterly at the Simi Valley Cultural Center. The discussion topics were the status of State Senate Bill 990 sponsored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) and signed into law by Governor Schwarzenneger October 12. “Pay Dirt” explored this issue.
This meeting, partially covered in “Dirty Business,” was notable for the exchanges between Norm Riley of the California EPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, which will oversee the cleanup of Rocketdyne, and Dan Hirsch who is the president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nuclear watchdog group. HIrsch first brought to light pollutions related to laboratory in 1979 and has been active in the issue since.
The following are selected excerpts from the meeting:
“Boeing, nonetheless, commits to clean it up to EPA standards under the direction of the State. That strikes me as a pretty good compromise especially when you consider the alternatives. The bill could have been vetoed. It was not clear, as hard as you fought, it was not clear that the bill would not be vetoed. On the contrary, from certain perspectives, it looked like there was a good chance that it would be vetoed. And I would put it to you that this negotiation that occurred would not have been necessary had it been certain that the bill was going to pass. So that’s one thing to consider. Boeing could have decided, ‘Okay, we’re not going to transfer the property; we’ll put back into commercial or industrial activity. That could have happened too. And there are other things, scenarios that could have played out.
“What played out here is that Boeing saw the writing on the wall. It realized that the game was up and it said ‘Okay, what’s the best that we could do?’ And this is the compromise that was reached – open space, cleaned to a residential standard under the direction of the State according standards prescribed by the State. So I do think it is important to make sure that the agreement does all the things that it needs to do. You’ve read some thing about public participation and I think that the public should be involved.
“I think that Senator Kuehl and Assemblymember Brownley and other members of the legislature have a very keen interest in this and will be briefed on a regular basis about these developments, about the agreement as it forms up and I would expect through that Dan and others will have an opportunity to see what is going on – I certainly hope so. But, of course, I don’t speak for the Governor; I speak for DTSC. The best I can do for you is recommend that we take every opportunity to assure, as Dan says, that the public is not frozen out.
“I really do believe that this is a good compromise because open space – and it will be cleaned up to a standard that will be protective of not only for people living on it, but we will insist as long as we are superintending the work, that it will be protective of people living on the slopes of the mountain and people living on the base of the mountain, essentially protective of everyone living just outside the boundary of the facility. And if it is safe enough for them, then it will be safe enough for people living at greater distances, we believe.”
“I want you to have listened very carefully to what Norm said. He’s a loyal soldier; he has defended what his department and governor has done with eloquence. However, remember the very first document I showed you. Boeing and DOE already claim to have cleaned the site up to residential standards. I’ll read their claim: ‘The deal that was struck does not specify what those numbers will be like just that it will be residential standards.’ Boeing says ‘we’ve already done that.’ In their perspective they don’t have to remove an ounce more of dirt and there is nothing in this agreement that gives us any assurance that the next private deal between the administration and Boeing will, in fact, provide any standards any different.
“Secondly, you notice that Norm said that the members of the legislature will be briefed on what the administration and Boeing are agreeing to and that probably I will learn what is being done. That’s the same as being frozen out. We are still not – you are still not in those negotiations. The negotiations are purely between the polluter and the administration, the same two entities that issued that misleading press release making you think that these new standards are being adopted. We are being told to trust them, that something better than what we got today will come out of it. There is absolutely no reason to believe that is the case.
“The agreement, the letter of intent has a paragraph that says that it will be cleaned up to clean up standards specified in the following paragraph. The following paragraph has no specificity to it at all, simply that there will be some form of residential standard which Boeing says they have already done. So, look, Norm’s argument that ‘hey, you are better off that the Governor didn’t veto it; that’s a calculation. Senator Kuehl clearly made it; you all can make it. In some sense, it’s right because it gives you the opportunity to fight what the administration and Boeing are trying to do behind closed doors to try to preserve that bill. But please understand, there is no compromise. There is no agreement between Boeing which is get this current standard struck from state law and we will improve our clean up by a factor of ten, by a factor of five, by a factor of fifteen. There is no agreement whatsoever that the current standards I showed you, the 9.2 picocuries per gram of cesium-137, is going to get any better. The law now requires it to get much better. If they succeed in overriding the law, and to do so before there is any agreement as to what the standards will be, you will just have been played for suckers. And that, I guess, is what got me so angry. If they had told the truth; if the press release had said ‘Well, we’re signing it, but we’re really voiding it,’ then you wouldn’t have got your hopes up.”
“I have tried for 28 years to protect you and I have to tell you that I’ve failed. We have a law now, that if we preserve it, is a great victory. But if the secret deal, the side deal, prevails, you will lose concrete standards that would have protected you in exchange for no specific new standard whatsoever. I have to say, and I think most of you who have been through this for a few years would say the same, if the pattern holds, you will end up in the same situation that you are in now before the bill passed – standards that don’t protect you, standards almost identical to what Boeing has already done. they tried to cut a deal.
