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Coryell Southwick Matheney

The most notable aspect of the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s (DTSC) October 17, 2008 letter to KB Home wasn’t what was in the letter, but what wasn’t. While the memorandum directing the would-be developer of 461 homes in Runkle Canyon covers the possibility of additional radiation sampling for strontium-90, it doesn’t go much further other than than requiring the developer to remove seeps of the toxic and tar-like benzo(a)anthracene from two giant slag heaps in the canyon.

The letter addresses the chromium found in Runkle Canyon in rocks delivered to DTSC by the Radiation Rangers, rocks that the department didn’t realize were high in chromium until we wrote “White Blight – Runkle Canyon’s Chromium Conundrum” which was also a Ventura County Reporter cover story.

DTSC directs KB Home to come up with a way to clean up the benzo(a)anthracene tar-like substance that was found in several areas in two huge slag piles. The developer’s proposed 37-page Response Plan came back with a plan that is stunning in scope:

“Other areas of the channel walls within the vicinity of the seeps have been reported to contain similar material,” but assures that “Development plans for the Site include the mass grading and removal of the aggregate piles in the ‘Fish Tail’ area. If additional tar material is discovered during future grading activities it will be managed appropriately.”

We reported on this amazing plan, that seems in direct odds with DTSC’s presumption that removing the benzo(a)anthracene this will take little work to remove, in “Mountains of Goo – KB Home promises mass grading of Runkle Canyon” and also in the Ventura County Reporter.

But other than that, DTSC says it has looked at all the available reports on Runkle Canyon and that its direction to KB Home to clean up the place is adequate.

The Radiation Rangers heartily disagree.

“I sometimes wonder if were talking about the same place,” says the Reverend John Southwick of the Radiation Rangers. “Not only are DTSC’s orders to KB Home inadequate, unless the instructions for more radiation testing are significant; the department missed the most important stuff.”

EnviroReporter.com supplied the department an extensive Runkle Canyon contamination analysis of the 41 KB Home-supplied reports in July 2008, months before it came up with its own take on the canyon. This despite assurances inserted into the DTSC-KB Home cleanup agreement that the department would look at all information available.

Ignoring the vast majority of this analysis has the Rangers and other residents wary of DTSC’s impending Response Plan decision. They have told EnviroReporter.com that they doubt the department will even look at their comments, let alone respond to them.

“They try to talk a good game but it’s pretty clear they don’t take our input seriously,” says “Toxic Terry” Matheney of the Rangers. “But our comments are sound and have one objective – making sure that Runkle Canyon is safe for any people that may use the place whether they live there or not.”

EnviroReporter.com has selected some of the most salient points from the Radiation Rangers Runkle Canyon Response Plan comments to highlight while the final decisions are being made about this property we first wrote about over four years ago. They may not be considered by DTSC, as Southwick and Matheney say, but they are a comprehensive look at the contamination issues in the canyon:

1. Radiological Health Risk Assessment:

The Response Plan, prepared by KB Home’s Dade Moeller & Associates is inadequate in several areas including using the wrong radiation standards, faulty radiation analysis that includes blame on earlier developer labs for previous high strontium-90 soil readings, and a sampling plan that would only test one sample per 19 acres.


1A. Dade Moeller’s “Radiological Health Risk Assessment,” on page 10 of the Response Plan, states, “The parameter values and approaches of this assessment were generally consistent with those the National Committee on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) used to derive suburban and no food suburban (no home-grown vegetables soil screening limits in Report 120 (NCRP 1999).”

The methodology used by Dade Moeller is faulty as the NCRP relies on “dose-based” radiation limits versus the system of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Preliminary Remediation Goals (PRGs) for radionuclides that DTSC uses for this development site. This misapplication of dose-based limits is unacceptable and must be corrected.

In the very next sentence, on page 10 of the Response Plan, Dade Moeller states, “The EPA Preliminary Remediation Goal (PRG) default scenario (EPA 2004) does not apply to Runkle Canyon because the proposed land use is well known and does not fit the default scenario.”

This is false – PRGs are absolutely the proper form of measurement used at Runkle Canyon and at a property like this. Furthermore, this is codified by DTSC in its Notice of Exemption for Runkle Canyon, at
, where it states in part, “[C]oncentrations in soil do not exceed the United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Preliminary Remediation Goal (PRG) which has been confirmed as a site specific cleanup level for this location.”

What is puzzling about the preceding is that Dade Moeller must certainly be aware of that PRGs are the “site specific cleanup level for this location.” To base their analysis of strontium-90 levels in Runkle Canyon on dose-based levels either suggests a failure to understand this concept adequately or something worse. This isn’t acceptable.


