COCA test stands at headwaters of LA River-WPB The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously today to demand that NASA’s polluted part of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory be cleaned up to background levels of contamination.

The 13-0 vote on Councilman Mitch Englander’s resolution sends a strong signal that the city isn’t going to sit idly by watching NASA transfer its property at the lab before full cleanup. Aerospace giant Boeing owns the majority of the 2,850-acre former Rocketdyne site in the hills between the Simi and San Fernando valleys, including the nuclear research area where three partial meltdowns took place.

The strong showing from the city comes in the wake of revelations from’s Boeing’s Meltdown Makeover series showing a concerted effort by Boeing to “greenwash” the issue. That ongoing effort is intended to convince the public that the land is safe enough as it is for a park.

The first five parts of Boeing’s Meltdown Makeover were followed a month later by a scathing report on the state agency overseeing the supposed cleanup of the laboratory, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The Consumer Watchdog report “Golden Wasteland” exposed a wide range of DTSC’s failings including gross mismanagement and collusion with Boeing.

In the face of such formidable and entrenched foes, it was no small victory for groups like the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition which showed up today to support Englander’s resolution, which was formally seconded by Councilman Dennis Zine, another Republican on the council.

“[W]ith the concurrence of the Mayor, that upon the adoption of this Resolution, the City of Los Angeles hereby includes in its 2013-2014 Federal Legislative Program OPPOSITION to any legislation or administrative action which would transfer the NASA owned land at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory until all cleanup and remediation of the site is complete.”

SSFL cleanup activists with Englander center and Klea in red by Betsy Annas Longtime community SSFL cleanup activists rejoiced at the decision.

“This is in Mitch’s district and those people who didn’t know about SSFL on the City Council now know and trust Mitch’s leadership, said Bonnie Klea, a West Hills resident who has advocated for the rights of nuclear workers at the lab for over a decade. “Finally we have the whole city behind proper cleanup for the future generations.”

Even though NASA had committed to DTSC to clean up to background, it nevertheless declared its 450 acres to be excess in 2010. The resolution notes that this is “the first step towards transferring the land to a new owner.”

NASA’s land is the object of interest to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians which operates the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Barbara County. The resolution states that, “[I]t is important that the clean-up plan for the site as required by the consent agreement between NASA and the Department of Toxic Substances Control be fully completed, and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians may not be subject to the State’s regulatory clean-up requirements.”

Some cleanup opponents have advocated for NASA’s property to be transferred to the National Park Service (NPS). However, the NPS can’t accept polluted land let alone a site as impacted with trichloroethylene (TCE), perchlorate, PCBs, dioxins, heavy metals, and other contaminants which cause cancer.

NPS also doesn’t have the money to pay full market value for the land which would be more valuable if it weren’t sitting on a sea of goo. SSFL has upwards of 800,000 gallons of TCE in its groundwater. This carcinogenic solvent which vaporizes up through the soil into the air is one of the reasons that now-defunct Washington Mutual’s lab-adjacent Ahmanson Ranch development tanked ten years ago.

Before Boeing terminated its 2006 groundwater charcoal-activated air stripping towers designed to remove TCE, the system succeeded in venting off about 10 gallons a year. Boeing’s reasoning for ceasing the remediation included the notion that since the groundwater is so toxic, no one would ever consider using it, so why clean it?

If the system were actually functioning, it would have to be active for a long time, more than 80,000 years at the piddling rate the air stripping towers put out.

NASA’s property also includes an entire mountain of contamination made up of antimony, asbestos, pipes, an other aerospace detritus. Gigantic rusting rocket test stands are in mountaintop canyons that are the headwaters of the Los Angeles River.

ALFA rocket test stand above LA River headwaters-WPB Over 30,000 rocket tests shook the hills and rattled windows down below for nearly fifty years ending in the 1990s. This legacy includes gross contamination that remains undisturbed after years of cleanup delays – undisturbed, that is, until seasonal rains come. Millions of gallons of dioxin and PCB-tainted storm water have sluiced down into the Los Angeles River for decades.

