A key component of the canyon’s contamination problems was still missing. That all changed on Thanksgiving Day in 2006 when this reporter and his partner, Denise Anne Duffield, hiked into the canyon from the Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve, commonly known as Ahmanson Ranch. Runkle Canyon borders Ahmanson Ranch and is a common destination in the Simi Hills for hikers and mountain bikers.
Right she was though we didn’t know at the time what kind of contamination had caused the sheen. It didn’t seem to be a hydrocarbon like gasoline because it didn’t smell anything like it upon closer inspection. For her trouble, Duffield was nicknamed “Hawkeye” by the Radiation Rangers.
According to the developer’s environmental reports that EnviroReporter.com had obtained, all of which are now on the DTSC Runkle Canyon website, no one had tested the creek water for pollutants though that would seem the obvious place to check if lab contamination had flowed downhill into the canyon. And for the Radiation Rangers’ trouble, the group tried and failed to get the city to come test the water with them, Mayor Paul Miller telling the group that the developer had assured the city that it already had tested “surface water” in the canyon.
That testing was actually of some water pooled in chunks of asphalt, remnants of the old road leading down from the former sand and gravel mine operated until 1985 by Southern Pacific Milling Company in the western canyon branch of Runkle Canyon. This is a substantial distance from Runkle Canyon Creek. The water tested high for toxins associated with, not surprisingly, asphalt and was deemed not representative of the surface water of the canyon therefore no problem was detected.
Heavy Metal Thunder
The extremely high levels of toxins at the ESADA are no surprise to the Rangers since they acted upon Duffield’s sighting in May 2007 as reported in the Los Angeles CityBeat cover story “The Radiation Rangers.”
Like the ESADA uphill and connected along the Burro Flats Fault, we reported the bad news from the Rangers’ May 2007 Runkle Canyon Creek sampling:
Due to increasing awareness of the lethality of arsenic, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the “maximum contaminant level” (MCL) for the substance in drinking water from 50 parts per billion (ppb), established in 1975, to 10 ppb in 2001. “A 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the 50 ppb standard did not adequately protect human health,” EPA says in describing its new arsenic rule. “EPA set the new MCL of 10 ppb to protect the public against the effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic in drinking water. The new MCL will decrease non-fatal and fatal bladder and lung cancers and will reduce the frequency of other health effects such as diabetes, developmental problems, gastrointestinal illness, and heart disease.” Arsenic has also been linked to many other non-fatal conditions.
Runkle Canyon’s surface water readings for arsenic are 15 times the MCL for drinking water, over 21,000 times the EPA’s “preliminary remediation goal” and 37,500 times the agency’s “public health goal” for potable water.
The mud sample was laced with arsenic as well, coming in at over 548 times the EPA’s preliminary remediation goal for the contaminant in soil. That amount of the toxin is also 213 percent of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) arsenic “field action level,” where further investigation is warranted.
“Of course the city didn’t believe the results so I took them back up Runkle over a month later to sample in the same spots,” says Southwick of the July 2, 2007 retest. Though the city tried to spin the results as better than the Rangers’, they were actually worse as reported in an August 2007 Ventura County Reporter news article “Spin Cycle”:
More alarmingly, the city’s tests came back with an even higher amount of arsenic in the water than the Rangers did. The reading for arsenic, which causes bladder and lung cancers as well as diabetes, developmental problems, gastrointestinal illness and heart disease, was 25 percent higher. That translates to 26,478 times tap water’s PRG and 47,000 times California’s “public health goal” for the toxin in drinking water.
Another regulated heavy metal found by the Rangers in Runkle Canyon water, barium, was detected at levels 233 percent higher than the citizens’ sampling. Nickel came in 33 percent higher and vanadium 55 percent more elevated than the earlier tests. That is 2.8 times the “notification level” which are “health-based advisory levels for chemicals in drinking water … when a chemical is found in or threatens drinking water sources,” according to California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. “When notification levels are exceeded, the drinking water system is required to notify the local governing body of the local agency in which the users of the drinking water reside. If the notification level is exceeded, Department of Health Services recommends that the utility also inform its customers and consumers about the presence of the contaminant and about the health concerns associated with its exposure.”
The impacted water in Runkle Canyon eventually makes its way into the groundwater table Simi Valley uses for 20 percent of its supply which is carefully monitored for such toxins to make sure they fall within regulatory limits before they reach the consumer.
Once DTSC got involved in Runkle Canyon, the definition of what a “water source” was changed. Riley told the city that the department considers what comes out of the “tap” the source.
Rangers on the Ramparts
“When you think of all the people that are going to go hiking around in Runkle Canyon, or walking their dogs like I do mine where they are drinking out of the creek, you’ve really got to get a better handle on what’s going on here,” says Matheney. “First the developer says it tested for the heavy metals but they really hadn’t. Then we go and find all this arsenic and vanadium and nickel and the city doesn’t believe us so they go and sample where we did and their results are worse.
“Now we have a good idea where this stuff is coming from up at the ESADA and it’s fairly sure Boeing and KB Home aren’t going to like hearing about it but that is just tough. We’ve had to fight every inch of the way to hold the high ground here. This information has made us even more determined to make sure that development doesn’t take place on land that may be too contaminated to build on.”
“I think this is a game changer, not only with the ESADA revelations but because of those pipes and barrels tossed offsite at the top of Runkle Canyon,” Southwick adds. “But this isn’t going to stop KB Home from charging ahead, not unless DTSC puts the brakes on and makes sure more testing is done in that creek water and mud, and that groundwater monitoring wells are put in to track the progress of Rocketdyne’s toxic legacy coming down The Hill.”