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Runkle Canyon vernal pools

A large amount of environmental data has been generated by multiple developers about Runkle Canyon, a 1,595 acre canyon and rolling hills where a 461-home KB Home/Lennar neighborhood is planned. This includes KB Home’s 41 reports supplied to the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) as part of their Voluntary Cleanup Agreement, information from two 2007 tests by the Radiation Rangers and the city of Simi Valley, and offsite contamination data from Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL or Rocketdyne) investigation.

The “Railroading Runkle Canyon?” series has examined public and media comments on the draft Runkle Canyon Response Plan that DTSC will approve once it is finalized. The point of this series was to explore the myriad of pollution problems on and under the property; problems that the comments indicate are not adequately addressed in the Response Plan.

Now that that a new project manager has been brought in for both the Runkle Canyon and Rocketdyne cleanups, perhaps these comments will be given attention. Certainly, that’s the DTSC’s pledge as we noted in “Coup de Goo.”

The extensive analyses included in this series seem to show that pollution problems in Runkle Canyon, which is in an eleven-acre drainage downhill from the nuclear area of Rocketdyne, are far more serious than both the developer and DTSC’s former project manager, Norman E. Riley, took them. The new project manager, Rick Brausch, has an unprecedented opportunity to re-examine Runkle Canyon’s environmental issues, issues that have shown to be of great importance to the surrounding communities, especially Simi Valley.

But these reports do not tell the whole tale. This story began when we exposed that the project’s 2004 Environmental Impact Report discounted high strontium-90 in the canyon in a March 2005 Ventura County Reporter cover story called “Which Way the Wind Blows.”

The Runkle Canyon Response Plan comments also don’t address how the developer and state secretly retested the canyon in 2006, getting drastically lower strontium-90 results, as we wrote about in “Hot Property.”

Nor do they include information about why a citizens group formed in response to our reporting and called themselves the Radiation Rangers who ended up having to do their own testing for heavy metals in Runkle Canyon that the developer had not done. Or that Simi Valley subsequently went and did its own tests and the city’s results were worse though the mayor and city council tried to spin it more favorably to a pliant media and unsuspecting community.

These comments don’t reflect the optimism of the community and city when Norm Riley took charge in 2007 or the disappointment many ended up feeling with Riley, especially the Rangers, to whom Riley had once said “I’m on your side.”

This series was also not able to reflect the reaction people had to our “Not the Norm” post that looked at Riley’s interview with Joan Trossman Bien for an article we wrote together for Miller-McCune called “50 Years After America’s Worst Nuclear Meltdown.” In that interview, Riley called State Senate Bill 990 a “hindrance’ in cleaning up the lab as well as saying that Boeing would sue over the legislation in the not-too-distant future.

All of these events are crucial to understanding the toxics issues affecting Runkle Canyon. The comments contain an analysis of the law, complex consideration of the environmental data, common sense suggestions, and an awareness of how they all fit together based on a sound science approach.

EnviroReporter.com is under no illusion that DTSC and policy-makers will take these comments seriously, or even look at them for that matter. We broke this story, however, and it has continued to grow in importance the more we learn about it. Indeed, these comments are about an impending residential development hard on the border with an area so contaminated that it has cost a quarter of a billion dollars to remediate so far with no real end in site.

The Radiation Rangers say the lives of current and future residents are at stake. They want their voices heard. EnviroReporter.com wants to insure that what we have discovered through nearly five years of investigation isn’t simply ignored or dismissed for political and economic expediency or due to institutional ineptness. The value of this work should be invaluable to the department charged with making sure Runkle Canyon is truly assessed and cleaned up before any development of the land is allowed.

Runkle and the Rule of Law” began the series with a look at the California Health & Safety Code’s rules for public participation in formulating a cleanup plan for places like Runkle Canyon where the developer and state have signed a Voluntary Cleanup Agreement. The intent of the law is for a “full and robust participation of a community affected” yet the Radiation Rangers expressed dismay that their 58 pages of comments were being given short shrift. They hope that will change with Rick Brausch now in charge.

