Radiation in the Water
The chemical sheen glossing the camp water was sampled and analyzed in 2005 from the same unmarked canyon as the 2004 soil test. The 2005 Brandeis-Bardin water report [13 PDF pages; 355 KB], completed in 2006, found Sr-90 over double both the Los Angeles and national averages and Pu-239/240 at nearly half as high as the highest Pu-239/240 pulled and tested in Area IV groundwater by the EPA.
Tritium came in at double background according to H-3 levels cited in an April 21, 1996 Brandeis-Bardin crop testing report recently released by AJU in response to the KNBC I-Team investigation LA’s Nuclear Secret which included Brandeis-Bardin’s pollution issues. [The KNBC I-Team brought critical information first reported by this journalist in many cases to a much broader audience. KNBC also shook loose invaluable old reports from Brandeis-Bardin that EnviroReporter.com has used in this exposé.]
Beta radiation in the 2005 water was over double the national average in drinking water supplies derived by data provided by the National Research Council (US) Safe Drinking Water Committee. Beta radiation is often associated with man-made radionuclides like Cs-137 and Sr-90.
Brandeis-Bardin’s water woes aren’t limited to the 2005 report acquired by EnviroReporter.com. The story of the so-called Brandeis-Bardin “bathtub well” includes DTSC exposing huge amounts of radiation in Brandeis-Bardin water in 2012 and then state agencies trying to disprove it in 2014 and beyond.
The well is in one of the main canyons of the Brandeis-Bardin’s outer campus and in the watershed that includes runoff from the SRE. Its official name is Offsite well 10 (OS-10), a well that filled a bathtub which watered animals and birds at Brandeis-Bardin.
A joint DTSC/LARWQCB PowerPoint presentation May 21, 2014 [38 PDF pages; 3.44 MB] included a revision to the high alpha and beta radiation readings found in the bathtub well, perhaps because the high radiation caused a stir when EnviroReporter.com first reported on it in its May 23, 2012 exposé Runkle Roulette.
“USEPA was granted access to an offsite well on the Brandeis-Bardin property,” the article read. “There, at OS-10, the agency detected beta radiation in the well water at nearly three times its MCL for drinking water. Total adjusted gross alpha radiation activity was 8.61 times its MCL which is even more troubling: alpha radiation is up to 60 to 1,000 times more dangerous than beta or gamma radiation because of the harm it causes upon ingestion or inhalation.”
According to the government’s revisionism in the presentation, the bathtub well was too turbid with suspended solids to give an accurate reading of the water. “The elevated levels of the suspended and total gross alpha and beta are attributed to the very high turbidity of the sample and is considered to be a result of naturally occurring radionuclide [sic].”
Yet it’s clear, literally, from the photo of the bathtub well that the water isn’t turbid enough not to be able to see down to the soil resting on the bottom. For professionals to draw a water sample with “very high turbidity” they would have had to stir up the water in the tub, which is unlikely that they would do.
But even more obviously, the photo shows clear water running out of a hose into the tub, keeping it filled and overflowing it. Any competent agency should know to take the sample from the hose, not the tub. Or both.
The last part of the sentence quoted preceding says the sample “is considered to be a result of naturally occurring radionuclide [sic]” which begs the question of why LARWQCB and DTSC didn’t test the water with a gamma spectrometer to determine, not ‘consider,’ what is making the water so hot? By not determining the radionuclides causing the high readings, no fingers could be pointed at the most likely source radiating higher up in the Simi Hills. This unsound science also shortchanged anyone at Brandeis-Bardin who might have cared about watering their livestock with exceptionally radioactive water.
The conclusion that the bathtub well showed no man-made radiation was and is part of DTSC’s mantra that no SSFL contaminants have gotten offsite. Straight faced at years of meetings, DTSC officials essentially maintain that chain-link fences somehow prevent the huge amounts of radiation and chemicals at SSFL from leaving their mountaintop compound.
