How it's done at Aerojet Chino Hills - DTSC inspects outbound trucks
How it's done at Aerojet Chino Hills - DTSC inspects outbound trucks
Today’s Ventura County Reporter opinion piece by editor Michael Sullivan decries a dirty deed done dirt cheap by the county’s board of supervisors on Tuesday. Excavation of highly contaminated soil from Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory, enough to fill over a hundred trucks, will now simply require an “over the counter permit” for excavation and transport even though the dirt is contaminated with dioxin, chromium, lead, mercury and other contaminants. There has been no word on where the hazardous goo will go, but it will have to be transported through LA County.

The supervisors, on a 3-2 vote, defeated a motion by Supervisor Linda Parks that would have made Boeing come up with a “an integrated, transparent process incorporating the public” when it comes to hauling off the first of what will be thousands of truckloads of toxic dirt off the huge lab in eastern Ventura County.

In Sullivan’s August 6 op-ed called “Handle with care: Santa Susana Field Lab,” she says a great deal more care needs to be taken hauling away what Supervisor Peter Foy said in the meeting is 2,700 cubic yards of toxic soil. The dirt is leaching pollution down two lab “outfalls” into the Los Angeles River and the Jewish university at Brandeis-Bardin in Simi Valley.

“When it comes to toxic waste sites, there is little debate on how important it is to clean up any particular location properly, thoroughly and with extreme caution on how such waste is transported and disposed of,” Sullivan writes. “The fact of the matter is that cleaning up the astronomically polluted Rocketdyne site needs extra care and special attention. And if need be, delaying this project for the safety of nearby residents, possible adjacent inhabitants and the environment should be justified and needs to remain the main priority.”

Supervisor Kathy Long disagrees. “I feel confident that there isn’t a public health and safety issue,” Long said. “There is another lead agency here, and we’re willing to work with them and the Boeing Company.”

That lead agency, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, was nowhere in sight at the meeting. Boeing, on the other hand, was well represented. The company maintained that forcing it to have to comply with an involved permitting process to remove the polluted earth would delay it and the rains would come before the work was done, washing pollutants downhill.

The goo had to go right now, Boeing officials told the board, goo that has cost the company plenty.

“$471,190 in fines has been paid by The Boeing Company in response to a complaint issued on behalf of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board,” read a September 11, 2007 water board press release. “The penalties were for 79 violations of Boeing’s permit, which occurred between October 2004 and January 2006 at Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Simi Valley. The violations consisted of wastewater and storm water run-off discharges with elevated levels of chromium, dioxin, lead, mercury and other pollutants that entered Bell Creek, which is a tributary to the Los Angeles River, and the Arroyo Simi.”

Last December, the water board ordered Boeing to start removing soil. “Commence activities necessary to undertake source removal of wastes that are causing or contributing to violations of limitations… at Outfalls 008 and 009, subject to the Regional Board approval of the plans.”

Those plans say what the company must accomplish, but not how exactly. The implications of this decision are enormous and disturbing to many of the Rocketdyne activists who spoke at the board meeting, though some contend that the goo must go and go soon, regardless of process, to protect public health. But unfortunately excavating the muck now requires no more than hiring a contractor to dig the stuff up, dump it into trucks, and off it goes to who knows where, at this point.

While there has been no public notification of when and where these trucks will haul their contaminated cargo, the only road usable out of the lab descends Woolsey Canyon into Chatsworth. There will be no regulations requiring prior testing the dirt, making sure it’s sealed securely for transport and no requirements that truck tires be cleaned before they leave the Boeing property, which is in the midst of a cleanup costing over a quarter billion.

There is an estimated one million cubic yards of contaminated soil on the site, which suffered the worst meltdown in American history in 1959. Over 74,000 truckloads of toxic cargo could rumble through the San Fernando Valley over the lifetime of the cleanup, scheduled for completion in 2017.

No officials from the city or county of Los Angeles were at the Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting when this decision was made.

There was also no discussion of how the workers will be protected during this huge excavation nor any indication that they will even be wearing dust masks or told of the hazardous material they will be dealing with.

The permit Boeing got, the kind you get for digging a swimming pool says Parks, also means that there are no provisions for insuring that contaminated dust doesn’t blow downwind, which is generally is in the direction of the west San Fernando Valley.

“This is the beginning of a long nightmare for Los Angeles,” says the Reverend John Southwick, a Simi Valley resident and member of the Radiation Rangers citizens group aiming to stop unsafe building in lab-adjacent Runkle Canyon. “We have been fighting KB Home since 2006, in part, because of the 112 tons of radioactive dust construction in Runkle Canyon might make airborne.”

