PART FOUR – TOXIC DEPARTMENT
DTSC subverts Rocketdyne Cleanup
Boeing pays a pretty penny to get what it wants – its lobbying expenses rank among the top five corporations in the country. The non-profit Public Campaign produced a report in December 2011 which concluded that Boeing spent $52.29 million on lobbying yet did not pay taxes during 2008-2010.
Though it made a profit of $9.7 billion, Boeing received $178 million in tax rebates. According to the report, in 2010, Boeing increased executive pay by 31% to $41.9 million for it’s top 5 executives, while laying off 14,862 workers since 2008.
Rocketdyne cleanpup activist Marge Brown doesn’t need a report to know the score. “If you are a large and wealthy corporation that does not want to pay for a costly cleanup to background of radionuclides in your soil, all you really need to do is to use a sophisticated plan to get all of the sincere and eager environmental activists to fight among themselves,” Brown said in an EnviroReporter.com interview in November.
“You do this by sending experienced lobbyists to government meetings,” Brown continued, “…by those in charge listening only to those who are in a power struggle with and are attacking the long time clean-up leaders at public meetings, and by your lead [DTSC] agency director apparently smiling sweetly, while the long-time leaders advocating a complete cleanup are being trashed.”
Rocketdyne activists aren’t the only ones who object to DTSC’s polluter-friendly practices. The consumer advocate organization Consumer Watchdog recently issued a stern criticism of DTSC for its permissiveness with environmental violaters including Chevron and Evergreen Oil. The Santa Monica-based group said that DTSC staff folded “like a wet paper bag” before industry.
In an October 25 letter to DTSC director Debbie Raphael, the group stated that, “At your confirmation hearing in April 2012, Consumer Watchdog expressed concern that the Department of Toxic Substances Control is allowing polluters to poison communities across California while keeping communities in the dark and letting polluters off the hook.” Indeed, Consumer Watchdog had informed the Senate Rules Committee that it had concerns about “industry efforts to compromise the mission of DTSC.”
Of course, other voices weighed in at Raphael’s confirmation hearing too, including Boeing lobbyist Peter Weiner who was a former Special Assistant to Governor Jerry Brown for Toxic Substances Control and is a current member of the DTSC Director’s External Advisory Group.
Weiner, an attorney and partner at the lawfirm Paul Hastings where he heads the environmental and energy practice, heartily endorsed Raphael, saying, “I also as you know represent many private companies who have also found Ms. Raphael to be balanced, to be thorough, and to be just as open as she claims to be.”
Weiner appeared on Boeing’s behalf before the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2009, trying to get its enforceable pollution limits on toxins in surface water flowing off the site waived for an extensive period. In testimony under oath, he repeatedly made statements that were false claiming that DTSC was stopping Boeing from removing polluted soil, requiring the acting director of DTSC to write to the L.A. water board to correct the matter calling Weiner’s remarks “innaccurate, but also offensive.”
Other former DTSC and EPA staff lobby for Boeing as well, an issue recently addressed by a group of concerned environmental leaders in Los Angeles with Raphael. When questioned about DTSC’s “revolving door” that allows former staff who become lobbyists to influence the department, Raphael responded that, essentially, former DTSC staff can lobby for polluters but are not allowed to be effective.
It is unlikely that Boeing is paying its lobbyists like Weiner for nothing. Raphael’s beaming smile next to Weiner at her confirmation hearing did little in the way of convincing activists that she was uninfluenced by the man who had formally held her position.
Raphael’s dubious remarks about lobbyists were turned into a DTSC FAQ that read, “As long as former DTSC and Cal-EPA employees comply with all legal limitations regarding their relationship with their former department, they have a right to gainful legal employment and have a right to represent any client’s interests before DTSC.”
The document elaborates further that, “DTSC and Cal-EPA employees representing outside interests before their former colleagues can create inaccurate perceptions. However, they do not and cannot have influence on department decisions.”
Community activists say that is patently absurd, and contend that not only do Boeing and its allies unduly influence DTSC decisions, they are the only ones DTSC hears – that DTSC has turned its back on the community and on thousands of people who support the Agreements on Consent (AOCs) between DTSC and the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to clean up their polluted sites at Rocketdyne, as the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) is commonly called.
The activists contend that DTSC also dismissed the concerns of the hundreds of people who support the Work Group over a CAG by a ratio of 4 to 1. Boeing lobbyists, they say, have helped DTSC systematically undermine the very cleanup it’s supposed to supervise.
CONSENTING TO CLEAN UP
It wasn’t always like this.
