The eastern ESADA area was used as pistol range and remains polluted with dangerous amounts of antimony, arsenic, boron, lead, and selenium. Aluminum, vanadium and, not surprisingly, sodium are also found in high concentrations. All ESADA buildings have been demolished.
Parts of the area are sandbagged forcing some surface water flow towards so-called Outfall 6 which leads down into the American Jewish University, Brandeis-Bardin Campus in western Simi Valley. There in Meier Canyon, which receives downhill Area IV runoff down multiple channels, signs nailed to oaks say “WARNING – DO NOT DRINK OR USE THIS WATER.”
Between August 1988 and May 2007, 77 soil samples and 16 soil vapor samples were collected to assess potential impact associated with the chemical use areas at the ESADA, according to the 3,410 page Group 8 Western Portion of Area IV – Volume III Appendix C and D prepared for Boeing, dated September 2007. Two monitoring wells were used to specifically characterize ESADA groundwater.
The Process Development Unit was closely analyzed for volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, total petroleum hydrocarbons and heavy metals to “evaluate their presence due to the documented storage of ‘green liquor’ waste water, which contains organic compounds, sulfur compounds, and ash,” according to a 1993 report that made up part of the assessment. The 8,000 gallon tank for the green goo has been since removed.
The report’s high results were astounding though perhaps not surprising considering the plethora of pollution at the lab. Aluminum, sodium, and vanadium were detected above background concentrations at the ESADA’s former chemical storage yard with concentrations of aluminum and vanadium that exceeded ecological Risk Based Screening Levels, or RBSLs, but were less than human health RBSLs.
RBSLs are used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to “help identify areas, contaminants, and conditions that require further federal attention at a particular site,” according to the agency. “They are risk-based concentrations derived from standardized equations combining exposure information assumptions with EPA toxicity data.”
Vanadium in the soil exceeded the background concentration at one ESADA location while “five metals, (antimony, arsenic, boron, lead, and selenium) exceeded background concentrations, residential RBSLs, and/or ecological RBSLs at the ESADA Pistol Range,” according to the 2007 study.
“The maximum concentration of antimony (up to 870 mg/kg), arsenic (up to 350 mg/kg), and lead (up to 27,000 mg/kg) were detected in samples collected in the target (i.e., south) area of the pistol range.”
ESADA antimony ranged up to 100 times background, arsenic over 23 times normal for the site and 9,000 times lab background for lead. Lead was also found at elevated levels in the groundwater. “Based on lead concentrations in soil, lead is potentially site-related in groundwater.”
“Organic chemicals above regulatory criteria include benzene, toluene, benzoic acid, bis(2-chloroethyl)ether, and gasoline-range hydrocarbons,” the report noted of the soil.
Making sense of these soaring numbers is complex but not impossible. A so-called Hazard Quotient (HQ) and Hazard Index (HI) are utilized to determine risk to humans and the environment including wildlife. “HQs are hazard estimates for single CPECs [Contaminant of Particular Ecological Concern], while HIs are cumulative hazard estimates for all CPECs,” the report reads. “For comparison purposes, HQ or HI values less than 1 represent conditions that would not cause unacceptable ecological impacts. HQ or HI values greater than 1 typically require additional evaluation, and may be deemed acceptable or unacceptable by risk managers.”
Kids don’t fair so well in the “Future Child Resident” scenario where they score a whopping twenty. Of course, the land is not supposed to be developed for residents after the cleanup so no children will live on the property. That the HI exceeded the child resident scenario by twenty times, though, is a significant indicator of the level of contamination at the ESADA site.
Animals do live at the lab and have easy access to the ESADA through the porous perimeter of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. Additionally, there is an open gate leading to Runkle Canyon two hundred yards to the west of the ESADA. Critters might best stay away according to the beasts’ Hazard Index in the report.
“The deer mouse, thrush, hawk and mule deer have estimated HIs in excess of 1,000, while the bobcat has an estimated HI in excess of 100,” says the study. “These HIs are primarily associated with antimony, arsenic, lead, and selenium.”
All Downhill from Here
“The Burro Flats Fault, located in the southern part of the Group 8 Reporting Area, strikes approximately east-west in the vicinity of the ESADA RFI Site,” the study says citing two previous reports in 1992 and 2002. “Chatsworth formation groundwater flow is toward the northwest. Estimated horizontal gradients in the vicinity of the ESADA RFI Site are approximately 0.1 foot/foot, based on recent groundwater level measurements.”
Northwest from this location leads to Runkle Canyon. But do contaminants travel down earthquake rifts like the Burro Flats Fault that curves into the canyon? Recent studies suggest so.
An April 2004 analysis, published in the Vadose Zone Journal, looked at Yucca Mountain, 80 miles northwest of the Las Vegas. It was the proposed site for the nation’s main nuclear waste repository from 1987 to 2009 when the project was killed partly over active earthquake faults and volcanoes but not before costing over $90 billion.
The report, “Development of a Wet Plume Following Liquid Release along a Fault,” was carried out “in situ” or at the actual Yucca Mountain site instead of a laboratory. The study’s conclusions don’t bode well for Runkle Canyon’s heavy metal dilemma.
“We observed that water (introduced along the fault) maintained the fault as the primary vertical flowpath, while the adjacent fractured rock served to move water laterally and vertically,” the study said.
A year later, the late Jim Slosson told this reporter in an interview that the fault lines in the western part of Santa Susana Field Laboratory are interconnected with those in adjacent Ahmanson Ranch, which abuts Runkle Canyon’s southern border. Slosson was quoted in a February 2005 Los Angeles CityBeat-ValleyBeat article called “Pipe Dreams”:
At issue is the interconnectivity between the Ahmanson aquifer and the heavily polluted groundwater underneath Rocketdyne’s lab. “They are definitely connected by way of faults, and the faults are significant as far as the groundwater migration,” says Jim Slosson, former state geologist under Governor Reagan and now chief engineering geologist for Slosson and Associates, his Van Nuys-based geology consulting firm. “I think that would be almost a stupid move because the greatest part of the contaminated aquifer in the Ahmanson Ranch area is in area immediately right up there by Burro Flats,” he said, referring to Rocketdyne’s radiological area, the site of a partial nuclear reactor meltdown in 1959 as well as numerous other nuclear accidents and mishaps.
Two years later, a comprehensive study of another site with chemical and nuclear contamination in an area riddled with faults came out and was called “Contaminant Plumes of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Interrelationship to faults, Landslides, and Streams in Strawberry Canyon, Oakland and Berkeley, California.”
The 55-page (128mb) March 2007 report was authored by Laurel Collins, a geomorphologist with Berkeley-based Watershed Sciences and Pamela Sihvola, Project Manager Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste. One map of the area, pictured here with its legend, shows “groundwater plume expansion along compiled faults.”
“[G]roundwater can transfer along any number of pathways (bedrock contacts, faults and landslide failure planes) and in any order of combination,” the report reads. “Furthermore, potential surface water contamination is possible along drainages that intersect faults, landsides, and bedrock contacts that intersect contaminant plumes.”