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The major impediment to the Santa Ynez Chumash getting total control of SSFL is that Clinton’s order was about giving Native Americans access to sacred sites, not ownership of a massive former lab with severe radiation and chemical contamination.

“Nothing in this order shall be construed to require a taking of vested property interests,” the document reads. “This order is intended only to improve the internal management of the executive branch and is not intended to, nor does it, create any right, benefit, or trust responsibility, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity by any party against the United States, its agencies, officers, or any person.”

That hasn’t dissuaded the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. The tribe’s designs are clear as Cohen’s biography for the community advisory group which says, by way of description, “Tribe as potential owner in whole or in part.”

Ranting and Raving

John C Luker III at DTSC Simi Valley meeting Dec 14 2013A similar DTSC scoping meeting took place in Simi Valley December 14, attracting more improbable anti-cleanup tales along with insults. “Most of the people talking here today are just ranting and raving,” said John C. Luker III.

That certainly did not describe people such as Arline Matthews, who lost a son to a radiation-related cancer she thinks could have been caused by manmade radiation at Rocketdyne.

“Bobby was a champion runner from Chatsworth High and every organ of his body was perfect,” Matthews said after Luker was admonished by the DTSC moderator to keep his language respectful. “A perfect specimen. Bobby died of brain cancer and his son developed leukemia. There have been studies that genes can be injured so that the next generation can get cancer. That’s not conclusive but science thinks it’s a good possibility. We never had cancer in our family before for many generations. But Bobby’s gone.”

DTSC personnel at the dais sat stone faced. Years ago, when this reporter first started covering Rocketdyne in 1998, there was a handful of Department of Toxic Substances Control personnel working the SSFL site that actually seemed to care, people like the late Steve Cain. But compassion for and comprehension of the real-life impacts of toxics on people’s lives no longer seems apparent at DTSC.

That impression was not lost on Liza Tucker of the Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog who has skewered DTSC with revelations of corruption, incompetence and antagonism towards the communities the state EPA department is supposed to be serving.

“Already at the outset, DTSC is really violating the Agreements on Consent in the way that it is formatting the scoping,” Tucker said at the December 14 meeting. “There is no legal obligation to look at alternatives that are not feasible. The only feasible alternatives are clean this land up to background and keep Boeing to the rural agricultural standard that it is zoned for. Clean up to the agricultural and rural residential standard.

“The only other thing that needs to be looked at is no action at all which you know is not feasible,” Tucker continued. “So to me it’s clear that this is a process to overturn the Agreements on Consent and to give Boeing what it wants and what Boeing wants is to do a very minimal cleanup of land where you did have a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959.”

That would suit San Fernando Valley Audubon Society community outreach chairperson Sharon Ford just fine. “Cleanup to background is unsuitable,” Ford said at the same meeting. “It will not allow the parks. It will not allow the land to be suitable for parkland and it will be more suitable for development.”

Ford didn’t explain how or why ridding Rocketdyne of decades of radioactive and chemical contamination would somehow make the polluted land less suitable for a park.

Boeing is pushing the idea though, because open-space cleanup standards are based on people visiting a future park for too short of a time to get a real nuking – meaning they wouldn’t have to clean up most of the contamination.

Cleanup advocates emphasize that the end use of the property shouldn’t inform the cleanup levels. Until the radiation and chemicals are hauled off, SSFL will remain a public health threat for generations to come. And a powerful polluter will have saved a fortune.

Archeologist Nancy Kidd did not have a problem with leaving the contamination in place. Rather inventively, she flipped the cleanup on its head, equating it with airborne disease.

“If you move any dirt in this part of the country you are going to have a problem with Valley Fever,” Kidd said. “That’s a very serious condition and any archeologist in this state will tell you that there is a high risk of that. If you start removing two feet of soil from that enormous area, you imperil the entire tri-county region.”

Are California’s archeologists coming down with Valley Fever? Do backyard gardeners across the state have to be afraid of their own dirt? Doesn’t the remediation of contaminated land take abundant precaution against dust, being that the soil is, well, contaminated? It’s done all the time like at Aerojet Chino Hills in 2001.

It seems every meeting brings new reasons not to clean up the site, and the excuses are getting more outlandish. Many of them are based on the counterintuitive arguments that fixing fouled land somehow injures the land, and that huge levels of radiation and chemicals are preferable to normal levels.

Holly Huff at DTSC Simi Valley meeting Dec 14 2013Holly Huff, a member of the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition, wasn’t buying it. “I love nature, the trees, everything,” said Huff at the DTSC meeting December 14. “I wouldn’t live in my neighborhood if I didn’t. But I also have cancer and from what I read in 2007 about the people living within the two-mile radius [around the lab], a lot of people have cancer. What I want done is I want it cleaned up.”

