West LA Veterans Administration master plan protects old nuclear dump from development
The decades-long battle over the Brentwood biomedical nuclear and chemical dump may finally be over. Gone are any ideas of building a park with bike and walking paths over the dump EnviroReporter.com first exposed just over thirteen years ago.
Department of Veterans Affairs officials say their final master plan, due by the end of the month, will exclude the dump, adjacent arroyos and rare wetlands from any development. The West LA VA master plan is remarkable in that, for the first time, the VA comprehensively documents the dump’s location and condition with an eye to leaving it, the adjacent wetlands and 11 acres of land alone.
“After a long contentious battle, the decision to leave the contaminated nuclear and chemical Brentwood VA site undeveloped marks a major victory for public health and safety, says former Committee to Bridge the Gap (CBG) research director, Dr. Bennett Ramberg, who is now an international nuclear issues columnist.
CBG was first in raising questions about the mysterious nuclear dump on VA property back in the early 1980s. “However, prudence dictates that monitoring remain to assure no contamination migrates offsite or to ground water and remedial measures apply in the event detection takes place,” advises Ramberg.
The master plan also recognizes the heretofore ignored over $2 million worth of VA scientific assessments of the site in 2007 and 2010 precipitated by EnviroReporter.com’s investigation of the waste disposal site.
Currently, the West LA VA is reviewing, and hopefully incorporating, the final comments on its Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). The candor of the master plan is striking as in the section entitled “WLA Landscape Survey Report.”
“From the 1950s to approximately 1968, the WLA Campus used the arroyos as a repository for waste,” the survey states. “Studies in 2007 and 2010 concluded that there are no potential health risks to the public as a result of the waste deposits.”
That may well be true, if the dump is left undisturbed or removed with all the attendant rules and protocols regarding radioactive hazardous waste remediation of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The VA’s intention to forgo developing the dump was reaffirmed in a January 17 PEIS public meeting that included the West LA VA’s director Ann Brown and Glenn Elliott, VA environmental engineer and program manager who stressed that VA “will follow state and federal law.”
“Any activity within there will have to follow NRC, it will have to go through State regulatory requirements and that’s why it’s presented in there [PEIS],” Elliott said in response to an EnviroReporter.com question. “The information is in there about the arroyo.”
The PEIS landscape report describes a period from 1923 to 1952 when the arroyos’ significance “was aesthetic and part of the feeling of being within a peaceful respite in the burgeoning urbanization of West Los Angeles.”
“The introduction of dumping waste negates the aesthetic value of the arroyos and indicates that VA did not value the space as a significant feature of the campus,” the report admits with stunning honesty. “Although the waste is not visible, the change in integrity of feeling and association from the deposition mars the ability of the arroyos to contribute to the WLA VA NRHD [National Register Historic District].”
The report recommends removing the arroyos from the historic district and to continue to use the undeveloped 11-acre land as a buffer to tony Brentwood, one of the richest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. “It would be more fitting to note the setback of the hospital buildings from the adjacent neighborhood as a feature of the NRHD,” the study says.
The “WLA Wetland Survey Report” further confirms that the dump will lay undisturbed for the foreseeable future, at least the 30 years the master plan intends to be in effect. “As part of the PEIS/PEIR, no development is being proposed for the arroyo area, and no permits or reviews are being requested from Federal or State agencies for the area,” the wetlands study says. “Past environmental studies documented that the arroyo has been used for disposal of waste from VA facilities and other sources. The identified buried waste sites were covered with clean fill to depths of 5 to 30 feet (or more) as protective measures during the storm drain construction and other project activities. One buried waste site appears to be within the northern portion of the wetland area.”
The master plan, as in the past, has characterized the dump as not having any elevated contaminant levels, mistakes corrected in PEIS public comments by this reporter with 2019 EnviroReporter.com Comments on West LA VA Master Plan Environmental Impact Statement. “While it is correct that “contaminants and radionuclides found in the soil and water did not exceed preliminary remediation goals established for soil and tap water by EPA Region 9,” that does not hold true for gases,” this reporter wrote in February 14, 2019 comments. “Two passive gas samples for benzene and 17 passive gas samples for chloroform greatly exceed their PRGs. Benzene gas was 83.3 times and 91.7 times its PRG. Chloroform gas was between 208.3 times and 700.0 times its PRG throughout the range of the 17 samples taken.”
