AN AWARD ONLY A POLLUTER COULD LOVE
“Boeing Receives Environmental Recognition from Wildlife Habitat Council – Educational programs certified at Santa Susana Field Laboratory” read the release which blithely said that a “transformation is underway at the 2,850-acre site as it evolves from a legacy of testing and research toward a future as open space benefitting the community.”
Longtime members of the communities surrounding SSFL might take issue with this glowing take on Rocketdyne. Boeing has spent tens of millions on settlements with people who said the site has made them ill over the years, studies show elevated cancers near the site, and recent EPA studies revealed contamination thousands of times over background remains at SSFL.
Judging the recent press release, however, the suffering of workers and public health concerns aren’t the legacy that it is thinking of according to its site director, Boeing’s Tom Gallacher. “Most people are aware of the site’s significant role in the historical research of rocket engine propulsion development and energy research,” said Gallacher in the press release. “What surprises most people is that this site is a key habitat for a variety of native plants, flowers and wildlife.”
The award that Boeing received from the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) came from a group dominated by massive international companies infamous for their environmental degradation and disasters even as the group claims it “devotes its resources to building partnerships with corporations and conservation groups to create solutions that balance the demands of economic growth with the requirements of a healthy, biodiverse and sustainable environment.”
Current WHC board members include chemical giant DuPont, multi-national oil and energy company ExxonMobil Corporation and multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto. Monsanto was the source of 99% of the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) used by U.S. industry until 1977 when the company was forced to stop production on the toxic and persistent organic pollutant which still flows off of SSFL down into the Los Angeles River.
Recently, Monsanto spent $8.1 million opposing the passage of Proposition 37 in California, making it the largest donor against the initiative which mandated the disclosure of genetically modified crops used in the production of California food products. Prop. 37 led in polls until Monsanto’s heavy contributions began to garner results and was rejected by a 53.7% majority in November. DuPont, the world’s third largest chemical company, was second in contributions to defeat Prop. 37 spending $5.4 million.
But perhaps Boeing does deserve an award for its greenwashing efforts. The company has done a fine job of exploiting lovers of birds and bees in an attempt to evade cleaning up SSFL. In a June 2012 Los Angeles Daily News article entitled Environmental groups weigh in on Santa Susana Field Lab’s future,” features Mark Osokow, a board member of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society who has been vocal in backing Boeing’s open space initiative.
The article quotes Osokow, “‘The environment here is very good for the birds,’ said Osokow, who has a deal with Boeing to study birds on the property. ‘It’s about as pristine as you can get.'”
Osokow didn’t mention that polluted Rocketdyne water awaits birds and wildlife in that “pristine” environment. The Silvernale reservoir is polluted by hydrazine, DCE, trichloroethylene, methylene chloride and trichlorotrifluoroethane.
Plus, it smells like a “cesspool” according to Lewis MacAdams, co-founder of FoLAR, who visited the site with Bowling in February 2012. Certainly not the avian nirvana that Boeing is trying to fly by birders and the public.
Also in June Boeing debued it’s first ever “Bee Fest” in celebration of National Pollinator Week. The event included information about pollinators, guided biological walks and activities for children like “Pin the Stinger on the Bee”, according to Boeing’s November newsletter which looks more like a Sierra Club newsletter than that of an aerospace corporation faced with cleaning up an astronomically polluted site.
Dubious awards from polluters gifted to their aggressive and powerful colleagues are just one challenge in shaping public discourse faced by people like Bowling. The Malibu and Topanga-area real estate agent doesn’t seem fazed by the might of Boeing and its award-giving industry allies.
“Wild Bill” Bowling is also a Radiation Ranger who has been fighting development at adjacent Runkle Canyon where Westwood-based KB Homes plans to build 461 homes and condos. [KB Home’s Runkle Canyon development is now called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands.] He has been at the forefront of citizen activism over cleaning up Rocketdyne since first reading this reporter’s coverage of SSFL at the turn of the millennium.
