Tolling the Toxins
The DOE’s sampling test results in Brandeis-Bardin are stunning. No less than 22 chemicals are higher than their SSFL background readings requiring a comprehensive EnviroReporter.com analysis of Brandeis-Bardin contamination found by DOE. That examination is called 2016 DOE-AJU Summary Brandeis-Bardin Soils.
Among the standouts, the heavy metal antimony registered three times its Area IV BTV in Brandeis-Bardin. Found in at least 403 of 1,416 of the EPA’s National Priorities List of hazardous waste sites nationwide, antimony can be dangerous. “In long-term studies, animals that breathed very low levels of antimony had eye irritation, hair loss, lung damage, and heart problems,” according to ATSDR.
Heavy metal molybdenum, “widely used to add strength and hardness and retard corrosion in metal alloys” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), registered 5.8 times its BTV. Another heavy metal, selenium, came in at 1.8 times its Area IV background. The amount of selenium found in Brandeis-Bardin was between 11.6 to 20.8 times the Earth’s average concentrations suggesting a man-made source.
“People may be exposed to higher-than-normal levels of selenium at hazardous waste sites by swallowing soil or water, or by breathing dust,” says ATSDR. “The way that selenium can enter the body from a particular site depends on such factors as whether vegetables are grown in soil in which selenium from the site has been deposited, whether water at the site contains selenium and is able to flow into drinking water supplies, and whether selenium dust blows into the air.”
Several PAHs were detected above their BTVs in Brandeis-Bardin drainages down into the camp as well. “People living near waste sites containing PAHs may be exposed through contact with contaminated air, water, and soil,” reports ATSDR. “Studies of people show that individuals exposed by breathing or skin contact for long periods to mixtures that contain PAHs and other compounds can also develop cancer.”
The PAH naphthalene registered a substantial 5.4 times its SSFL BTV. “Naphthalene has caused cancer in animals,” according to ATSDR. “Naphthalene can become weakly attached to soil or pass through soil into underground water.”
Another detected PAH, bis(2-Ethylhexyl)phthalate, is “Reasonably Anticipated to be a Human Carcinogen” by the CDC. The Brandeis-Bardin sample was 58% higher than its BTV. The colorless liquid with nearly no odor is used in sheathing for wire and cable and to make plastics flexible.
The PAH fluorine was detected at 5.7 times its BTV. It is described by the CDC as a “Pale-yellow to greenish gas with a pungent, irritating odor,” and is listed under “Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health Concentrations (IDLH).” Used as a chemical intermediate in a wide range of industrial uses, fluorine is sourced to formulate polyradicals for resins.
A wide range of herbicides and pesticides were used at Rocketdyne, many more than you would find on a typical lawn. That explains why the Area IV chemical background study identified so many and determined their BTVs. It might also explain how so much of these poisons ended up being detected by the short DOE report given by AJU to Jewish Journal then made public and analyzed by EnviroReporter.com. No less than a dozen of these substances exceeded their Area IV BTVs.
The insecticide Endosulfan I in Brandeis-Bardin measured a considerable 8.6 times its BTV. “How might I be exposed to endosulfan?” asks ATSDR in its ToxFAQs for Endosulfan page. “Touching contaminated soil or fruits or plants that have been sprayed with endosulfan will result in a small amount entering the body through the skin.”
Dieldrin is an insecticide that was banned for all uses by the EPA in 1987 yet is still found in Brandeis-Bardin dirt tested by the DOE at 3.1 times its background threshold value. “[D]ieldrin build up in the body after years of exposure and can affect the nervous system,” says ATSDR. “In animals, oral exposure to lower levels for a long period also affected the liver and decreased their ability to fight infections. We do not know whether aldrin or dieldrin affect the ability of people to fight disease.”
The pesticide Gamma BHC, also known as Lindane, registered 4.7 times higher at Brandeis-Bardin than its Area IV BTV. “The substance can be absorbed into the body by inhalation through the skin and by ingestion,” according to CDC. “The substance may have effects on the liver. Tumours have been detected in experimental animals but may not be relevant to humans.”