1D. Dade Moeller has falsely determined that, according to Multi-Agency Radiation Survey and Site Investigation Manual (MARSSIM), available at http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/marssim/, that Runkle Canyon ranks a “Class III” designation. These designations help determine the number of samples to be tested for radionuclides.

Judging from the comments DTSC heard at the January 28, 2009 meeting, this is especially worrisome to the Radiation Rangers and the residents of Simi Valley and we want this issue addressed. Dan Hirsch, again, addressed this issue and how it pertains to Runkle Canyon:

“MARSSIM says that there are three categories of land,” Hirsch said. “Class I is where you have reason to believe you have contamination, then you take a lot more samples. Class II you think there isn’t contamination but there might be so you take a good number of samples. Class III is where there really shouldn’t be and can’t be any contamination. There is no reason whatsoever for there to be any reason for contamination.

“Well the developer, the contractor has declared this area to be Class III. It abuts a nuclear reactor test facility where they had four reactor accidents including a meltdown – that alone should make it Class I. It’s right below the Sodium Burn Pit where for decades they burned radioactive materials – that should immediately make it a Class I.

“We just discovered that the Santa Susana Field Lab illegally buried hazardous materials off their property at Sage Ranch… having buried stuff close to their boundary should make it a Class I.

“But clearly what should make it a Class I is they already have 58 measurements already of elevated strontium 90. They’ve already found stuff there but they declared it to be Class III and by doing that, and by elevating the DGCL they use for their calculations, to be 70 times the EPA’s PRG,… (and assuming no vegetable garden but having a cement slab) so they will get a tiny bit of dirt per 19 acres of land. They’re going to take 14 samples for a large piece of land that has wasted the time of the department half a year to a year. And 14 samples can’t do it and they know it. They’re hoping that the sample number is low enough that if they accidentally, just by picking the best locations they can, find one or two and then call them ‘outliers.’

“So, what do will we do? The response plan is essentially a brief by an advocate for a project that has a lot of money tied up in it and if there is contamination found, could lose money. It is not a neutral, independent scientific proposal. How to resolve the issue of 58 high samples with 5 lower ones or why we found elevated strontium on the property in the first place.”

The Rangers went on to discuss the “white crystalline material” which they have been repeatedly doubted about it. DTSC itself, however, that found the high chromium in the rocks the Reverend Southwick and Frank Serafine gave Norm Riley last year:

2B. Part of this CLRRA process has involved questioning the science and integrity of Dade Moeller. Discussions involving the White Crystalline Material found by the Rangers, and the lack of a chain of custody, have been the subject of public discussion. We find that this public discussion has either deliberately or inadvertently impugned the reputation of the Rangers.

In the November 17, 2008 DTSC Runkle Canyon presentation at Simi Valley City Hall, a discussion took place after Mr. Riley’s presentation. Part of it included a question and by Simi Valley City Council Member Steve Sojka about the chain of possession:

“The results of metal testing, with the exception of one outlier where the chain of custody was not maintained, have been very low,” Mr. Riley said. “No perchlorate has been detected in this material.”

“Can I just ask you, when I read in the report ‘no chain of custody was maintained,’ can you give an explanation?” Council Member Sojka asked.

“Sure,” Mr. Riley responded. “A chain of custody is essentially a record that tracks the whereabouts of where a sample from point of collection through transportation to a laboratory and of ultimately where testing in the laboratory. We worry considerably about the integrity of tests results where there is no chain of custody that is maintained. One cannot be 100% sure that the results of that sample are representative. Who knows what could have happened to it? Something in the conditions of storage might alter the results. So maintaining the chain of custody for any sample particularly when it’s going to be used as evidence in making critical decisions is very important. The final test results on this material, which I received just this morning, again support the conclusion that this white material is a naturally-occurring evaporate salt that is not a contaminant from the Santa Susana Field Lab.”

The Radiation Rangers take great exception to this characterization. Mr. Riley knows that Serafine and Southwick had found the material in Runkle Canyon the very day they gave it to him as shown in photographs available at [https://www.enviroreporter.com/gallery/runkle-canyon-gallery/white-blight-chromium-march-26-and-june-10-2008/] Mr. Riley did not question the chain of possession the day he received the material from Serafine and Southwick and he surely knew that the men had not stored the material long enough for anything to happen to it.

This DTSC explanation was only produced after DTSC tested the white material on the rocks high in chromium, high chromium results it did not even realize it had until an article about it was published called “White Blight” available at http://enviroreporter.com/whiteblight.html which was accompanied by a chromium analysis of the material available at [https://www.enviroreporter.com/investigations/runkle-canyon-investigation/runkle-canyon-chromium/]

This suggestion that somehow the Rangers impugned the integrity of the sample is specious. But far more serious that attempting to create suspicions about our handling of the material, it serves to obscure what the reason was for the chromium to be found in a sample of the White Crystalline Material in the first place.