Rocketdyne got into the act as well nearly twenty years before DTSC began its denial campaign. According to its McLaren/Hart report on Brandeis-Bardin for Rockwell International in 1995, a year before Boeing bought Rocketdyne, this higher than normal bathtub well radiation shouldn’t be there at all.
“No radionuclides were detected above measure background in any of the human activity areas at either the Conservancy or Brandeis-Bardin,” the report says. “Radionuclides were not detected in groundwater in the two private wells that were sampled.”
Somehow, this comprehensive report failed to include the gurgling goo’s surface water even though it appears to come down from Area IV or from its groundwater which is topped with a chemical sheen as it continues on its way to Meier Canyon’s creek. “Surface water data were not evaluated statistically because there was only one background sample from both rounds of sampling,” was the befuddled excuse given for not testing the obvious.
Boeing weighed in on potential Brandeis-Bardin contamination with a July 29, 2008 paper entitled Plutonium-238 at Brandeis-Bardin [26 PDF pages; 4.65 MB]. “It should be noted from Appendix D that all samples were non-detect for plutonium-239 which is the plutonium isotope usually associated with nuclear reactor operation,” the paper says.
Yet Plutonium-239/240 was detected in both Brandeis-Bardin soil and water in 2004 and 2005. Analysis of the scant original Brandeis-Bardin environmental documents AJU has released since the 2015 KNBC investigation began failed to reveal any testing for Pu-239/240 let alone detecting it.
It’s not just Area IV that may be leaking radiation downhill into Brandeis-Bardin. Nor is it just radiation. William Preston Bowling joined in discovering black and grey blocks of lung-destroying asbestos in one of the main drainages into the camp in 2007 – blocks that stood taller than he did along with broken pipes with the toxic heavy metal antimony.
“The remediation began after the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) issued lab owners Boeing and the NASA an Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Order on Nov. 1 for the cleanup of asbestos-containing material strewn along the creek bed from 1965 to 1978 by lab workers working at the former NASA liquid oxygen plant (LOX) nearby,” states the article Cleaning Up Rocketdyne in the November 21, 2007 Ventura County Reporter.
The area had approximately 500 cubic yards of the tainted soil trucked offsite to a licensed landfill. 8,000 cubic yards of soil polluted by PAHs were excavated as well from the adjacent former shooting range and along the Northern Drainage. The work required approximately 764 truckloads to get rid of the contaminated dirt and detritus. “The deadly debris stretches partway down the intermittent headwaters of the so-called Northern Drainage, which leads into the American Jewish University on Brandeis-Bardin’s sprawling campus in Simi Valley below,” the article written by this reporter said.
And that wasn’t all. Boeing was forced to remove contaminated soil in 2009 on the NASA part of the lab at Outfall 009 which leads down to the main eastern drainage into Brandeis-Bardin.
“The Boeing Company, on behalf of NASA, is currently preparing to excavate soil at Outfall 009,” wrote Boeing’s SSFL radiation manager Phil Rutherford to the chief of the Radiologic Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health September 11, 2009. “This soils is being removed in order to mitigate NYPDES [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] storm water runoff exceedances of dioxins and heavy metals.” [sic]
The contaminants sloshing down into Brandeis-Bardin during infrequent rains also contained radioactive contamination that Boeing had to dig out of the NASA soil. A NASA document obtained by EnviroReporter.com shows that the radionuclide Cesium-137 was found in five areas in the heights above Brandeis-Bardin. The highest hot soil had Cs-137 at 3.4 times background, which was dug out and sent to the low-level radiation dump US Ecology in Grand View, Idaho in 2013.
A Troubled History
NASA owes its very genesis to Wernher von Braun who oversaw the Mercury and Gemini programs and developed the Saturn V rocket that took America to the moon. The secretive SSFL site was set up to test the V-2 war rockets that von Braun had developed for Nazi Germany in World War II.
“[A] deep depression separating a circular arrangement of hills became the site of Rocketdyne’s first three test stands,” says a 1987 Rockwell International booklet entitled The Hill. “As direct copies of test stands that had been in use at the German WWII test facility at Pennemunde, they were designed to hold not only the engine to be tested, but the entire vehicle as well.”
