Boeing aborts cleanup of Santa Susana Field Laboratory
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.”

20 years of ongoing SSFL/Rocketdyne investigative reporting
June 1998June 2018

12 Comments

  1. It’s been 22 years since I first began to hear that “radioactive dirt and dust” was blowing in the wind in eastern Ventura County.

    Quite obviously the home building company which sold us our new home absolutely failed to disclose that fact to us, if they even knew it. Nobody with children, or who hoped for children, would buy a house in a community which presented that risk if they only knew.

    Between then and now the California Legislature kept beefing up California Civil Code Section 1102, requiring that real estate sellers (be they home builders or home owners) and their real estate brokers had to disclose in writing, to a buyer, that a condition existing in the home’s environment, be it natural or man made, which would affect the market value of the property or the safety of the buyer and his/her family living there be disclosed to the buyer before transfer of ownership of the property to the buyer is made and before purchase money changes hands. It’s as if the Legislature’s members understand that radioactive and toxic contamination will never be fully cleaned up, and that trying to accomplish something the legislators want the public warned time and time again, at the very least.

    In making a half-hearted disclosure of hazardous environmental or man-made toxic conditions, some real estate brokers think they’ve made an adequate disclosure by writing a half-baked warning to the buyer: “Before you buy a house or condominium in this community, you should investigate the history of the XYZ property and its affect on people and the environment.”

    Real estate litigation lawyers take the opposite approach. As to Rocketdyne aka Santa Susana Field Lab a few have written a disclosure to the effect of the following: “The community where this property is located is also home to the now-closed Rocketdyne aka Santa Susana Field Lab testing facility which was used by the U.S. government and private companies to test rockets and nuclear reactors. The rocket tests discharged hazardous substances called volatile organic compounds, known carcinogens, into the air and into the soil where those chemicals entered the ground water beneath the community. The rocket tests also discharged reproductively toxic ammonium perchlorate into the soil and community ground water. Those chemicals make it unsafe to drink water from domestic wells. The nuclear reactors were “experimental” and did not have containment structures to prevent radioactive discharges to the air, soil and ground water should an accident occur. In fact multiple accidents involving those nuclear reactors occurred in the late 1950’s, including the melt down of the core of a reactor, releasing radioactive substances into the air and ground water, which in turn have found their way into the community’s soil and blowing dust.”

    I can’t imagine buying a home within a 10-mile radius of the Santa Susana Field Lab for $800,000 if I could buy the same age, size and quality house in a place like Santa Clarita or Glendale which would not have the “Black Eye Effect” on the value of the real estate, or the health of its occupants, created by the not-remediated nature of the Santa Susana Field Lab.

    The Black Eye Effect colors the thinking and actions of City Council members, County Supervisors, Boards of Realtors and Chambers of Commerce and their members, and land owners/real estate developers/home builders all across the state when faced with a large, unremediated property in their community. Those powers-that-be want everyone to keep their mouths shut about the toxic-chemical/radioactive effects upon the resale value of real estate and businesses in their communities.

    The Black Eye Effect is compounded when local residents start getting sick and dying from the toxic or radioactive substances in their community. The more people who die from diseases apparently caused by the unremediated laboratory property, the more aggressively the contaminated property’s owner and the local powers-that-be are in their actions to keep deaths and illnesses a secret.

    The Black Eye Effect becomes all-the-worse when the radioactive substance or toxic chemical released into the community starts killing children. Sadly the communities around the Santa Susana Field Lab have suffered deaths among its children. Those stories survive the test of time and enhance the Black Eye Effect in a way that the powers-that-be and contaminated property owner cannot eradicate. One particularly painful story is that of 4 year old Skylar Neil who lived on Summit Ridge Circle in Chatsworth: https://people.com/archive/losing-Skylar-vol-44-no-16/

    A story like Skylar’s should be written, told and preserved for every child who dies from a radiation related illness.

    I learned 20 years ago that the management employees of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and other health/safety related state agencies are intellectually corrupt, more interested in protecting their pay checks and their prospects for promotion (or prospects for a high paying job in the private sector) than they are interested in protecting the public health. For me it’s profoundly sad to see that none of that has changed in 2 decades despite California having had a series of allegedly progressive governors. The state bureaucracy in California is so fundamentally corrupt that it doesn’t matter that we’ve seen an appointed water quality control board member simultaneously acting as a paid adviser to a major polluter who was refusing to remediate its property in California. California’s governors, attorney generals and prosecutors simply do not care about stopping, investigating or punishing toxics-related conflicts of interests among state employees.

    Then there was the Federal court lawsuit filed as a result of the Aliso Canyon gas well explosion accusing a state level elected official of constant violation of the Federal law called “Civil RICO” by pandering to representatives of the oil and gas industry doing business in California. Despite the profoundly disturbing emails from the elected defendant and his staff to representatives of that industry attached to not-sealed pleadings filed in a Federal court case, California’s newspaper editors simply refused to pay attention. Those emails went a long way towards proving the Civil RICO claims. California’s publicity seeking Attorney General stepped right up and defended the miscreant official. Every Federal judge in California to whom that case was assigned found a reason to decline to be involved in the case. The usual vile threats were made to the plaintiff and his lawyer and the case was dismissed without prejudice. That’s California folks, making New Jersey’s and New York’s corrupt public officials look like pikers.