What is relevant to humans, at least the ones visiting, working, camping and living at Brandeis-Bardin is that Rabbi Strear and American Jewish University had already claimed “that there is no risk to human health in these sample results or in any other data collected from BBC to date.” Results from decades ago all the way through December 2016 from EPA, DOE, NASA and EnviroReporter.com may speak a very different story. Regardless of all these data showing toxic problems oozing from SSFL, the Obama Administration’s Department of Energy parting shot made clear in the first week of 2017 that it didn’t want any cleanup of Area IV at all.
DOE’s public policy line was different three years prior. “Let’s clean up to background,” said John Jones, federal project director for the DOE in Area IV, before a meeting of the SSFL Workgroup February 5, 2014. Jones told the audience that the agency was committed to the AOC it signed because, quoting another DOE official, “At the end of the day…it’s the right thing to do.”
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Jones’ words were well received. Indeed over 3,700 public comments had been submitted in support of the AOC with only a handful opposed. Soon after, Jones wasn’t so vocal. KNBC‘s Joel Grover filmed Jones refusing to speak with him at an SSFL-related meeting in 2015.
That silence ended January 6, 2017 with the DOE releasing its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) which will determine what will actually happen with the cleanup of Area IV of SSFL and the Northern Buffer Zone. Three years overdue, there is no mention of Brandeis-Bardin contamination in all of the DEIS’s 27 reports totalling 1,468 pages.
There is analysis of three options for cleanup that drastically allow more radiation and chemicals than DOE’s AOC allows. The first option would leave up to 39 percent of dirty dirt in place, the second allowing 91 percent of the soil not cleaned up and the third possibility leaves up to an amazing 99 percent of the known contaminated land not remediated.
Community outrage was evident February 18 when the DOE held the first of two public meetings to take public comment. “You promised six years ago you would clean up the mess you made so that it would be like you never made it in the first place,” said Devyn Gortner of Teens Against Toxins at DOE’s meeting in Simi Valley. “The community has debunked every single one of your excuses as to why you cannot keep this promise.”
A little girl named Grace spoke at the Van Nuys meeting February 21, riveting the audience of around 100 people. “I had cancer,” Grace said referring to a rare form of the disease that her mother, Melissa Bumstead, blamed on SSFL toxins. Bumstead’s Pediatric Cancer Greater Los Angeles map shows a sobering number of cases surrounding SSFL. “I want to help our city get all the love it needs by getting rid of all the chemicals and nuclear waste because we don’t want to have to do this again. I don’t want to live close to chemicals in the mountain.”
“My daughter was diagnosed, recently, with leukemia, a rare form called APL, which the doctors said it was directly related to an environmental issue,” said West Hills resident Mark Dow before the DOE panel in Simi Valley which included John Jones. A husband and father of two, Dow has lived about a mile from SSFL since 1996. “Our neighborhood has also had other cancers. We’ve had two children with brain cancer. We’ve had an adult die from brain cancer. We’ve also had two other cancers within our block. So when people say there is no direct correlation [to SSFL], I have to object.”
“We were there when the fires burned  at that site and I could see the ashes coming into my yard and they looked extremely strange,” Dow continued. “They weren’t typical ashes and you could see it was muddy, gluey, particles coming into our neighborhood and it was appalling.”
Though much fewer in number, people against full cleanup of SSFL spoke out too. One was Nancy Kidd, an archaeologist who said at a DTSC meeting in 2013 that excavating “any dirt” at SSFL would result in Valley Fever region-wide. Kidd’s choice of words and their emphasis, repeated here in their entirety, shocked some in the crowd who knew their Holocaust history.
“It’s really heartbreaking to hear these stories and to hear these consternation over all of the years and people having so much invested in the sadness of some kinds of activities that occurred many many many years ago,” Kidd said at an audience microphone. “I am with the Simi Valley Historical Society and, in November, we are actually hoping to celebrate Santa Susana Field Laboratory for the rocket engine testing not for your contamination issues. We are hoping that you can remember perhaps through the years and through the grief that the rocket engines that were born in flame and glory up there put our nation at the forefront of the space program and it was our proudest achievement in our history. We are hoping you can see that part of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory and join us. And we are sorry that it has been such a contentious issue for so very long and we hope too that all of this can find a final solution.”