Five years ago, the struggle to cleanup SSFL began to look up. First, in August 2007, DTSC entered into a Consent Order for Corrective Action with all three responsible parties – Boeing, DOE and the NASA. Cleanup activists were optimistic, but felt that more was required to give DTSC the authority required to ensure the site was cleaned up properly.
In October 2007, state law SB 990 was passed, ensuring that the site would be cleaned to the strictest standards. In January, 2008, activists scored another victory in making sure that the state stayed in control of the cleanup.
DTSC subsequently began a process to amend the Consent Order to include provisions of SB 990. In September, 2009, the agency was having trouble getting Boeing on board with a revised consent order as Boeing alleged it wasn’t afforded “the same rights” as the other responsible parties. On November 2, 2009, a revised draft consent order that included Boeing, NASA, and DOE was announced.
But it was not to be. Boeing protested that the SB 990 cleanup standards were too high, would cause it undue financial burden, and in a unique twist of logic, would jeopardize SSFL’s habitat and harm the community. On November 13, 2009, Boeing sued the state.
DTSC nevertheless began to work on new cleanup agreements with NASA and DOE to cleanup the lab to background levels of chemical and radiological contamination. Though Boeing was not part of the agreements, it continued to spread misinformation about such a cleanup, including the wild claim that 1.6 million cubic yards of soil would have to be removed from the site, a reversal of its years-long contention that SSFL was not contaminated.
This and other inaccurate rumors about the agreements – that they wouldn’t allow in-situ treatment, would harm wildlife and would require stricter cleanup levels than SB 990 – were vigorously debunked by the state and cleanup advocates.
Ultimately, after two extensive public comment periods, a total of 3,700 comments were received with the vast majority in support of the agreements and only a handful opposed.
In March 2011, State Senator Fran Pavley introduced a provision in a California budget trailer bill that would codify the AOCs. Even though the agreement didn’t involve Boeing or it’s portion of the property, it lobbied against the trailer bill and misinformation spread that the bill would take away the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) powers in the agreements.
The bill did just the opposite – it would have codified the full agreements, including their CEQA provisions. But Boeing and its supporters wanted the AOCs to be more easily overturned, and they successfully killed the bill.
A month later, Boeing emerged victorious in overturning SB 990. At an April 11, 2011 hearing, community members were aghast and perplexed with the state’s poor performance in defending the law, claiming that large inaccuracies in Boeing’s statements were left unchecked by DTSC.
“I already knew DTSC had agreed with Boeing they would not question anything that came up,” said Holly Huff of the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition who was in the courtroom. “Court was just the proof. As far as I’m concerned they threw us under the bus. Why would a department with the state agree with a polluting company to not question anything they do or say?”
A few days later, April 27, the court sided in favor of Boeing, with Judge John F. Walter ruling that the law singled out the Santa Susana Field Laboratory for “uniquely onerous treatment.” The state is appealing the decision, and community organizations have filed an amicus brief in support of the state hoping, perhaps naively, that the state stand up to the multinational giant.
NASA’S NIGHT OUT
In July 2011, NASA released a notice of intent to conduct scoping and prepare an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on demolition and cleanup for its portion of SSFL. Activists were alarmed by language that indicated an attempt to break out of its AOC with the state. Specifically, NASA indicated that it’s EIS would examine alternative cleanup standards – though the AOC requires a cleanup to background.
NASA claimed it was required to do so under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but in fact NEPA was considered in the AOCs, which stipulated that NASA limit its NEPA analysis to how to achieve cleanup to background, not whether to do so. Even DTSC expressed strong concern about NASA’s proposed alternatives and the issue of NEPA compliance, as did elected officials, and community members.
NASA held a March 27 2012 public meeting in Chatsworth that confirmed the community’s fears. Despite the comments it received, NASA did not narrow the scope of the EIS. In fact, it broadened it to include new alternatives that would also violate the AOC. One was to leave all the contamination on site and put up a fence (“access restrictions” and “natural attenuation”), the other to leave all the contamination on site and create an on-site landfill for the toxic contaminants.
NASA’s PowerPoint showed two sets of maps, one showing where the contamination is, and one showing the location of the test stands and related buildings which they would like to preserve as historic monuments. No surprise, those test stands and facilities are where the contamination is centered.
NASA presented a decision tree for whether to leave the structures standing, claiming if the test stands have historic value, and if there is contamination beneath them, they could leave the structures intact and the contamination not cleaned up. If, of course, they determined it was “safe” to do so – even though the AOC requires the cleanup of all contamination over background.
With charts showing inflated estimates of how many truckloads of contaminated soil would have to be removed for the various alternatives, NASA’s presentation seemed to this reporter that is was designed to frighten the community into leaving most of the contamination in place.