    California’s state and local governments were lost to profoundly pro-corporate corruption 30 or so years ago. The number of state officials with college degrees and a good deal of responsibility in their jobs who are criminally prosecuted for their deadly conduct can be counted on two hands. There are no fairy tale endings nor will there be, as to voter-and-taxpayer campaigns to make their community’s environment safe and healthy by forcing the remediation of toxic and radioactive properties.

    To thank state and local politicians and public employees for siding with the corporate polluters time and time again, voters and taxpayers should do everything they can to publicize the Black Eye Effect on their community at every opportunity. Destroy the fair market value of every piece of vacant land, commercial/office/industrial building, apartment building and home in the community by constantly publicizing the radioactive/toxic Black Eye Effect and its risk to anyone foolish enough to move to the community.

    Write, distribute and publicize throughout the community detailed descriptions of the illnesses suffered by friends, neighbors and local children, describing in detail the illnesses’ connection to radioactivity and toxic chemicals which the state and local government allowed to be left behind. Do that to deter other innocent people from moving in to the radioactively contaminated community.

    Name names as to who among state and local government employees have sold their souls and who are manipulating on behalf of the large corporate polluters.

    When you can take your children and other loved ones to safety by moving away.

  2. Given Boeing’s skillful management and manipulation of the politics of remediating the Santa Susana Field Lab, I was surprised to learn that the Boeing team which actually builds airplanes are screw-ups:

    https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/737-problems-have-grown-in-renton-despite-boeings-reassurances/

  3. @Dorri Z Raskin: Thank you for this, Dorri. What some EnviroReporter.com readers may not know is that, indeed, the community has protested Boeing at the gates of SSFL, like this Boeing SSFL Bus Tour Demonstration August 6 2016, exactly two years ago two days from now during the hottest time of the year. Readers may not also know this: The Raskin family is greatly responsible for the public (and press) for even knowing about the radiological and chemical contamination catastrophe at the old Rocketdyne lab, perched above Brandeis-Bardin’s Jewish camp and KB Homes’ Runkle Canyon development, Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands. Dorri and her family are fine examples of California’s bold.

  4. Thank you Michael for this article. As always, both your reporting and investigating is top notch.
    This is sad, disappointing news that Boeing refuses to clean up. I feel frustuated, angry that the polluter can get away with walking away at our expense-People are expendable. Kids getting cancer-so what! People getting cancers so what?? Shame on Boeing!! It is time to protest.

  5. Where is Brad Sherman?

  6. Another Simi Mom

    Boeing mentions North American Land Trust in their email which is part of the story above. North American Land Trust has a website which everyone should scrutinize. northamericanlandtrust dot org When you parse through their list of Board of Directors you can see that some of them work directly in the real estate business. The rest work in the “land trust industry”.

    Boeing claimed back in 2015 or so that they had signed a conservation easement over Santa Susana Field Lab to North American Land Trust. See: protectsantasusana dot com.

    They also seem to be playing games, because they say that the land trust documents will forbid residential and agricultural developments on the Field Lab. The gaping hole in that claim is that commercial, office, industrial, hotel/resort/casino land seem not to be prohibited from what Boeing’s P.R. people have written.

    On 8/25/17 I just ran the name North American Land Trust through the Ventura County Recorder’s search engine, and there is no conservation easement recorded in the Ventura County land records, which is what is required for the document to be binding on the land forever. From a real estate lawyer’s point of view, that makes the conservation easement b.s. or chimera, because if does exist it can easily be renegotiated and amended whenever the land owner and easement recipient want.

    If Boeing granted the conservation easement to a subsidiary of North American Land Trust, and those 4 words are not in the name, then Boeing should send Enviroreporter a county-certified, as recorded copy of the conservation easement to that subsidiary, to prove that the conservation easement exists in Ventura County. Without that proof, Boeing’s claims about creating a conservation easement fit what P.T. Barnum said “A sucker is born every minute.”

    For those who don’t know what a land trust does: A land trust is an entity which receives a conservation easement which they can enforce, IF THEY FEEL LIKE IT, allowing them to go to court to stop some types of “development”. Big real estate owners give conservation easements to private land trusts, rather than deed property over to public agencies like Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, so the real estate owners can make back room deals with the land trust’s management concerning continued uses of the land.

    My friends and I have had experience with another private land trust which allowed a gigantic 36″ natural gas pipeline to be trenched through a conservation easement area in L.A. County which was supposed to be “preserved in its natural state forever”. Rather than design the pipeline to respect the gigantic oak trees in that conservation easement, the land trust managers simply let the pipeline company rip them down. As a result, you never know what you’re going to see when a conservation easement is created. When a conservation easement supposedly exists but is not recorded with the County Recorder in the county where the land is located you can conclude that the land owner is trying to “con” both the public and government agencies.