Bowling opened the Aerospace Cancer Museum of Education in Chatsworth Lake Manor downhill from Rocketdyne in May 2008. “I started ACME with an application for fiscal sponsorship in my name only as was told to do so by Lauren Bon, chair of the Annenberg Foundation,” Bowling told EnviroReporter.com. “She told me, ‘I can give you money, but you need an umbrella [non-profit organization to accept donations for [ACME-LA] first.’ Then I found the building and signed a lease and paid for first, last and deposit with my own money, even before the grant was gifted.”
Part of the grant money was used to set up a time-lapse photography camera in a blind on Sage Ranch Park hard on Rocketdyne’s northeastern border near the guarded entrance to the property in June 2009. From a vantage point on a hill across from Area I, the hidden-in-plain-sight camera filmed the videos which are embedded below. The films capture Boeing’s haphazard demolition techniques.
One video shows heavy machinery in Area I of the lab roaring around destroying and grading the last of what once was the Instrument and Equipment Laboratories or IEL complex. Huge clouds of dust are launched into the air landing on any SSFL subcontractors and full-time lab workers that may have been in the area as well as drifting towards the San Fernando Valley. Most of the contaminated dust falls out on hills that drain down Happy Valley above Chatsworth into Dayton Canyon Creek and finally the Los Angeles River.
The IEL and the land around it are contaminated from decades of use of the toxins trichloroethylene, perchlorate, trichloroethane, hydrazine, perchloroethylene, hexavalent chromium, and heavy metals. This dangerous dirt appears to have been blown all over the place by Boeing’s plainly sloppy procedures.
The clouds of dust are particularly disconcerting when considering that the area had a leach field where unknown amounts of goo were poured for years with no records. The films do not show if the workers were wearing masks but it’s clear no effort was made to keep the giant billows of toxic filth from flying up in the air with water truck sprayers to keep the dust down.
The recording to the right shows the distant demolition of an extremely contaminated area of Area I with seemingly no regard for the huge clouds of toxic dust that the heavy construction equipment was creating.
Beginning at 9am June 4, 2009, according to the video time stamp, a rising cloud of dust from demolition is seen until about 11:15am. Then there’s a break, maybe for lunch, and subsequently the billowing dust starts back up again at 12:15pm and lasts until about 4:30pm.
Farther along on the tape on June 6, a great wind starts up at noon blowing all sorts of dust around from the now graded site. On June 7, intermittent blasts of dust from tractors begin at 10:40am and continue to about 3pm. The dust clouds start up at about 8am on June 8 and continue to 3:30pm at the end of the tape. The tape’s June 8 wafts of dust recorded the highest and densest plumes traveling off-screen and down into Woolsey Canyon at the northwest end of the San Fernando Valley.
“From what I can see is they have already torn down building 408,” Bowling wrote in a May 16, 2012 e-mail to EnviroReporter.com. “Look at about 5:38-5:40, there is a red crane tearing down buildings 1303, the igniter packing building and 1396, explosives storage – Perchlorate!”
Building 1303 was used as a propellant laboratory using perchlorate and other energetic compounds. A February 2009 Boeing environmental assessment report required by DTSC said of 1303 “This laboratory was indicated as discharging to a former industrial dry well located in a topographic low near current Building 1436.” In other words, the dregs of perchlorate tests were dumped in a hole dug into the ground in a ditch outside. This is the area that Bowling caught on film being bulldozed in clouds of dust.
The mini cyclones of contaminated crud Boeing made aloft on film comes from one of the most polluted places on the entire SSFL property – Area I. The film captures the final demolition and grading of a cluster of some of these poisoned places where buildings had been knocked flat and presumably hauled off to a dump.
Building 1301 just north of 1303, the Equipment Laboratory TCA Distillation Unit and Used Product Tank, was constructed in the late 1940s and used as a machine shop and then utilized for servicing, cleaning, and testing engine valves and manifolds. Chemicals used for valve repair included nitric acid, phosphoric acid, and hydrofluoric acid along with the carcinogenic solvents TCE and TCA. “In 1987, approximately 175 to 200 gallons of TCA were released accidentally from the solvent distillation unit on the northwest side of the building and flowed across the Area I Road, and into an adjacent asphalt-lined drainage ditch where it was contained by use of vermiculite,” according to a 1987 Rockwell report.