The Rangers go on to note that where they found the rocks high in chromium, there were barrels surrounded by contaminated soil:

2C. We are concerned that the actual White Crystalline Material had one high detection of arsenic and one high sample with chromium but note that this issue seems to be mute now as the evaporate has already dissipated due to rains, either flowing downhill towards the Arroyo Simi or sinking into the ground.

However, we have information that DTSC should be aware that could explain why, in particular, that Radiation Rangers Frank Serafine and Rev. John Southwick’s sample turned in to DTSC that could explain why there was one high reading of total chromium.

The answer lies in one of the 41 reports that KB Home that delivered to DTSC from May 8, 2003 that shows that barrels dumped in Runkle Canyon, barrels that the developer did not test for contaminants but found contaminants in the soil surrounding them, and were found in the exact place as the Rangers found the rocks covered with chromium-impacted White Crystalline Material.

And while all that material has washed away in subsequent rains, presumably down into the Arroyo Simi and its aquifer which is used for drinking water purposes, there is a lesson in analyzing where those chromium rocks were found.

It is also educative about the ongoing deceptive manner that the environmental reports on Runkle Property have been created throughout the years and, yet, still manage to impart very important information that we want to make sure DTSC does not miss.

The Rangers go on to note that Runkle Canyon was annexed by the city of Simi Valley in 2006 and that all municipal laws apply to the property. They also object to the process described to remove the tar:

KB Home’s contractor GeoCon Inland Empire, Inc. (GeoCon) refers to the tar-like substance that DTSC has ordered to be removed. Before implementation, this removal plan must be fully documented under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because full extent of this benzo(a)antracene-impacted tar is not known and needs to be completed as GeoCon states that “Other areas of the channel walls within the vicinity of the seeps have been reported to contain similar material mixed with varying amount [sic] of sand and gravel.”

Furthermore, DTSC should withdraw its Notice of Exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because, as GeoCon states in the Response Plan, “Removal of trees, brush, and other rubble may be required to access portions of the mined aggregate piles where the tar material is reportedly buried. Grading of an access road to allow equipment to enter the stream cut channel may also be required.”

GeoCon refers to the tar-like substance that DTSC has ordered to be removed as basically harmless yet this substance contains Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons and a sample of this material had a result of 24.3 mg/kg for benzo(a)antracene which is 39.19 times its PRG of 0.62 mg/kg.

Even though this contractor and the developer knew of this toxic substance since August 2005, it never told the City about it or sought permission through permits for its removal. The Response Plan includes KB Home possibly removing trees, brush and rubble, as well as carving a new road, to remove this material yet these activities are relegated to three sentences in the Response Plan.

Confusingly, DTSC states in its notice for the January 28, 2009 meeting that, “The Notice of Exemption states that because the small volume of the removal action will avoid both sensitive biological habitat areas and cultural resource areas and the area is not accessible to the public, the Response Plan is exempt from CEQA.”

The Notice of Exemption says that this tar removal will take just one day yet GeoCon suggests it could take far longer if trees, brush, and rubble are to be removed in this effort let alone the time it would take to grade a new road in the streambed.

We maintain that a Notice of Exemption is improper in this case and that KB Home must create a Work Plan to characterize the as-yet undetermined number of seeps oozing this benzo(a)antracene-impacted tar and submit it to be included in the Runkle Canyon Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for City of Simi Valley City Council approval. This will protect the City and its citizens.

The rest of the Rangers’ comments were based on EnviroReporter.com‘s analysis of the 41 KB Home reports supplied to DTSC which will be analyzed later this week-long series.

Next “Railroading Runkle Canyon?” blog post: Cleanup Rocketdyne.org Runkle Comments

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One Comment

  1. The incredible manipulating on the part of the builder and its testing contracter just never stops! They seem to be unendingly determined to avoid even clearly necessary testing and cleanup costs, no matter what! Can you just imagine what would happen if concerned citizen groups did not everlastingly keep up their fight to achieve a complete cleanup?

    Dose based testing results…..chain of custody arguments – and Class III exemptions….what will they conjure up next to avoid spending money?

    How about the health and welfare of families and children who will potentially buy those homes? Evidentally that is not a valid concern of the home developers, or possibly even the Governmental agencies involved.

    We can only thank, and be grateful for the Radiation Rangers, and for the unflagging reporting of Michael Collins, who routinely exposes the devilish disease details with a surgeon’s skill.

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