Toxic Test Stands
Then an anti-cleanup bolt out of the goo struck that would effectively relieve NASA of the majority its huge cleanup burden in its areas of responsibility at SSFL. Republican congressman Steve Knight (CA-25) sent a bipartisan letter to the acting head of NASA March 21 asking for the remaining rocket test stands at Rocketdyne not be demolished because of their “historical significance.”
“We understand the need to complete the cleanup of toxic chemicals in the area from the many years of research and testing. However, the environmental protection mission and the preservation of such an important piece of our shared history are not mutually exclusive goals,” Knight and his co-signers stated in the letter. “It would be a tragedy to lose these test stands and deny future generations the ability to connect with this history and humanity’s ongoing search for a better understanding of our universe.”
Nancy Kidd couldn’t have put it better. But what could really be a tragedy is if the test stands remained because it is underneath and around them where the most contamination on NASA property remains unremediated. Two of the most important and prevalent chemicals of concern are perchlorate and TCE which, as this investigation shows, have migrated from NASA property into Brandeis-Bardin.
Despite highfalutin rhetoric to the contrary, leaving the test stands in place means leaving the pollution which would make any chance of eventually cleaning up Brandeis-Bardin virtually impossible. The proposal conveniently also leaves out how to pay for restoring the test stands which are covered in peeling lead paint, according to NASA, as well as how to secure and insure them since the public would presumably be in their proximity. Nowhere does Knight suggest where the substantial funds needed for what could be called Glow in the Dark Park would come from.
What is also left out of the anti-EPA arch conservative congressman’s flowery pitch is any mention of the Nazi origins of SSFL or its impacts environmentally on the surrounding communities including the large Jewish camp downhill from contaminated NASA land and groundwater. This isn’t surprising coming from Knight who is against federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and who voted with just two other California legislators to allow the display and sale of Confederate flag images in California state museums and gift shops in 2014.
What is surprising is that he got a handful of congress members who have previously supported the cleanup to co-sign the letter. Most dismaying to cleanup advocates is Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-26) signing on to Knight’s letter even though she has long advocated for the full cleanup of SSFL to background.
On a historic level, the dilapidated SSFL test sites do not rank with the many test stands at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where this reporter lived as a child growing up to love their grandeur and significance to space exploration. Indeed, the most historically noteworthy SSFL rocket test stands, the V-2 rocket ones brought to the new lab after World War II in Nazi swastika-emblazoned boxes and reassembled, have already been removed.
A re-imagining of SSFL’s toxic past and present took place March 29 at a meeting of the DOE-funded SSFL Community Advisory Group (CAG), a group exposed as a ‘greenwashing’ and ‘astroturf’ front in 2012 in Greenwashing Rocketdyne. The sparsely attended meeting took place at the Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills.
The DOE is actively working against its own AOC agreement to clean up Area IV and its environs to background as first revealed in Dept. of Energy secretly funding front group to sabotage its own Santa Susana Field Lab cleanup in September 2016. That front group is the CAG, a DTSC-approved attempted replacement of the SSFL Work Group against the majority of the extensive community’s wishes.
One of the 18 people in the audience in a room seating over 150 was CAG Member Ross Berman, a former employee of SSFL contractors CH2M Hill and Tetra Tech, who was handing out packets of information. Another was William Preston Bowling who taped and took photographs of the public event that he shared with EnviroReporter.com.
“Is that the rabbi [Rabbi Jay Strear] from Brandeis?” Bowling wrote in an e-mail to EnviroReporter.com during the event. “I say it is. Maybe he dropped off the Brandeis document or asked the CAG to pass it out.”
The four pager purportedly from AJU is called “Fact Sheet – Brandeis-Bardin and the Santa Susana Field Laboratory” and makes the strongest claims yet that there has been no impact at all to its property from SSFL. Some of the claims, however, don’t seem rooted in the actual facts. This is ironic because in its zeal to discredit and intimidate TV reporter Joel Grover, AJU tried to pull scientific rank on the longtime award-winning investigative journalist.