“The Governor didn’t want to veto it publicly because it would be bad PR so he pretended to sign it and at the same time he tried to kill it. So, yes, there is still a negotiation that will still go on between the State and Boeing – you should be in them. They should not move the legislation until you have agreed that the compromise is a good one; the compromise over how many cancers are in your community, how many of your neighbors are hurt. You are the victims. Why should you be out, frozen out of the negotiations over what that compromise is? If it is a good compromise, you should be able to sign off. The only reason you are being frozen out is because it is a lousy compromise, a lousy one. All you’ve gotten today is that if the bill passes, the victory you got on Friday is overturned in exchange for no specific improvement whatsoever on the cleanup and that’s a lousy deal, a lousy lousy lousy deal. Fight to preserve the victory you had.”
“It’s hard to imagine that we will have an agreement that seriously undermines what is now, or what will be January 1, enacted into law. I don’t believe that the agreement being developed here will betray the community and finally I can assure you that Boeing will be removing many teaspoons of dirt from that site if only to remove sources that continue to impact groundwater. We were discussing it this evening a little bit over dinner. It’s almost impossible to estimate what the final volume will be but it will be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of yards of soil that has to be removed off that hillside in order to achieve cleanup standards that we think is necessary to protect the public health and environment.”
“The property does not transfer until it’s been cleaned to the standards specified by the State. We are not going to take possession of contaminated property. We are not going to take possession of a property that emanates – releases – down the hillsides and onto the heads of the community members below. That’s a condition and if there’s no agreement, then there is no transfer and provisions of SB-990 that were signed into law on Friday will not be modified. There are several things that have to be in place for the transfer to occur – it’s got to be cleaned to the standards we specify and there has got to be an agreement that spells all of that out. One presumes that if there is no satisfactory agreement then it doesn’t make any difference as far as SB-990 is concerned because those provisions that would be set aside with an agreement won’t be set aside because there won’t be an agreement.”
“DTSC has never said that Runkle Canyon is safe or unsafe. We are aware that the Radiation Rangers have done some work out there and believe that there is a problem. We are aware that the City of Simi Valley has done some work out there and its work calls into question the work that was done by the Radiation Rangers. We have heard from Rob Greger this evening that some additional sampling was done out there about two weeks ago and the results of that work are forthcoming. For our part, we have issued an order to Boeing, NASA and DOE on August the 16th that requires them to do many many different things according to the schedule set out in the order.
“One of the things that they are required to do is to provide to us, within 120 days, a report that discusses and presents and discusses all of the offsite work that they have done, all the investigative work they have done outside the boundaries of the facility. They claim they have done a substantial amount of work outside of the SSFL. They have 120 amount of days outside of August 16th which is sometime in December. We are looking forward with great anticipation to that report. When we see that report, we will look at work, if any, they have done in the direction of Runkle Canyon. And based on what we see there, we may order Boeing or NASA or DOE or all three of them to develop work plans to conduct additional investigative work in that area.
“So we reserve, for the moment, judgment about the situation out there. KB Homes has not come to DTSC to ask us to superintend their work. Centex, on the other hand, has done exactly that. They have come to us for a great deal of work under our supervision. KB Homes has not. So we are aware of the concerns in Runkle Canyon and we anticipate getting some more information and once we see that and evaluate it, we’ll make some preliminary determination about where we are. But, be clear about it – DTSC is not out there encouraging KB Homes; KB Homes has not come to us and we have not gone to them. The EIR that the gentleman was talking about is a matter between KB Homes and the City of Simi Valley.”
“Strontium-90 is a radioactive material you get from a nuclear reactor and a nuclear bomb. It has a 30-year half life which means it’s dangerous for about 600 years. It’s in the same position in the periodic chart as calcium, so it mimics calcium meaning it concentrates in bone, can radiate in bone causing bone cancer and leukemia. What’s weird with the history of all this is that the developer went out and took a bunch of measurements of strontium-90 and [the results] were not provided to the city when the city gave its Environmental Impact Report. The developer told the city that all the results came back at background and below any health goals and so the city simply included that sentence in their final Impact Report. [Ventura County] Supervisor [Linda] Parks eventually asked the developer for the actual data which the city has not seen and provide them to me and I’ve just graphed them here.
“They took about 60 samples and, essentially, all of them were above background and in some cases very very much above background. The background is 0.052 pico curies per gram – this sample, for example, is well over 12. And here’s a chart comparing them to the EPA’s Preliminary Remediation Goal, for suburban residential, by the way. And again they said no health goals were exceeded at all but virtually all of them are above the PRG. Now the PRG is the starting point and how you end up is a regulatory judgement.
“The statements made by the developer to the city were false so the city, what it put into its EIR was false and that’s why you need a huge amount of credibility now for any additional sampling. And why I’m troubled that the Runkle situation and the Dayton [development in Chatsworth] situation have the developer doing the sampling. The developer has a self interest. The developer hadn’t disclosed this in the first place. And I don’t know what the truth is in the matter of Runkle or Dayton but I just don’t think we can trust the developer the way [the testing] is currently being done.”