These first rocket stands erected at the SSFL were built at the Bowl Test Facility, or “Bowl,” as reported in the 2009 EnviroReporter.com article Bowled Over. “Thanks to the Nazi designs brought to the U.S. after the war by SS officer and rocketeer Wernher von Braun, these three stands built in 1949 played a crucial role in America’s burgeoning rocket program.”
A chance encounter with a former Rocketdyne employee at a February 5, 2014 SSFL Work Group meeting revealed more about the lab’s Nazi rockets origins. Taking a vape break during the meeting, a former worker of 30 years named Don told this reporter that von Braun’s original rocket test stand was not built from scratch plans. “They took it apart in Europe and shipped it over unassembled,” he said. “It came in mahogany boxes with Nazi swastikas emblazoned on them.”
“Von Braun’s V-2 rockets slaughtered 7,250 military and civilian personnel in World War II, mostly in London and Antwerp, Belgium,” reported EnviroReporter.com in the 2014 piece High Stakes for Hot Property. “Production of his lethal rockets cost 20,000 Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp inmates their lives with 9,000 dying from exhaustion alone. About 350 of these Nazi slaves were hanged, including 200 for sabotage, with the remainder shot or dying from disease and starvation.”
One French resistance fighter enslaved at von Braun’s rocket works was Guy Morand. In 1995 he testified that he was nearly executed by von Braun in 1944 after a supposed sabotage attempt. “Without even listening to my explanations, [von Braun] ordered the Meister to have me given 25 strokes…Then, judging that the strokes weren’t sufficiently hard, he ordered I be flogged more vigorously…von Braun made me translate that I deserved much more, that in fact I deserved to be hanged…I would say his cruelty, of which I was personally a victim, are, I would say, an eloquent testimony to his Nazi fanaticism.”
Instead of being tried for war crimes and shot, von Braun went on to become a legend in American rocketry despite his infamous Nazi past. He was one of over 100 German scientists captured by the U.S. at the end of World War II in “Operation Paperclip.”
The morality over using suspected Nazi war criminals by the United States in an effort to best the Soviet Union did not end with America’s rocketry program. A 600-page Justice Department report released in 2010 that was suppressed by the government for four years revealed that America served as a “safe haven” for nearly 10,000 Nazis after the war. Surpassing the Soviets in space clearly trumped any qualms about using a possible Nazi war criminal with concentration camp prisoners’ blood on his hands.
Southern California’s Nazi history doesn’t end with the origins of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. Less than 20 miles away is a Nazi lair that this reporter first wrote about for Los Angeles magazine in a 1996 article entitled Murphy Ranch.
Yet for all this actual Nazi history in Southern California, there is nothing about either Wernher von Braun or SSFL or Murphy Ranch in any of the predominate Jewish institutions in Los Angeles dedicated to remembering the Holocaust. Nothing in Brandeis-Bardin’s literature or online history mentions the Nazi-made rocket stand that loomed high in the Simi Hills above the Jewish camp for years belching smoke and pollutants during test firing.
Rocket Smoke and Gunsmoke
Dr. Shlomo Bardin founded the Brandeis Camp Institute (BCI), naming it after Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice who provided the vision and funds for the programmatic enterprise, according to the BCI website. Bardin bought 2,200 acres of land in the hills above Simi Valley in 1947, a year before the U.S. government acquired 2,100 adjacent acres to secure secluded land for von Braun’s rocket testing.
“In 1953, Dr. Bardin established Camp Alonim (Hebrew for ‘oak trees’) as a residential summer camp for children, ages 8 to 16,” says BCI. “Camp Alonim provides a non-denominational, Jewish experience brought to life through sports, the arts, nature, and learning in a safe and embracing community.”
One of the first signs of trouble at the camp came in 1957 when “discolored water” prompted Bardin to call the sheriff according to documents obtained by KNBC’s I-Team. Bardin’s lawyer subsequently sent SSFL brass a letter saying the lab “caused and permitted great quantities of waste material to be carried down a stream running through Brandeis Camp” and that “this unlawful pollution of said stream endangers the camp water supply and the health of hundreds of children and adults who regularly use its facilities.”