Radiation Rangers Runkle Canyon Comments” included criticisms of the lab KB Home has hired to do another radiological survey, Dade Moeller and Associates. The Rangers explained how barrels, once buried where they found the rocks high in chromium, could have gotten there. The group took “great exception” to intimations by Riley before the Simi Valley City Council that somehow the rocks given to the former Runkle Canyon project head were somehow tainted in the chain of custody. These are the rocks that tested extremely high in chromium where the results were actually missed by the department when they gave them to the Rangers and subsequently reported on in “White Blight.” The Rangers also pointed out to DTSC that KB Home plans to mass grade away two slag mountains full of a toxic tar called benzo(a)anthracene while the department seemed to perceive it as a relatively minor operation. The Rangers examined details and crunched numbers that the developer and department seem to have missed.

Cleanup Rocketdyne Runkle Canyon Comments” questioned Dade Moeller’s “omissions and unsupported conclusions, which make trusting the conclusions of these reports, impossible.” Inaccurate maps of the property not showing it bordering the former Rocketdyne lab are criticized as well as developer contractor Geocon Consultants, Inc. for dismissing the possibility that pollution in the canyon could have come from the neighboring lab.

“Runkle Canyon should be monitored for the foreseeable future due to the high levels of perchlorate previously found, and the verified presence of TCE, NDMA and other potential contaminants of concern,” read the comments. “We hereby request that continued monitoring be done to determine the impacts to the groundwater, until proper and complete characterization of the groundwater at the SSFL is completed.”

ACME Runkle Canyon Comments” focused on inaccurate mapping of the property as well. Boeing’s findings of the toxic rocket engine solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE, are noted, findings not included in any of the Runkle Canyon reports or noted by DTSC.

“This windmill is pumping every time the wind blows, sometimes non-stop, pulling in contaminated groundwater,” the comments said. “This windmill needs to be dismantled to allow the TCE concentrations to stay within the SSFL boundaries.”

The Aerospace Runkle Canyon Comments” continued an in-depth look at Dade Moeller questioning the firm’s credentials for the strontium-90 retesting of Runkle Canyon.

“We are chasing our tails, holding meetings over something that should be CLEARLY decided – that Dade-Moeller & Associates fall far short of objectivity,” read the comments. “The findings are more than suspect – they border on delusion – and it is very clear as to WHY. The fact that we’re even wasting time discussing this is astonishing to me.”

EnviroReporter.com Runkle Canyon Comments” consisted of our 28 pages of comments cover all the information missed by DTSC and the developer while creating the draft Runkle Canyon Response Plan.

We pointed out that the city of Simi Valley’s Tetra Tech report states that water running off the canyon is a drinking water source, something that DTSC’s Riley had repeatedly said it wasn’t.

The comments noted that KB Home’s consultant, Geocon Consultants, Inc., mischaracterizes the amount of heavy metals found in Runkle Canyon by using a set of standards not as protective of public health as the EPA’s “preliminary remediation goals” as well as incorrectly comparing background values from various reports instead of utilizing the benchmark Kearney report on California soils, which was partly written by DTSC itself.

Geocon’s misconstruing and discounting the findings of the heavy metal vanadium were analyzed. We noted that in one Geocon report that there is a notation under “Special Instructions/Comments” that says “LAB TO FILTER METALS SAMPLES” which is not explained.

EnviroReporter.com criticized the decision of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) to allow the developer to shut down a well that was found to contain n-nitrosodimethylamine (n-NDMA). This semi-volatile organic chemical is highly toxic, a suspected human carcinogen and almost impossible to remove from groundwater. It has been linked to rocket test sites like the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

We criticized LARWQCB’s statement that “No significant perchlorate has been detected in [Runkle Canyon] groundwater,” when the amount found was double what was discovered by this reporter in a report in adjacent Ahmanson Ranch groundwater in 2002. That discovery led to the unraveling of the proposed Washington Mutual development which was twice the size of the one proposed for Runkle Canyon. Subsequently, the regional water board was part of efforts to disprove the Ahmanson Ranch perchlorate finding, with little success.

