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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.

“What is that?” Duffield asked looking at an oily material floating on the surface of Runkle Canyon Creek. “It looks like a chemical sheen.”2006 Thanksgiving Runkle Canyon Creek Goo 1

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.2006 Thanksgiving Runkle Canyon Creek Goo 2

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.”

For more photographs of the ESADA complex and surrounding environs, see the ESADA gallery.and the offsite debris and Area IV outfalls gallery.

24 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting
June 1998June 2022

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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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