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Collins and Sihvola make a recommendation that might seem appropriate in Runkle Canyon:

If the complexity of geologic conditions at the contamination sites has been and continues to be oversimplified, and because monitoring wells were not placed at key locations along faults, utility trenches, old creek beds/seeps and other parameters that influence groundwater movement, the extent and dispersement of contaminants may have been, and will continue to be underestimated in the future.

Currently, there are no monitoring wells for contamination from the ESADA along the Burro Flats Fault down into Runkle Canyon. Monitoring wells are nowhere to be found in the draft cleanup Response Plan for Runkle Canyon that the Department of Toxic Substances is looking at with “clean eyes,” as Acting Director Maziar Movassaghi told EnviroReporter.com in August as reported in “Coup de Goo.”

Strontium Storm on the Horizon?

When Los Angeles CityBeat and the Ventura County Reporter broke the Runkle Canyon development contamination story in March 2005, most of the emphasis was on the high strontium-90 soil readings in the developer’s environmental impact reports. This information was either missed or ignored by the city of Simi Valley the year before when it approved the 461-home project’s Environmental Impact Report, even though the readings were as high as hundreds of times normal as we reported:

Foster Wheeler’s 58 soil samples averaged 1.39 pCi/g, or six times the EPA’s preliminary remediation goal and nearly 27 times above the typical EPA background level for Sr-90 in the area. The hottest sampling spot, and the one closest to Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory, measured 12.34 pCi/g, which is over 54 times the EPA’s PRG and 237 times the normal background for the radionuclide. Regardless, the GreenPark subcontractor gave a hearty thumbs-up to the results. “In perspective, the concentrations of strontium-90 … were found to be insignificant,” concluded the Foster Wheeler report.

“That’s definitely within the risk range,” says Walker, “unless something weird is going on with the site that would kick it up but, like I said, those are conservative numbers.”

“[Foster Wheeler] found even higher rad levels in the second set of tests than the first and had to massage them through really flaky means, but the numbers don’t lie,” says longtime Rocketdyne critic Dan Hirsch of the Santa Cruz-based Committee to Bridge the Gap.

Three months after our initial exposé broke, the then-called California Department of Health Service (CDHS) quietly took single samples from five highest reading areas for strontium-90 in Runkle Canyon. That June 7, 2005 test was reported on in the January 19, 2006 Los Angeles ValleyBeat article “Hot Property”:

The CDHS split these samples with Dade Moeller & Associates of Richland, Washington, a laboratory hired by the developer. “We only did those samples that the state was interested in because the state was the driver on this, of course,” said the lab’s point person on the sampling, Tracy Ikenberry. “They were the ones who wanted to do it.”

The results of the 2005 sampling were obtained by ValleyBeat through a Public Records Act request. They show the readings from Dade Moeller and from the CDHS state lab in Richmond. The retested locations were all radically lower in Sr-90 than in the previous tests conducted by GreenPark Runkle. In one spot tested, the state lab’s results were 490 times lower for Sr-90 than when it was tested in a 1999 survey. Oddly, the CDHS results for Sr-90 were from two-to-19 times less than the exact same split samples analyzed by Dade Moeller.

Those tests were eventually thrown out by the government in its evaluation of Runkle Canyon which was the result of a “Voluntary Cleanup Agreement” between KB Home and DTSC from early last year.

Dan Hirsch, who first alerted Los Angeles CityBeat/ValleyBeat and the Ventura County Reporter about the high strontium-90 in Runkle Canyon in late 2004, examined the radiation issue at the site in his December 2006 “Radioactive Contamination at Runkle Ranch from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.”

In a February 2009 Ventura County Reporter piece called “‘Simi, we have a problem’,” Hirsch lambasted Dade Moeller qualifications to retest Runkle Canyon for KB Home as part of the cleanup Response Plan still being decided on by DTSC:

“‘Houston, we have a problem,’ which is what the city was told was not true,” Hirsch added. “The developer had not been candid and the entire project was approved based on false representation.”

