Lab owner reverses its own promises in defying State-ordered remediation
Aerospace giant Boeing has announced that it no longer intends to clean up the grossly polluted Santa Susana Field Laboratory to levels it previously promised, according to an email it sent out yesterday obtained by EnviroReporter.com.
The company now claims that since the land is intended for open space it no longer is obligated to fulfill requirements to remediate the site to levels that community activists and elected officials have demanded for decades.
Boeing’s proposal, which needs Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) approval, would leave 98 percent of the company-controlled contaminated soil not cleaned up. This would leave the infamously polluted 2,850-acre lab permanently threatening its downhill neighbors with its continuing release of radiation and chemicals in the dirt, dust, groundwater and surface runoff during rains.
“In our updated work plan, we proposed an approach for calculating risk assessment using recreational exposure assumptions consistent with the site’s future use as open space habitat,” said Boeing spokesperson Kamara Noelle Sams in an August 22 message to neighbors of SSFL. “The revised proposed cleanup will be based on recreational land use scenarios, and not a “residential” cleanup as we originally volunteered. We acknowledge this difference…”
That difference has cleanup activists furious but not surprised.
“Boeing has long committed to cleaning up the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) to a level that would be safe for people to live there, even though it said residences on the site weren’t anticipated, in order to protect the tens of thousands of people who do live nearby and are at risk from the migrating contamination,” the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition said today. “Boeing has now breached those promises and says it instead wants to leave a thousand times higher concentrations of contamination than it promised, so much that according to its own risk estimates as many as 96 out of 100 people could get cancer from the remaining contamination if they lived at some areas of the site.”
This latest and gravest threat to the remediation and restoration of SSFL, site of three partial nuclear meltdowns and over 30,000 rocket engine tests over five decades, would have profound consequences on the cleanup. An Analysis of Boeing Risk Assessments which was presented at a meeting of the SSFL Work Group March 16, 2016 showed just how dramatic this gutting of the cleanup standards could be.
The report says Boeing’s own numbers show that levels of contamination at the Systems Test Lab IV (STL IV), which was used for missile and rocket engine testing from the mid-1950s to the 2000s, are so high that 96 out of 100 people living at the STL-IV as it is right now would get cancer. Under Boeing’s previous proposal, which was a watered down version of residential standards, that cancer rate would come down to 1 out of 500 getting cancer. This is 2,000 times higher than DTSC’s one in a million cancer risk cleanup goal.
The pre-clean up contamination at Boeing’s former Environmental Effects Lab (EEL), used for testing materials in high-pressure conditions, is so severe that 3 out of 10 people living there with typical gardens would get cancer. Like the STL IV, EEL too would clean up to 1 in 500 getting cancer, 2,000 times DTSC’s goal.
It gets even worse at Happy Valley North near the entrance to SSFL and high above new mansion construction below off of Valley Circle West in West Hills. There, one out of five people would get cancer living there pre-clean up and the same number afflicted after cleanup. Boeing’s prior clean up level for this cluster of buildings that experimented with energetics compounds and detonators with perchlorate is 200,000 times DTSC’s cleanup goal.
Community members were alarmed and angered by these high risk figures, and along with elected officials urged DTSC to reject Boeing’s weak proposal. But now, Boeing says it will clean up even less.
Boeing’s gooey gambit goes against numerous past promises like that of Boeing official David Dassler in a Sept. 2, 2015 email where he wrote “Boeing has referred to this commitment as a cleanup to a ‘suburban residential’ standard that is applied generally throughout the state, by which we mean a cleanup safe enough that houses could be built there…”
Dassler, as EnviroReporter.com exposed Sept. 18, 2015, also admitted during a public tour of SSFL that it would be safe enough for one hike a week, which is hardly a reassuring measure of the place’s safety.
When the media heat was on, the company played a different tune. Boeing trumpeted to NBC4 in fall 2015, in the wake of the station’s withering LA’s Nuclear Secret investigation that “We will restrict Boeing’s property so it will never be used for residential, commercial, industrial or agricultural purposes, but the land will be cleaned up so it is safe enough that houses could be built there if it wasn’t restricted…”
How Boeing’s attempt to walk away from its promises will play with politicians and the vast majority of the public who have demanded full cleanup of SSFL remains to be seen. How it plays with Bonnie Klea, former SSFL employee, bladder cancer survivor and longtime cleanup activist, is not well at all.
“One of the richest corporations in the world has decided to leave 50 years of nuclear and chemical contamination on the top of a mountain, above thousands of residents to blow off in the wind, run off in rainwater and burn and blow into our community with every fire,” Klea told EnviroReporter.com in an email today. “I watched years of their efforts to convince us that there was no harm, while the former workers became ill and fell dead, while little kids got cancer in their eyes and suffered from leukemia. Stories from dying workers told of buried barrels of waste everywhere surrounding the site. It is a crime. If the DTSC allows this they are criminals also.”