Southwick noted our LA Weekly/ investigation of Aerojet Chino Hills, begun in 2000, as an example of how major excavations should be handled. Indeed, the $46 million additional cleanup at that polluted 800-acre site, involved careful and comprehensive procedures to make sure that the toxic soil was hauled off properly by professionals experienced with toxics removal. (See our photo gallery “Aerojet Chino Hills – 2001 Clean up”)

“To let Boeing simply start digging up the stuff with no rules or safeguards defies common sense,” Southwick continues. “Los Angeles will soon find itself on the receiving end of thousands of trucks passing through loaded with the worst soil in Southern California, courtesy of Boeing and the county of Ventura, and I bet nobody over there has a clue. Unbelievable.”

25 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting


  1. I am also yearning for a geology class now after all I’ve learned and have yet to learn!

    Let’s keep talking, that’s the whole point! Thanks Marge,

  2. How nice it is to have two web sites where issues can be discussed as they arise……RIS and EnviroReporter. Thank you Michael for detailing the issues up front, and we can count on you for accurate information at all times. Thank you Christina for your comments that always shed extra light on the subject at hand.

    My own tendency is to always want to comment on the overall situation….the “big picture”. I am always afraid that we will get lost and immobilized in all of the technical details….but then, admittedly, I often seem to lack either the ability or enthusiasm to master those. However, I certainly do recognize that those smaller technical details are very important and need to be discussed carefully.

    I am sorry to say that I have never taken a Geology class, and that this whole thing is just so not my field. For this reason, I am especially happy for web sites like this that are a great help in catching up with the devil that is surely in those details.

    I thank you most gratefully.

  3. This Cleanup and Abatement Order was specifically for outfalls 8 and 9 which are not the watersheds from the SRE, and that is because that is where the 79 violations that resulted in the $471k fine and subsequent CDO that evolved into the ENTS. The ENTS didn’t work very well because it proposed putting pond treatment train systems atop known contaminated areas, and specifically with regard to NASA, they refused to allow these systems to be built on their property. So the response, was to do a removal action, since NASA was willing to do the ISRA. In addition, the outfall 9 removal is specially the pond sediment of a “burn-runoff pond” the came from the ELV operations in Area 1. This area should come out because of the high concentrations and is a very specific area that is this pond, and the overflow drainage area from it. The ENTS proposal was to put a treatment system on top of this contaminated area, so in a way, it makes sense that NASA might prefer to just take it out, rather than deal with maintenance of equipment that would eventually have to be removed in order to do the SB990 clean-up of that same area. This drainage area leads to a road, and should have BMPs on it throughout the removal of the area above. In Outfall 8, which is “Happy Valley” in Area 1 which drains to Dayton Canyon/West Hills/Chatsworth direction, and is a very steep area. This particular area had an interim measure done several years ago where they removed soil to bedrock. In looking at the area removed before, it missed several significant storage/operational areas (but small areas) and those areas are what is being proposed for removal now. Based on the surprises in the past, and the fact that this area was missed, I think that any areas here that show mounding, or disturbance, and proper screening of all material is paramount.

    The estimates for the entire site range from 400,000 cubic yards up to 1 million cubic yards, but all these numbers thrown around seem premature since the RCRA reports (9 of 11 are out) still need SB990 background data to determine clean-up levels and that will drive help us know more about how much soil we are talking about. In addition, the feasibility study is just beginning (for corrective measures and require the completion of the characterization and the RAD survey to really have any teeth.

    For perspective for those who have been watching the progress, the Northern Drainage cleanup that has been going on for almost 2 years is about 11,000 cubic yards to date, and this clean-up that is being proposed in the ISRA is something like 7500 yards. so these truly are interim high concentration areas that are being proposed for removal.

  4. You are absolutely right! Where is HazMat?
    They don’t want to delay it because they want the
    contaminated soil out of there before the rainy season
    begins, makes sense.
    Yet this contamination has been undisturbed since the 1959
    SRE meltdown to present time. The exception would be
    the outfalls and runoffs.
    The urgency of LARWQCB ordering Boeing to get it done
    now, is significant, and understandable considering
    the responsibility they have in providing safe clean water
    to the public. On the other hand,
    I can’t imagine how much dust will become airborne
    upon removal of 100 million cubic yards of contaminated
    At least there will be job openings for Water Truck
    Heh I know, you can always check to see if there
    are any fairy shrimp in the area! I’d like to
    see how easy it would be get this permit then.
    But then again, all of the fairy shrimp are probably
    dead! Like my Family!
    I was just told a Semi Truck holds 20 yards.
    This would be a billion truck loads!
    That’s a lot of DUST!

  5. Michael Sullivan

    Good stuff! Always on top of it, Radiation Ranger!

    Keep in touch!

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