    Also, when a private person or private entity receives a conservation easement, it can still be destroyed and erased by a local, state or Federal government agency using its eminent domain/condemnation power. Under those circumstances the land is NOT preserved in its present state forever.

    Back in 2001 my late friend, the City Attorney of Santa Clarita, had me help him on a research project. The city wanted to control some land for a Metrolink Station Parking Lot, but the land was profoundly chemically contaminated. We read every 9th Circuit and California case which was pertinent and ended up concluding that the city would be liable for toxic clean up costs on land it “controlled”, even though the city would only have an easement. We came to that conclusion after reading a 9th Circuit case out of Hawaii. That may be the hang-up with North American Land Trust receiving a recorded conservation easement deed…they may have competent lawyers.

    So pardon me if I’m not impressed with what Boeing claims it is doing.

  7. Dr. Robert Stein

    How about all the damage and cancer you have already caused in Simi Valley throughout your years of cover up and denial. Having 2 adult children; one with cancer and another with a life threatening disease in this area, I hope your Boeing executives would be willing to let their children live in the first-homes built there since you claim they are safe.

  8. Please take action! We have an action you can take to tell state regulators to reject Boeing’s outrageous cleanup plan. Click here and share far and wide! http://bit.ly/2wbXZq8

  9. The idea that Boeing gets to basically walk away from the pollution caused by THIRTY THOUSAND rocket tests is just absurd. It’s at the top of a hill, and residences are being built all around below it.

    Real estate developers and potential buyers need to be shown this article — and Collins’s whole series on the SSFL, for that matter. They need to know that Boeing and its predecessors poisoned their neighborhood – and they refuse to clean it up. If I were a developer downhill of the SSFL, I’d seriously look for a way to sue Boeing.

  10. It seems that Boeing has made a business decision. This is not unsurprising, as Boeing is exactly that. No more, no less. DTSC, on the other hand, has greater responsibilities as does the EPA. Both Federal and State agencies need to step up and address toxic contamination released during government sponsored activities. The money to clean this up, unfortunately, must come from us, the taxpayers. We are always on the hook, of course. And, the government is that fabulous guaranteed payer who fattens the coffers of companies like Boeing. Where, then, is the political will to force the issue forward? Set the standards to reduce the contamination levels to acceptable levels, monitor progress on the work, and close off access to the property and surrounding areas for public safety. Where, indeed, is the will, and why is the public’s health always traded off against corporate interest and profit? Questions asked over and over again of elites who know the answer, but laugh within, because they know why, and wonder why we even bother to ask.

  11. Thanks Michael Collins for making what is going on in 2017 with respect to Santa Susan Field Lab crystal clear.

    In the two page letter from Boeing dated August 22, 2017, it says that their “new” remediation plan will protect neighborhoods adjacent to the Field Lab. Yet there has been 60 years of contaminated dirt and dust blowing off the site, with people in surrounding neighborhoods getting cancers which medical experts say could only have been caused by exposure to radionuclides. Under Boeing’s new remediation plan that contaminated dirt and dust will continue to blow.

    Lots of people in surrounding neighborhoods and a Brandeis-Bardin have had their bite at the apple, in terms of litigation. I don’t see any contingency fee lawyers rushing to represent them. However the existence of the radioactively contaminated dirt and dust blowing off the site is a “continuing nuisance” about which people who have never sued Boeing can still can complain if they have proof. A serious program of offsite sampling and testing has been what is needed all along. And of course a broad based offsite sampling program has not been conducted by DTSC, DOE or EPA.

    For years and years the State of California has fallen down in using its litigation power to stop the lead from the infamous Exide battery plant from blowing on homes and people in East L.A. So too has the State of California fallen down in using its litigation power to stop the dirt and dust blowing on homes and people in the communities surrounding the Santa Susana Field Lab. That cause of action to abate a continuing public nuisance exists and is held by the State. Sadly the people who have been California Attorney General over the years have not wanted to use that power to protect the public health.

  12. Dear Michael,

    I’m so pleased to see you are still working hard on SSFL! It’s a disgrace that this has taken so long to clean-up! Now Boeing wants to just let it go as if nothing happened there. I oppose this decision. It will leave too much contamination still covering the site. I, for one, am tired of Boeing putting off our safety and health to save them money! I hope the DTSC requires Boeing to clean up the site to EPA standards not Boeing’s lazy standards!

    Keep up the great journalism Michael! We, the poor citizens will stand behind and with you! I’m counting on you to keep the public informed of Boeing’s “dirty secrets” and lies! My best to the SSFL Clean-Up Group and especially Bonnie Klea. I’ve known Bonnie since the beginning of the formation of the SSFL Clean-Up Coalition, she is a wonderful fighter! Keep fighting Bonnie! We are with you!

    As for Boeing, you should be ashamed to leave this site and not clean up to EPA standards! Think of all the people you will be responsible to for letting this go. You are playing with people’s lives and this is not acceptable!

    Thank you!

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