“I don’t want trees to be destroyed but they’re not going to be,” the Santa Susan Knolls resident said. “This word out there that there’s going to be a moonscape and everything’s dead because we destroyed them is not true. I just want the cleanup to move on to the cleanup. Like the gentleman said here, I’d trade my cancer for any truck any day.”

Huff and her neighbor Dawn Kowalski have fought to remediate Rocketdyne since 1989. “We want cleanup to background so we have safety in our lives,” Kowalski said. “I also live in the Santa Susana Knolls and I’m a cancer survivor. I don’t know if it’s from the lab or not. There are a lot of breast cancers on the east end of Simi and the west end of the San Fernando Valley.”

“Let’s not let DTSC use CEQA to wiggle out of the AOCs,” Kowalski continued. “The AOCs are legal obligations. Clean up to background.”

In the end, Mark Malinowski, SSFL Project Manager for DTSC, was not able to confirm that DTSC’s EIR would comply with the AOC.

“Mark, we have the AOCs and we have CEQA and you’re looking at alternatives in CEQA,” this reporter asked. “With what you come up with the alternatives, in situ cleaning in place, moving stuff from here to there; will all these alternatives be able to adhere to the AOCs and to cleaning to background. Or not?”

“Michael, I think that’s what we’re trying to evaluate,” Malinowski answered. “We don’t know yet. That’s what we are trying to get to is what can get us where we need to be.”

“So that means that the AOC agreement is not written in stone, that you guys might come to the conclusion ‘we cannot fulfill the AOC’ or ‘we will not fulfill the AOC’?” this reporter pressured. “My question is, whatever you do with CEQA, will it be able to conform to the AOCs signed intent?”

Deanna Hansen-Mark Malinowski at DTSC Simi Valley meeting Dec 14 2013Deanna Hansen, of Environmental Science Associates, fielded that question and answered in an opaqueness that has become one of the trademarks of DTSC and its contractors. “The CEQA document is a disclosure document, that’s all,” answered Hansen. “How the CEQA document is used by decision-makers we don’t know, has not been determined.”

The department in charge of the SSFL cleanup has its work cut out for it. To appease Boeing lobbyists and save the top aerospace giant a whole lot of money, DTSC might choose to gloss over the nuclear and chemical contamination in the glittery and glowing City of Angels where China Syndrome was made. The Oscar-winning film was, after all, based on a fictitious SSFL nuclear reactor called “Ventana,” a name made up from Ventura and Santa Susana. Once a real park or casino opens at the lab, people might forget the deadly toxins under their feet.

Or, DTSC can do what it is charged to do, uphold and enforce the cleanup agreements as it committed to do, call out non-sense espoused by cleanup opponents, and ensure protective mitigation measures that work for everyone. Current and future generations near the site may not have Boeing’s money or power, but they deserve the protection of their government, and a fighting chance for a healthy future.


China Syndrome Town

25 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting

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  1. I gotta laugh at the [REDACTED], Sharon Ford – She’s got an anti Keystone post on her Facebook wall. Guess Koch’s didn’t pay her enough to support the desecration…


  2. What is wrong with the Audubon Society?

    Every time I read about them they’re advocating killing cats with poison and now [REDACTED] humans with radiation poison.

    I bet almost every one of the contesters are paid under the table with the exception of that weirdo, Osokow, who just wants to be paid in pictures of birds and get credited by Boeing.


  3. SF Valley birder

    Does this Osokow speak for the San Fernando Valley Audubon? I sure hope not because not only is he insulting to those who got sick and died from exposure up at SSFL, he doesn’t know about birds and radiation. If he did, he’d demand cleanup to the background because a 2011 study “Chernobyl Birds Have Smaller Brains” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3033907/:

    “Species differed significantly in reduction in brain size with increasing background radiation, and brain size was the only morphological character that showed a negative relationship with radiation. Brain size was significantly smaller in yearlings than in older individuals.


    Low dose radiation can have significant effects on normal brain development as reflected by brain size and therefore potentially cognitive ability. The fact that brain size was smaller in yearlings than in older individuals implies that there was significant directional selection on brain size with individuals with larger brains experiencing a viability advantage.”

    I wish these people against cleaning up the place wouldn’t use birds and animals as some kind of excuse. They suffer more because they live there.

  4. Another Simi Mom

    Michael, again a wonderful, lucid article.

    If DTSC’s decision making ever gets before a judge in the L.A. Superior Court who is assigned to CEQA cases, they will certainly laugh at the comments of the deniers. The deniers comments are not evidence. They are hot air.

    And again, the Chumash’s Mr. Cohen is not a lawyer licensed to practice law in California. He’s just a one man P.R. department and deal maker for the tribe.

  5. Michael, WOW, you did a great job on this story. You said it all and covered the issues perfectly. The trickery that the deniers use is laughable. The birder said that healthy birds mean healthy people. Birds have a very short life span and cannot be compared to the complex human–basic. I pray that we have a happy ending to this long, long story.

  6. Excellent reporting. Thanks Michael.

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