We pointed out that amazingly, but certainly not surprisingly, a developer’s report that states “Geocon contacted the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) to inquire on the status of groundwater investigations being performed at Runkle Canyon. According to department staff, the RWQCB is not currently overseeing any programs at the Site. The RWQCB did request that Green Park sample and provide groundwater data; however, an order was never issued by the board.”

The LARWQCB has been remiss in its duties regarding Runkle Canyon which is a watershed protected by the Clean Water Act and is a source for drinking water in Simi Valley.

The developer found mercury above normal levels in Runkle Canyon soil, an issue not addressed in DTSC’s instructions to KB Home therefore ignored entirely in the draft cleanup Response Plan.

We discovered that in one report, as we noted, that “Dade Moeller underestimates the cancer risk that [the former California Department of Health Services] calculates by factors ranging from 50 to 16,129 times. EnviroReporter.com maintains that Dade Moeller’s estimations are highly inaccurate and should not be used to estimate cancer risks for residents, open space users or neighbors exposed to construction dust of Runkle Canyon’s proposed development.”

EnviroReporter.com found that the labs used by the developers repeatedly discounted positive hits for contaminants as laboratory error yet repeatedly made mistakes in their sampling and analysis, mistakes not mentioned in their reports.

We pointed out that one of the developer’s contractors, Miller Brooks, falsely claims that Runkle Canyon is separated from Rocketdyne by a ridge line when, in reality, the canyon sits in an eleven-acre drainage off of SSFL.

Miller Brooks also makes unsubstantiated conclusions based on mysterious math, and makes the false statement that “Environmental investigations conducted at neighboring properties showed that strontium-90 was present in soil at concentrations that were deemed to be either within background concentrations or at levels considered to pose no significant health risk” when the adjacent Brandeis-Bardin camp and university has shown significant strontium-90 detections.

EnviroReporter.com commented that Miller Brooks misstates what is considered “protective of human health,” not taking into account what the EPA’s concept and actual limits are in relation to Preliminary Remediation Goals. The company misstates what the background strontium-90 is for the area, making 333% higher therefore skewing readings of high radiation in relation to what is the actual background.

The environmental firm’s testing of surface water consisted solely of examining the leachate of asphaltic material found in the middle of Runkle Road. No analysis of the actual surface water in the intermittent stream or vernal pools occurred and yet the firm asserts falsely that the surface water has no heavy metal contamination. That contamination was later found by the Radiation Rangers and confirmed by the city of Simi Valley.

Another developer contractor, Harding, discounted high cesium-137 readings in Runkle Canyon as well as the elevated strontium-90 readings.

The Radiation Rangers contend that most all of the concerns expressed through the comments analyzed in this series were ignored, dismissed or underestimated by Norm Riley. Now that Riley has been relieved from both the Runkle Canyon and Rocketdyne cleanup projects, will anything change?

Will Rick Brausch look at these comments and the others we’ve posted and analyzed in this series? Will Brausch have competent team members ready and willing to tackle these data and incorporate them into the final cleanup plan?

There is an amazing amount of pertinent information in the comments we’ve explored in our “Railroading Runkle Canyon?” series. And it’s all free for the taking by DTSC. Ignored, however, the issues fleshed out in these comments may come back to haunt the department. That won’t benefit anyone except, perhaps, KB Home and the contractors it hired to gloss over pollution problems on its property, and the attorneys that will profit from the inevitable lawsuits.

The only certainty at this point is that EnviroReporter.com will wait for answers to its comments as we continue our intensive environmental reporting on Runkle Canyon and Rocketdyne on this website and for publications like LA Weekly, the Ventura County Reporter and Miller-McCune.

Complete “Railroading Runkle Canyon?” blog series:

Runkle and the Rule of Law
Radiation Rangers Runkle Canyon Comments
Cleanup Rocketdyne.org’s Runkle Canyon Comments
ACME’s Runkle Canyon Comments
The Aerospace.org’s Runkle Canyon Comments
EnviroReporter.com‘s Runkle Canyon Comments
EnviroReporter.com‘s Runkle Canyon Comments Analysis

24 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting
June 1998June 2022

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