Rocketdyne replied that the water wouldn’t kill people but it could destroy vegetation and make livestock sick. Bardin apparently “insisted that Rocketdyne stop the pollution” according to the KNBC report, but nothing seems to have been done according to the documents and eyewitness accounts.
Indeed, untold numbers of hikers and campers made the heights under the lab their world to explore. EnviroReporter.com has obtained an old map that shows campsites at the bottom of the hill in Meier Canyon. One of them, as noted earlier, appears adjacent to the area of the 2004 and 2005 tests that detected Plutonium 239/240.
Ralph Powell arrived in the Simi Hills in 1962 and went to work as a patrol officer in Area IV. The longtime Simi Valley resident recalled working in the nuclear zone at a SSFL Work Group meeting September 24, 2015. His recollections included being engulfed in explosions from the FSDF, which drains into the same canyon Brandeis-Bardin where EnviroReporter.com found high plutonium and uranium with Area IV’s atomic signature.
“A famous cowboy road his horse up to the property line and says ‘I’d like to speak to a supervisor’ and [the supervisor] says ‘What’s your problem, sir?’” Powell told the rapt Work Group audience of a story from 1962. “And he says ‘I have 28 head of dead cattle down here that drank water out of this pond.’ So he assumed it was runoff from this disposal pit which it probably was.”
Powell, who has suffered from extreme peripheral neuropathy, confirmed exclusively to EnviroReporter.com that the “famous cowboy” was indeed James Arness. Ten years later, Arness donated his land to Brandeis-Bardin. That included the working ranch and livestock.
“In 1972, the neighboring land owner, James Arness, star of TV’s still wildly popular Gunsmoke donated his 950 acres, making the Brandeis-Bardin property 3,200 acres,” according to AJU’s Brandeis-Bardin-based Camp Alonim website. “This is the second-largest piece of land held for Jewish communal purpose, second only to the State of Israel.”
The man known as Marshall Matt Dillon for 20 years on television originally bought the land in 1960. “[W]here I could raise my kids on a ranch with horses and farm animals, a place of beauty with a big sky,” Arness wrote in his 2001 autobiography. Those farm animals included distinctive and tough white Charolais cattle. These cattle have roamed all through the Simi Hills as they graze for decades.
Over the years, cattle grazing in Area IV were becoming a problem for Rocketdyne. In a June 25, 1991 memo obtained by EnviroReporter.com, Rocketdyne honcho Steve Lafflam related that the cattle’s droppings were so hot that they were interfering with restoration of the FSDF.
“The cattle were identified as a source of RA [radiation] contamination by the DOE Tiger Team,” Lafflam wrote. “Too [sic] keep them we would have to start doing analysis on the animals. There is continually the evidence of “meadow muffins” in the “burn pit”. The Burn pit will be cleaned up by 12/92 (State Order) and then we could go back to the lease if we wanted to.”
The radioactive turds, surely dropped all over the place including Brandeis-Bardin where the Charolais cattle herd originated, came from the bovine eating hot vegetation and drinking hot water. Flora sucks up radioactive and chemical contamination in the soil which is eaten, in this case, by cattle which then spread it all over the place through their droppings. Radiation-tainted water would certainly have been accessible by these cattle.
For the cow flops to be hotter than the burn pit indicates that the vegetation and water holes were highly radioactive. That Rocketdyne actually leased Area IV for the wandering cows’ grazing indicates that the beef and milk from these cattle could have been contaminated and consumed by unsuspecting humans. Whether Lafflam or any Rocketydne official ever informed Brandeis-Bardin of the radioactive meadow muffin herd is unknown.
Nor is it known if the producers, actors and crews of numerous films, TV shows and commercial productions filmed at BCI were ever told of the environmental situation that they faced working there. An educated guess would be they were not. Many productions have been made at the camp including Jurassic Park, Star Trek VI, Melrose Place and Diagnosis Murder.