NASA would save a bundle if it could transfer title of its two areas of SSFL before cleaning up to background. The agency has also waxed on about the historic rocket test stands knowing full well that in order to remediate areas around the stands to background, they would have to come down.

The City of Los Angeles certainly has a stake in the clean up of Rocketdyne because the Los Angeles River runs through it, a river that is envisioned to be reborn into its more natural state. The 52-mile long river is the object of a $2 billion restoration effort over the coming years and is the centerpiece of the City of Los Angeles’ 50-year master plan.

“This is important to the people of L.A. because it has been undercover for generations and now we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel hopefully while we are alive,” Klea told

“Boeing’s meltdown makeover is embraced by some but hopefully protection from cancer of future residents will be the most important factor in the cleanup,” said Klea. “Human health is more important than old test stands.”

NASA’s toxic Rocketdyne legacy has been called out. The second biggest city in the United States is telling the space agency to clean up its act, really clean it up. It’s one small step for SSFL cleanup, one giant leap for Los Angeles.

(Rocket test stand photos: Courtesy William Preston Bowling)

25 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting


  1. Last time I looked at the Chumash Tribe’s charter, their leadership/tribal council could not spend a lot of money without a majority vote by the enrolled members of the tribe.

    The other matter of interest is that the Chumash borrowed money from a Chinese owned bank to build the second iteration of their casino in Santa Ynez. The Chinese banks doing business in the LA area are very, very reticent about lending money to businesses operating on toxic contaminated property.

    So if the Chumash are going to build a casino on the NASA property, I think they will have to self-finance it, and I doubt whether the tribal members will be too keen on dumping their cash into a property which has not been fully remediated from a radionuclides point of view.

    In the mid 1980’s when Gibraltar Savings began bull-dozing a Chumash burial ground north of the intersection of the 118 and Madera Road in Simi Valley, the Chumash showed up in force to object. Gibraltar Savings went ahead and finished the bull-dozing and a year or so later Gibraltar was seized by the FDIC.

    Let’s hope that ethically the Chumash will follow the right path of not subjecting their customers to physical harm…Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.

  2. [From Friends of the Earth]

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 23, 2013

    SAN ONOFRE: Los Angeles votes to oppose reactor restart without public hearings
    LA council joins other SoCal cities in concern over safety

    LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously today to ask federal regulators not to allow the restart of the crippled San Onofre nuclear reactors before the formal public process to determine whether Edison’s experimental restart plan is safe and all needed repairs or replacements are completed.

    The resolution by District 5 Councilmember Paul Koretz and District 11 Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, which passed 11-0, expresses support for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to:
    make no decision about restarting either San Onofre unit until it has fully reviewed public safety through a prudent, transparent, and precautionary process, has allowed independent experts and the public ample opportunity to comment, and has confirmed that Southern California Edison has completed any resulting mandated repairs, replacements, or other actions necessary to guarantee both short and long-term safe operation of San Onofre . . . [The City also encourages the NRC] to take the time needed to independently determine whether or not the information, analysis and actions provided by Southern California Edison constitute a solid technical basis for the adequate protection of the public and resumption of operations.

    LA joins a long list of Southern California cities that have expressed concerns about the safety of restarting either of San Onofre’s twin reactors. Both reactors have been shut down for almost a year, after a leak of radioactive steam led to the discovery of widespread and unprecedented damage to the reactors’ recently installed replacement steam generators.

    Edison has proposed to the NRC that it be allowed to restart reactor Unit 2 at partial power and run it as a five month test followed by two years of intermittent shutdowns and startups. Edison has also requested a license amendment with a “no significant hazard” provision that would allow restart with a public hearing to be held only after the fact. NRC staff have given preliminary approval to Edison’s request, but are taking public comments on the proposal through May 15.