Hirsch then zeroed in on Dade Moeller’s radiation plan and on the controversial company itself, whose namesake testified back in the 1990s that money spent on cleaning up Cold War-era nuclear facilities was being wasted since there would be a cure for cancer.

Hirsch also questioned the lab’s integrity and pointed out that it is a major Department of Energy (DOE) contractor. The area of Rocketdyne where most of the nuclear mishaps occurred was operated by the DOE, which is responsible for cleaning up the mess. It also borders Runkle Canyon, which leads Hirsch to believe that Dade Moeller shouldn’t be overseeing radiation sampling there.

The Rangers are glad that Dade Moeller’s credentials may get another looking over since the August sacking of Norm Riley, former DTSC Project Manager for Runkle Canyon. Riley, who the Rangers had increasingly asserted wasn’t addressing public concerns and comments about Runkle Canyon, made his feelings abundantly clear about Dade Moeller in his angry reply to an intercepted e-mail from this reporter to Rocketdyne activist Christina Walsh, who had secretly copied him without my permission. In it, as reported last month in “Riley’s Revenge,” Riley called Dade Moeller “one of the most highly respected firms in the business.”

Riley’s removal doesn’t distress the Rev. Southwick. “We now have the chance to undo all the bad science, or lack of science, we saw under Riley,” Southwick says. “The Response Plan simply has too few testing spots for strontium-90, working out to be just one for every thirteen acres, which is ridiculous on the face of it.”

Contamination Creek

The emphasis on Runkle Canyon’s strontium-90 impacted soil continues to be a major concern to the public today as reported in our “EnviroReporter.com’s Runkle Canyon Comments Analysis.”

In fact, it was this concern that inspired four Simi Valley citizens in 2006 to demand that no development of the property be started until there was a full accounting for the high radiation we first reported on. In good humor, they called themselves the “Radiation Rangers.”

“The city council attacked us as NIMBYs and troublemakers but most folks really appreciated what we started doing and never stopped doing which is making the developer and Boeing accountable to the facts,” says “Toxic Terry” Matheney, a member of the group. “We organized and acted at the height of the real estate boom and news that this supposedly wonderful new development was not fully investigated for high radiation. We stopped it dead in its tracks.”

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  1. Aaah, the money issue. Spot on Constance!

    Environmental felons like Boeing need to do the right thing and buy out the Runkle developer, clean that land up to SB990 standards, then convert it to open space once cleaned to SB990 standards.

    If one checks out Boeing’s income statement, they will find the polluter has enough greenbacks to handle KB with ease. All corporations have insurance companies, maybe EnviroReporter can obtain the insurance policies?

    In fact, the polluter has more than enough to also buy out poisoned Woosley-Dayton where there are similar problems.

    Being that Boeing is a contractor of the federal government may have some bearing on who they hide behind when push comes to shove. The buck might be passed back to DOE, NASA, the Defense Department, and etcetera. It might be a good idea to consult with attorneys from NRDC, CBG, and so forth.

  2. IANAL, but couldn’t KB Home sue Boeing for the pollution? I don’t think Boeing has any special protection – SSFL is not a Superfund site, right? Assuming KB Home never gets to develop, they’re going to want to recover their investment somehow.

    Unless Boeing simply buys them out to avoid the lawsuit.

  3. Michael,

    I’m very surprised to see you didn’t mention Tom Seckington or interview him for this piece. Without him weighing in, this report has much less credibility. For those who don’t know, he’s the DTSC Hydro-geologist who’s been studying groundwater movement at SSFL for (I think) 17 years. I’ve been working and consulting with him for the last 3 years and I find him to be the acknowledged expert on SSFL groundwater as well as one of the most honest people working on this project. He’s been totally dedicated to helping our community.

    Perhaps you could do a follow up on this report after you talk to him.