The meeting disintegrated quickly with DTSC’s CAG petitioner Christina Walsh shouting profanities at this reporter among others. Outside in the hotel lobby longtime activists expressed their anger with NASA and the handful who opposed the AOCs defending the alternatives such as leaving the pollution in place. Meanwhile, Jim Biederman from the General Services Administration (GSA), who had pushed for transferring the land before cleanup, stood by beaming.
And what did DTSC do? Nothing, because the agency did not even bother to send one representative even though their SSFL-associated offices were a mile from the hotel meeting.
Longtime activists expressed their betrayal in a flurry of e-mails to DTSC director Debbie Raphael who was forced to send out a notice a few days later stating, “DTSC has received comments from the community regarding NASA’s March 27th meeting. Cal-EPA and DTSC are making arrangements to meet with NASA and other high-ranking federal officials in Washington DC as soon as possible after the Senate’s Easter recess to discuss NASA’s compliance with the AOC, and ensure there are no ambiguities with regard to NASA’s stated commitment to the AOC.”
Finally, on July 18, 2012, after intervention from Senator Barbara Boxer (D – California) and the Council on Enviromental Quality, NASA released a statement that it “has chosen to streamline its review in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and analyze only the alternatives of (a) cleanup to background and (b) the “no-action” alternative.”
BREAKING THE AOCS
For Boeing’s meltdown makeover to work, it needs a dutiful DTSC and the agency has delivered. The department is as brazen in its contempt for the longtime community as it is actively complicit in the breaking of the AOCS. Since Raphael became director, DTSC has even allowed the Boeing to choose the contractor for the state’s Environmental Impact Report which is a conflict of interest on the face of it.
The contractor, AECOM, has already made recommendations that would violate the AOCs. It recommends that the state not do a joint Environmental Impact Statement/Report with NASA and DOE, though Raphael herself said in a September 19, 2011 letter that “the AOC compels … a joint EIS/EIR document.”
At an October 25 chemical background meeting, DTSC project director for SSFL, Mark Malinowski, defended letting DOE run parts of the cleanup that were formerly conducted by the federal EPA in accordance with the DTSC-DOE Agreement on Consent. This suggests that DTSC won’t make DOE clean up Rocketdyne’s nuclear-related Area IV to background levels of radionuclides as the AOCs are eroded away.
Malinowski’s plans to “mirror” the chemical background survey the same way the radiological background was done. Both surveys were supposed to establish backgrounds for toxins in order for them to be removed and the land and groundwater made normal again.
But as exposed by EnviroReporter.com in Radiation Readings Soar at Rocketdyne and Rocketdyne Still Hot, the radiation tests established proper backgrounds but then said that “Radiation Trigger Levels” (RTLs) would be used as the cleanup levels and not background. Radionuclides dozens of times above background would remain in the soil destined for unrestricted open space.
The hot zones are radiating with high soil levels of cesium-137, strontium-90, tritium, carbon-14, cobalt-60, neptunium-239 and europa-152. All were detected by EPA many multiples above their actual backgrounds. One of the most feared radionuclides on the planet, plutonium-239/240, which even a minute amount of which can give a person lung cancer, will be left in nuclear Area IV of SSFL at levels nearly 20 times its background.
Now the same deliberately innaccurate and radically less public health protective process will be used for the chemical contamination, according to Malinowski. He told EnviroReporer.com April 11 that 900 samples from 200 locations were subject to 28,000 measurements.
“In the vast majority of methods they are identical to the EPA’s,” Malinowski said at chemical background study meeting this reporter participated in by telephone. “What we’ve been trying to do is mirror that EPA process.”
Malinowski’s mirroring would result in RTLs for chemicals many times their actual backgrounds, a scientific sleight of hand right under the noses of the community and the elected representatives who have fought for the Agreements on Consent.
The AOCs’ premise is simple: clean up Rocketdyne to its background levels so the land and groundwater will be made whole again and the place safe to be a park. Simple and prudent as they sound, implementing the AOCs means actually cleaning up the defiled soil and not jaw-boning the contamination away.
Thanks to Malinowski, DTSC and the federal EPA, it appears nothing will be remediated back to normal because the agencies have neither the will or wherewithal to find a laboratory that can perform these exacting tests down to the levels that were agreed upon – background.
So whomever represents the community and whatever efforts are made to right a failing cleanup, this bait and switch will cost the taxpayers millions for a cleanup nowhere near as comprehensive as the one agreed to in the AOCs.
The will of the people will have been thwarted, the land and groundwater left degraded, and future visitors to Rocketdyne will be exposed to unsafe levels of radionuclides. No amount of additional radiation exposure, especially ionizing radiation that can be ingested like the the poisonous radionuclides at SSFL, is safe according to a landmark study by the National Academy of Sciences in 2006.