“Mr. Grover¹s so-called investigation is an undifferentiated ³the sky is falling² tale – the kind of spectacular story intended to draw attention with little attention to actual facts,” wrote AJU’s communications and marketing VP Joanna Gerber May 4, 2016. “The complex nature of the scientific findings appears to have eluded your writers and your editors.”
Perhaps it has eluded AJU that its “fact sheet” handed out at the CAG meeting made claims that are not supported by the facts. In fact, the evidence comes from the fact sheet itself.
“Environmental conditions on the Brandeis Bardin Campus have been studied extensively since 1991 by federal and state environmental agencies, as well as independent third-party engineers,” the AJU fact sheet states. “During that time, hundreds of soil, sediment, surface water, groundwater, and vegetation samples taken from the BBC have been analyzed. In 2016, an additional test – known as a gamma survey-was conducted on the main camp area and in the southern ravines. At no point in time have these tests shown any evidence of contaminant migration from SSFL.”
This exposé has shown numerous detections of “contaminant migration” from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory as confirmed by Rockwell International, DOE, NASA and EnviroReporter.com.
Yet AJU’s fact sheet claims that from 1991 on, there has been no evidence that SSFL goo got onto its property. If this AJU statement were true, wouldn’t it mean that the action Brandeis-Bardin brought against Rockwell in 1995 and settled with Boeing in 1997 confidentially for $3.2 million shouldn’t have happened? If there was no contamination, why did Brandeis-Bardin sue over it? Why did Boeing pay Brandeis-Bardin millions to settle?
AJU has made no typo here as this claim is repeated. “In 1991, a rigorous testing program began at BBI to determine whether contamination at the SSFL had migrated to the BBI property,” says the fact sheet. “The results of those tests consistently show no migration from SSFL to the Brandeis Bardin property.”
The claim is repeated yet again this time citing AJU’s Tetra Tech report. “Tetra Tech found no evidence of contaminant migration from the SSFL,” reads the AJU fact sheet. Indeed, AJU’s shaky claims flow into leaky descriptions of how there is no way SSFL’s toxins can even get to Brandeis-Bardin property.
“Since 2010, storm water runoff from SSFL is primarily diverted away from Brandeis Bardin,” the paper claims. “Storm water diversions have been constructed on the SSFL to prevent the flow of runoff from the SSFL on or toward the BBC.”
“It’s not diverted away, yet in places they [Boeing and/or its subcontractors] have created bioswales to hold storm water runoff in place from Area I in the northern drainage, and there are some BMP [“Best Management Practice”] work before and after the outfalls in Area IV that connect to AJU,” said Bowling in an email after the CAG meeting. “The camp has been dealing with Rocket-Goo since the 1940s as per the letters produced in the NBC expose.”
Satellite imagery from 2017 shows that Area IV outfalls for surface runoff, like outfalls 5 & 6 in 2008, are still in operation. These SSFL outfalls above Brandeis-Bardin slow the effluent’s flow during rain events, allowing it to soak in onsite and churning the water to encourage VOC evaporation. What soaks in makes its way into the groundwater which then squirts out in seeps below.
But that’s about it even though AJU claims otherwise. “What is released onto BBC is first processed to drinking water standards.”
If the water flowing off of Area IV met drinking water standards, why would AJU feel compelled to have maintained signs in Meier Canyon that said “WARNING DO NOT DRINK OR USE THIS WATER”? And why would AJU’s fact sheet make the conclusion that “Decades of testing have shown no evidence of contaminant migration from SSFL to BBC”?
The facts continued their holiday at the SSFL CAG meeting. “I mean what could possibly mitigate removing something that’s on the National Register, like a sacred cave or a test stand that got us to the moon?” anti-cleanup CAG member John Luker asked the small crowd knowing full well that the sacred Chumash cave won’t be touched in any cleanup scenario. “How do you mitigate the removal of those things? That question has remained unanswered for twelve years.”