  4. Nice work, Mr. C.

    I am frankly alarmed that there is a newish citizens group on the other side of the pass from the wonderful rangers that takes in ‘donations’ from the environmental felon mentioned above in the second comment above. This is something it is hoped will not impact the clean-up effort, but this writer feels otherwise. Do you think you can possibly check out the ‘donation’ history and find out more regarding the frequency and amount of polluter’s contributions? It sure sounds like dirty money is on its way to usurp the Hill’s detox marathon that we know is still in its infantile stages at the moment.

    Btw, your good work does not go unnoticed.

  5. AutocratHallucination

    The Radiation Rangers rock! Indeed, it would be a grand day if and when Runkle follows the example of Ahmanson and is never allowed to be used for residential space, NEVER EVER. Hats off to Mary Weisbrock who sets the bar high for Hawkeye, Toxic Terry, Good Rev John, and the rest of the crew with Mary’s (and her group, Save Open Space) previous involvement in the saving of Ahmanson Ranch. It looks like Runkle is on the same path (fingers crossed). We are very fortunate to have these wonderful people by the community’s side.

    Hopefully, the derisiveness of recent noted in the article above, will come to an end. It’s just plain silly to let the badgering fester on, even though the article’s author is 100% in the right. Hypocrisy has a definition and it is this: “having desirable or publicly approved attitudes, beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually possess” — the email exchange with DTSC as mentioned is but one erratic example of many; some of which will most likely be uncovered as time goes by, having known the antics of said local perpetrator. . .

    Advice: please focus on your marvelous investigations and don’t stop! You guys are just too valuable to let little things get in your way. The community can see through the pettiness, the fraud, the abuse, the indecency, the injustice. We have your back and we scorn the backstabbers out there be it an errant regulator, a mal-adjusted activist, or an ignorant neighbor. Keep on keeping on!

  6. Michael,
    This is truly an amazing piece of investigation that you have done. It seems as if you are now extending your terrific reporting skills into becoming a discovery making geologist. Would that you could also do a similar scientific reporting exploration of the whole SSFL—all 2850 acres. Dream on!

    From everything I have been able to read or hear discussed, it certainly seems to me that these underground acquifers and earthquake faults could absolutely be the source of our most scary, on-going and long term contamination nightmares. And, they are frequently described as being “poorly understood”. By comparison,soil sampling and removing dangerous surface contamination may turn out to be child’s play.

    I certainly hope that you will keep up your good work in Runkle Canyon, and that you will continue to keep the KB builders paralyzed. So far, you and the Radiation Rangers have been more successful at doing this than even the recession.

    When you have some free time, I hope that you will come over to Chatworth Park-South, which is just a few blocks away from where I and over 750 Rockpointe condo owners live. We have an underground water situation here involving the longest 7,000 ft.train tunnel (#26) in the USA,located at the North end of our beautiful Chatsworth Park S. The trains go from the Chatsworth station to Simi Valley.

    This train tunnel happens to be located at the Southern end of the Chatsworth geological formation…which, I believe, originates up on the SSFL. We have 4300 gallons of underground water flowing, DAILY, through sump pumps in the tunnel, and being ultimately dumped into Chatsworth Park S., which is slowly being turned into a wetland.

    The original Railroad builders ran into this water problem in about 1898, when they were constructing the railroad tracks. That’s how long this problems has been going on. Although the tracks have since been raised, the tunnel still gets flooded during the rainy season.

    The Water Quality Board has been contacted, has visited the tunnel, and, they in turn have ordered the Railroad to obtain an NPDS permit to “de-water”. This permit process is pending, and we are all very concerned about radionuclides or toxic contaminants that could possibly be in this water…since it could very likely be flowing down underground all the way from down the Chatsworth Formation,from the SSFL. The railroad is apparently required to do some water testing before they can be granted a permit.

    In the meantime, the Rangers and other residents should give you an ACADEMY AWARD.

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