The crowd gasped at the hopefully inadvertent use of a term more appropriate to a Nazi like SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) Wernher von Braun back when he was an Adolf Hitler favorite. As outrageous as Kidd may have sounded, DOE’s conclusion that all this fuss about radiation and chemicals is specious may sound even worse. The department makes it abundantly clear that it doesn’t think there is anything to worry about, sound science be damned.
“Because there is little difference between those risks, there would also be little difference between the risks following cleanup under any of the soil remediation alternatives—risks in all cases would be close to those from exposure to background soil,” the DOE report reads suggesting there’s no need for any cleanup at all.
If this unlikely scenario were true, why was $41.5 million spent finding the radiation and chemical pollution in Area IV in the first place if the polluter was only going to wave away any need for remediation? Has the U.S. taxpayer been deceived and defrauded for tens of millions of dollars in addition to the exposure of the public to DOE’s poisons?
Not only does DOE boldly blind itself to all the foulness EPA found and figured the background levels for, it seems equally unable to comprehend that the department cannot unilaterally nix the cleanup. The AOC it signed in 2010 to clean up to background radiation and chemicals is a legally binding document. The AOCs for both the DOE and NASA make it explicitly clear that DTSC will determine cleanup decisions for both chemicals and radiation in the SSFL cleanup.
While the DOE states at the beginning of the draft EIS report that “DOE has no preferred alternative at this time,” it’s clear that the department does have a preference, and that is doing as little cleanup as possible. “The negative incremental risks calculated for the No Action Alternative imply that the concentrations of chemical and radionuclides in soil from site-related activities are less than the variability of background concentrations of those chemicals and radionuclides. Therefore, the risk of cancer incidence or death from chemicals and/or radionuclides in Area IV and the NBZ are comparable to or less than the risk determined for background soils.”
It goes without saying that if the DOE manages to get marching orders to do nothing in Area IV and the NBZ, nothing they will do. That leaves any possible contamination at Brandeis-Bardin, and its obvious source, left there forever. Nothing would please the polluters and their like-minded pals in the Trump Administration more.
The prospect of eternal pollution being the solution did not please the Ventura County Board of Supervisors in whose county the lab sits. At a March 7 meeting, the board made their unhappiness with the DOE clear with a 4-0 vote demanding adherence to the AOC. “Unfortunately, the EIS does not analyze cleaning the DOE site to the agreed upon stipulations in the 2010 Agreement on Consent,” the board’s letter to the DOE states. “Instead, hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of soil, some with known significant chemical and radiological contamination that would be covered by the AOC, are exempted from remediation.”
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“They have not done an analysis of cleaning up to background,” Supervisor Linda Parks said of the DOE at the board meeting, “something that they have a legal binding agreement to do so. If you look at the document, they have excluded somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 cubic feet to half a million cubic feet of soil from even the consideration of remediation.” Supervisor Steve Bennett concurred adding, “[T]his backsliding after all of this work and all of these agreements … is not appropriate or good government policy in terms of following through on commitments.”
The Los Angeles City Council then voted to pressure the DOE to adhere to the AOC with a 12-1 vote March 8. A week later on March 14, Los Angeles County supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Kathryn Barger led a unanimous board vote demanding total cleanup of the old Atomics International site and SSFL. Kuehl, a longtime leader in the fight to clean up Rocketdyne, minced no words.
“This site has been a little unusual, actually, even compared to our other toxic sites in the county, because the federal government is so implicit in keeping this a dirty site and keeping it from being cleaned up, in not just dragging their heels, but in creating documents that lowball the danger, that lowball the health effects,” Kuehl declared to a room packed with appreciative pro-cleanup supporters. “Well, I believe in a cancer cluster when I see one, and I know what’s going on in these neighborhoods and what has been. If you see the film that was made about this site, and you see the workers given plastic aprons to go in and clean up a nuclear meltdown, or you see them shooting rifles at barrels of radioactive materials to set them on fire, and you watch this radiated material rising up into the air and spreading over miles of this area, and you think, well, you know, in the old days, they would claim, ‘Oh we didn’t know what we were doing, or we did and we didn’t care.’ But to say in the 21st Century ‘we know and we don’t care’ is really inexcusable.”