The additional exposures to SSFL’s panoply of pollution will statistically lead to cancers, some of them fatal. The up side for Boeing is that it would save a bundle.
“This is like what it was 20 years ago but squared,” Hirsch told EnviroReporter.com referring to the DTSC’s return to behavior and actions that shamelessly show the department as ‘captured’ by the polluter.
Indeed, Boeing has upped its demolition derby, first exposed in Dirty Deeds, EnviroReporter.com discovered October 22. “Boeing is demolishing Building 15 in Area IV next week and sending the scrap metal to be recycled and DTSC claims that this does not violate the AOCs or a court order not to recycle radioactive metal into the consumer product stream,” said William Preston Bowling, longtime Rocketdyne activist and Radiation Ranger.
Recycling radioactive metal has been a problem nationwide for years as the Pasadena Weekly reported December 27, 2001 in an article called “Spoonglow – It’s all about savings in the multi-billion-dollar recycled radiation business.”
There is also much more money to be made by Boeing by just not having to spend it in the first place. Boeing is relying on much less strict open space standards as its cleanup guidelines and not cleaning to background, a move that saves millions because of the vastly reduced amount of contaminated soil and rubble that the more comprehensive cleanup back to normal causes.
That hazardous waste and debris then has to be shipped to a licensed facility that handles nuclear, chemical or mixed waste. It’s a lot cheaper to be able to dump SSFL’s dregs of the Cold War without restrictions at any local dump. Better yet is not having to move it in the first place. But that would leave a lot of poisonous substances behind that the public will soon be exposed to once the place is released as open space and parkland.
Open space standards leave concentrations of contaminants 10,000 times higher than rural residential residential preliminary remediation goals (PRGs) and hundreds of times higher than suburban residential PRGs.
The toxins involved are extremely dangerous even in minute amounts. Contamination from meltdowns, spills, dumping, and burning is well documented by radiological and chemical sampling and testing. The amounts of carcinogens that could be left behind will be staggering if Boeing succeeds in selling SSFL as “no significant risk to human health today” as Gary Polakovic’s plan puts it.
Dan Hirsch, who was responsible for bringing the 1959 Sodium Reactor Experiment partial meltdown to public light in 1979, says that the amount of strontium-90 that will be left in the soil is outrageously high. Sr-90 is a calcium mimicker that fools the body into holding onto it. The deadly radionuclide, with a 28.8-year half life, targets the blood and bones and causes leukemia.
“Boeing claims an open space cleanup standard of 32.2 pCi/g [picocuries per gram] to 3,220 for strontium-90,” Hirsch told EnviroReporter.com. “The rural residential preliminary remediation goal is 0.00139 pCi/g. That is 23,000 to 2,300,000 times the rural residential preliminary remediation goal. If there is a high background, one one defaults to background. EPA says strontium-90 background is 0.075 pCi/g. Thus the open space cleanup level Boeing is pushing is 430 to 43,000 times background.”
The U.S. EPA considers anything three times background to be significantly above background. The California Highway Patrol deems any material over three times normal as a potential hazardous materials situation according to a state of Nevada hazmat report obtained by EnviroReporter.com.
With the amount of toxins uncovered at Rocketdyne over the years making it one of the most polluted places in Southern California, with the unfortunate distinction of being the headwaters of the Los Angeles River, it seems technically possible that CHP could have a huge hazmat problem on its hands if and when a park ever opened.
Whether it ends up as Hot Slots Casino, Rocketdyneland aerospace park, open space or all that and more, it’s looking more and more like SSFL won’t be cleaned up. The public will pay the price. The radiation and chemicals at Rocketdyne are some of the most deadly ever to foul such a large area of Southern California.
Allowing people to use the land in the shape it’s in would toss caution to the wind, the same wind that carried toxic dust down into the San Fernando Valley during haphazard bulldozing of toxic hot spots. In the absence of a cleanup to background, and leaving most of the sickly sentiments in place, keeping the public off the property may be the most prudent thing to do. That would simply require a decent perimeter fence and locked gates around the entire Santa Susana Field Laboratory.
Unfortunately, until DTSC is swept clean of polluter collaborators, which would mean much of the upper echelons of the department, cleanup of Rocketdyne will remain illusory. And with no real clean up, the site will pose risks for generations to come.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency, after churning through $41.5 million of taxpayer monies to end up basically declaring the site clean despite lethal radionuclides clocking in at over a thousand times background, signaled strongly on December 12 that no significant remediation would take place.
The communities around Rocketdyne, along the Los Angeles River and future visitors to the site, have been left out in the cold, deserted to deal with the hot zones that will stay in place thanks to an industry-compromised DTSC and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.