Those elevated gases were found in areas currently leased by exclusive Brentwood School and used as a soccer and baseball field. The PEIR also mischaracterized the extent of the dump area’s groundwater radioactivity which was noted in EnviroReporter.com’s comments as well.
“The 2010 study report showed that Radium-226 (Ra-226) and Radium-228 (Ra-228) in dump groundwater exceeded California’s Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for drinking water by 60.6 percent,” this reporter’s comments read. ”The VA was required to notify state water authorities of the MCL violation as the VA’s groundwater has beneficial users and is protected at the source. That did not happen which is not that big a deal in this circumstance. But it should be noted in this section of the PEIS that Ra-226 and Ra-228 are in the groundwater.”
In comments and at the January 17 PEIS meeting, concern was raised by this reporter over repeated use in the PEIS of detailed, richly-illustrated maps showing pedestrian and bike pathways as well as a roadway right over and through the known dump. The VA’s Elliott explained the discrepancy for the audience and media present.
“So the bike path that was being mentioned here, that was part of the original master plan that was previously developed,” Elliott said. “Currently, that is not being looked at.”
After the meeting director Brown chatted with audience members and this reporter was struck by how different she is from her predecessor Ralph Tillman who is now doing a stretch in federal prison for taking bribes at the VA while defrauding it out of over $13 million. This was while Tillman simultaneously dismissed any notion that the dump could be a hazard even as part of it lay under Barrington Park which includes an off-leash dog run.
“From our perspective, there’s nothing to get out,” Tillman told Hena Cuevas of KCET’s “Life & Times” in a 2007 segment called Brentwood’s Forgotten VA Dump. “In other words, it’s a safe environment. The land is safe, the surface is safe.”
Tillman continued to gripe about EnviroReporter.com‘s findings at a marathon private and public meeting in 2007 at the VA’s Wadsworth Theater. “We’re going to waste a million dollars for no purpose,” a Tillman said to a Los Angeles City Council staffer in four-hour discussions before the September 6, 2007 CARES public meeting. CARES was a then-President George W. Bush plan to partially privatize the VA, with its West LA VA redevelopment worth $4 billion.
That was before the Bush Administration’s VA ran into the buzz saw of information on EnviroReporter.com on the Brentwood dump that upended the whole plan. During the 2007 CARES meeting, Bush-VA Secretary Nicholson’s Special Assistant Jay Halpern said the nuke dump delayed Bush Administration plans for development. “There were other issues that we ran into that were much more complicated,” said Halpern. “Certainly the issue around the radiation of Barrington Park.”
EnviroReporter.com began on May 18, 2006, when this reporter and his future bride, Denise Duffield, built the site to back up the explosive VA nuke dump exposé for the simple reason that we didn’t think anyone would believe that there was a substantial biomedical nuclear and chemical dump in Brentwood, California if we didn’t kick with it and show reams of supporting documents and photos.
The website’s debut coordinated with the late, great Los Angeles CityBeat/ValleyBeat newspaper that published simultaneously “Real Hot Property” on CityBeat as we premiered with an expanded version on EnviroReporter.com. One week later, the newspaper and new website followed up with versions of “Where the Bodies are Buried.”
Duffield and this reporter were subsequently rewarded with several awards for this journalism including Online Journalists of the Year from the Greater Los Angeles Press Club. The greatest reward for this journalist, however, was even meeting Duffield with whom I had my first date exactly 15 years ago today on May 20, 2004. We married in 2008, wed in 2010 and have shared many adventures ever since.
“While plaudits may be due the Trump administration for signing off on resolution of the VA dump, the major credit for success goes to the relentless efforts of Committee to Bridge the Gap and the EnviroReporter.com/CityBeat for keeping the issue alive year after year pressing career government employees to do the evaluations that recommended keeping the site undisturbed,” adds Ramberg.
That credit goes to Brown, Elliott and a host of government servants who appear to have finally stopped any foolish development plans for the dump. The final master plan will most likely confirm this wise choice soon enough if Elliott’s parting words are any measure. “Leave it alone.”