That’s because the question hasn’t been asked because it is senseless and Luker knows it. The former Venice Beach juggler has repeatedly tossed out these cock-and-bull stories since he first started collaborating on the scheme to greenwash SSFL with former Los Angeles Times reporter and Boeing hired gun Gary Polakovic as exposed in Boeing’s Meltdown Makeover in 2012.
Bonnie Klea, long renowned as The Atomic Avenger, knows Luker quite well. Klea, recently profiled by the Los Angeles Daily News, has been on the receiving end of his belittling remarks for years. Recently, she was named the 2017 Pioneer Woman of the Year by Los Angeles Councilmember Mitchell Englander for “her exceptional work advocating for those affected by the Santa Susana Field Lab during the partial meltdown of a sodium reactor occurred in 1959 at the site.” [sic]
“We have a cancer cluster of little kids,” Klea said during the CAG meeting after yet another presentation claiming no one has been effected by SSFL poisons. “We are on the second cancer cluster. The first one was in 2006. Those babies were born with retinoblastoma. Now we have 70 little children surrounding Santa Susana and they have extremely rare cancers. Maybe’s there’s one in a million in America and we have more than one. Seventy kids.”
“If there was the remotest chance that there actually is cancer, somebody’s got to start doing some soil testing because the contamination is not at SSFL,” Luker said without the slightest trace of irony. “So we have to start looking at, maybe, school yards, public parks where we could do the testing and sampling and see if there’s anything there.”
Look anywhere but where there is dirt so hot that it is over a thousand times background, DOE’s Area IV sitting high above the Jewish camp. That kind of nonsense might work for people new to the issue but it doesn’t fly with folks who’ve fought for full cleanup of the hot zone for decades.
Now or Never Again
Talking with a DOE official at the February 18 EIS meeting in Simi Valley, this reporter asked that if Area IV contaminants were found in Brandeis-Bardin above background, would DOE remove them per the AOC. DOE’s project manager for Area IV, John Wondolleck, said yes “in terms of anything that migrated from [Area IV]” before a DOE person intervened and offered an on the spot interview with DOE’s John Jones.
“What we have discovered in the drainages are extremely low levels of pesticides and herbicides that are in the drainages leaving Area IV into Brandeis,” Jones told EnviroReporter.com in a room adjacent DOE’s public display describing the DEIS. “They are in no way near a threat to human health and, at this point, our range for what we have for the volume does not include going to Brandeis because at this stage this an informational document. This is not a decisional document so it would be inappropriate to say ‘we’re going to go here and do this’ when we first have to talk to the private owners as well as we have to develop our final EIS and our record of decision is a decision document.”
SSFL’s DTSC project manager Mark Malinowski has repeatedly stated that if any contamination was found in Brandeis-Bardin related to Rocketdyne, DTSC would ensure that the responsible parties would be obliged to clean it up to background. In this case, NASA and the DOE would be those parties. These assurances were made last year in DTSC’s April 12, 2016 presentation, and again in its December 22, 2016 letter to state Assemblymember Matt Dababneh (D-Van Nuys), where DTSC director Barbara Lee wrote, “I would like to emphasize that, if contaminants were detected at concentrations that posed an imminent threat to human health or the environment at Brandeis-Bardin Campus, DTSC would have issued an order for an immediate cleanup.”
Considering that there has been no comprehensive examination until this exposé of what the contamination and remediation challenges are, the public now has the knowledge to determine what it wants done at SSFL and Brandeis-Bardin. The public can comment on DOE’s Draft EIS by April 13, 2017.
“These environmental outrages shouldn’t be allowed,” says Bowling. “Now that the red hot spotlight of truth backed by proof is shining on Brandeis-Bardin, it’s time for action. The place has to be cleaned up to background levels of radiation and chemicals just like SSFL must be according to law.”
While the sordid history of this place suggests that the worst will indeed continue to pass, the information unearthed here, in over thirteen years of digging, will nevertheless warn the unwary of what secrets lie in and around the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. People that make the Simi Hills their playground, destination or home deserve to know what risks await.
[Last updated 9:20 pm PSDT June 10, 2017]
Read more at BRANDEIS-BARDIN’S TOXIC DENIAL INVESTIGATION
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