    “There is a growing consensus from cities in the Southland that Edison’s restart plan amounts to a dangerous experiment that gambles with the safety of millions of Southern Californians,” said S. David Freeman, former head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and a senior consultant to Friends of the Earth. “There are serious questions about what went wrong at San Onofre, whether it can be fixed, and whether it is safe to operate that can only be answered adequately in a formal legal proceeding.”

    Cities that have passed resolutions or sent letters of concern to the NRC include Del Mar, Encinitas, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Santa Monica, Solana Beach, Vista, Berkley and Fairfax. In addition, the San Diego Unified School District board passed a similar resolution.

    Acting on a petition from Friends of the Earth, the NRC is conducting two official proceedings which could require Edison to seek a full license amendment with adjudicated public hearings, expert testimony and rules of evidence.

  3. Is the reference to “biofiltration” in this part of the series or another part of the series?

    The problems with biofiltration (don’t know what is being proposed or if the term is being used properly by the green wash PR people) are that 1)biofiltration as used by urban stormwater runoff professionals means that artificial wetlands or filter strips are constructed to settle out certain kinds of pollutants. Some pollutants can be broken down by microbes in this environment but a lot of heavy metals just sink to the bottom of the pond or filtration strip area and stay in the soil forever. 2) The more heavy duty concept is phytoremediation — which is the use of specific trees, mushrooms, and plants that sequester certain pollutants. And the problem with this is that it just moves the pollutants (and I mean normal pollutants, not crazy radioactive stuff like what’s on this property) from the soil to the plant. When the plant dies or burns in a wildfire then you have a whole new — possibly worse — remediation project. 3) With both biofiltration and/or phytoremediation there’s no way to know if plants are getting everything — plants are not vacuum cleaners.

    Biofiltration (as I know it in urban runoff) is a technique that can be used in small areas, like a parking lot, that has known pollutants where you can re-test the runoff water and verify the results.

    @Michael thanks for the clarification that the Chumash SY Tribe may not be held to State clean-up requirements. That is a huge detail.

  4. Bio-filtration, indeed! What we really have here is publicity-filtration,cleverly constructed and paid for by Boeing in order to convince the hapless reader that they now have a device which will clean up the Santa Susana Field Laboratory with no more worries. And, we will get to go wading in the purified LA river too….maybe. Don’t count on it.
    You can be sure that what ever toxic chemicals or radioactive contaminants get bio-filtered, there will still be plenty more to deal with from the same place that came from, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. There really is no magic, and there are no miracles….even $600,000 ones. Sadly, that kind of money would have bought a lot of shovels.
    Meanwhile, grateful thanks to the LA City Council for unanimously passing a resolution that the ground must be cleaned up to background, before any of the acreage is transferred or sold.

  5. And so the PR campaign begins. Biofiltration. They should have saved the $600,000 (if that is really what it cost) for cleaning up the mess they purchased.

  6. Business as usual. Weapons and other manufacturers make obscene profits, but their pollution would eat into those profits if they did the proper thing, so they do as little as they can to maximize profits. Local gov calls upon the Feds to help, Feds either do nothing (but do accept manufacturers’ campaign money), or pass the cleanup cost onto the backs of the common folk. What a marvelous system we have allowed to develo in front of our eyes. When are people going to wake up to the fact that Romney or Obama or whomever the dems or pugs set before yoy ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND and care nothing for your future. Silly people.

  7. Instead of seeing this on the news last night, my husband and I were treated to some nonsense about Boeing digging a $600,000 ditch covered in burlap sack material calling it their way to clean up the SSFL’s surface water. What a crock. Boeing was ORDERED by the water authorities to do something about all the contamination gushing off its lab in the rains. So clearly the Boeing Meltdown Make Over machine is alive and well. Thank God for those two brave Republicans Los Angeles Councilmembers Mitch Englander and Dennis Zine. Who knew that it would be Republicans standing up when the corrupted Gov. Jerry Brown administration stacks the environmental agencies, like DTSC, with Boeing-groveling hacks. Bravo! City of Los Angeles ROCKS!

  8. sprytleandchimchim

    Good luck with that folks!!

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