2014 Brandeis-Bardin gurgling groundwater and surface goo – photo by Brandon Manwell

Santa Susana Field Lab radiation & chemicals plague popular Jewish camp as Los Angeles Water Board prepares to end SSFL surface water testing

Federal Department of Energy (DOE) reports over the last 11 years show huge increases in radiation and chemicals in the groundwater of the massive Brandeis-Bardin Jewish camp in Simi Valley, California, in the northern shadow of the old Rocketdyne lab.

Cesium-137, radium-226, arsenic and mercury were measured earlier this year in ever increasing concentrations instead of dissipating as one might expect since SSFL closed in 2006. But that isn’t the case in Brandeis-Bardin where thousands of Jewish kids and adults have hiked the canyons where these readings were found in the well water.

The cancer-causing radionuclide cesium-137 tested at its highest level ever in the first quarter of 2022 at Well RD-59B adjacent a popular hiking trail at the Brandeis-Bardin camp in Meier Canyon. RD-59B also hit “new maximum detections” in the well’s artesian water flow for gross beta radiation and radium-226.

The metalloid carcinogen arsenic’s concentration tripled in adjacent Brandeis-Bardin Well RD-59A from 2011 to 2022. Radioactive potassium-40 increased by over 52 times in the same 11-year period.

EnviroReporter.com has analyzed thousands of pages of government studies of Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) groundwater from 2011 to 2022. That analysis has found ever increasing amounts of SSFL toxins in the groundwater of Brandeis-Bardin.

Poisonous radionuclides and chemicals are being detected at the camp at levels that even exceed those reported at the time of EnviroReporter.com’s 2017 major exposé Brandeis-Bardin’s Toxic Denial.

2006 Brandeis-Bardin surface water slime

Yet those shocking numbers aren’t even registering with the State of California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the agency supposedly in charge of the yet-to-start SSFL main cleanup as EnviroReporter.com exposed June 7 in State Secretly Kills Santa Susana Field Lab Cleanup.

Despite repeated promises that it would uphold the SSFL cleanup agreements and would not negotiate with SSFL polluters, DTSC did exactly that, signing a Settlement Agreement with Boeing that allows it to leave most of the chemical contamination on its 2,850-acre site.

Now, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board will hold a meeting June 11 to vote on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) based on the Settlement Agreement that would end its water surface water testing of SSFL.

The rationale is that the Settlement Agreement requires a cleanup so thorough that it will no longer be necessary to test SSFL’s tainted water. But the Settlement Agreement does no such thing – the site will remain contaminated with chemicals and that will migrate in surface water.

Boeing claims it will clean up radionuclides to background, but that means little considering that most of the radionuclides are on DOE’s property. And if radionuclides are increasing in offsite wells, you can bet chemicals are as well just as the data EnviroReporter.com has reported here shows.

The surface water flowing off SSFL and the polluted groundwater under and around the lab are intimately related: they’re both water and come from the same contaminated source. Cessation of surface water testing is part of the scheme to fully dismantle any accountability over the galaxy of deadly goo that has come from the lab since the 1950s.

Cleanup activists including Parents Against Santa Susana Field Lab don’t plan to let this happen quietly calling the August 11 water board meeting “One chance only for us to speak our voice, protect our community’s health, home/property values, and wildlife from poison, in person or virtually!!”

The polluter and government’s plan to can the cleanup conveniently ignores the fact that SSFL and surrounding environs already impacted by its radiation and chemicals burn every few years releasing dozens of tons of radioactive ash into the air like it did in the 2018 Woolsey Fire.

Increased radiation and chemicals in Brandeis-Bardin’s groundwater means more toxins released during these fires from the flora impacted by the old Rocketdyne lab’s fission products released during at least three partial meltdowns and innumerable spills, fires and open dumping of chemicals and radioactive goo.

2014 Brandeis-Bardin surface water – photo by Brandon Manwell

The inevitable rains that fall on the former Rocketdyne complex will bring this contamination downhill through gravity and much of the water will soak into the groundwater. The shocking proof of this cycle is in this very article that demonstrates that SSFL’s lethal grip is tightening on the neck of its immediate environs.

One thing is certain; SSFL’s goo is not good for you. The amount of radiation and chemicals in the groundwater at Brandeis-Bardin is hitting new heights, like the cesium-137 and radium-226 in Well 59B has in the first quarter of 2022.

Cesium-137 mimics calcium and fools the body into up taking it into bones which can cause leukemia as well as blood and bone cancers. It is one of the most dangerous radionuclides emanating from SSFL.

“Exposure to Cs-137 can increase the risk for cancer because of the presence of high-energy gamma radiation,” says the US EPA. “Internal exposure to Cs-137 through ingestion or inhalation allows the radioactive material to be distributed in the soft tissues, especially muscle tissue, which increases cancer risk.”

Radium-226 has a half-life of 1,600 years and is infamous for quack cures and luminescent watches painted by so-called ‘Radium Girls’ who were poisoned by the radionuclide and lost body parts before dying. The isotope was found in all three wells of the RD-59 cluster.

A June 2021 groundwater report measured radium-226 at 1.18 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) in Well RD-59A. Half a year later in early 2022, that number went to 1.46 pCi/L. That is a 23.7 percent rise in less than a year!

Potassium-40 has a half-life of 1.3 billion years and “can present both an external and an internal health hazard,” says the Health Physics Society founded in 1956. “The strong gamma radiation associated with the electron-capture decay process (which occurs 11% of the time) makes external exposure to this isotope a concern… with the general potential for subsequent cancer induction.”

EnviroReporter.com’s 24 years of reporting on Rocketdyne has never seen Gov. Gavin Newsom’s DTSC so brazen and aggressive in its collaborating with the polluters in order to kill the SSFL cleanup. No number of sourced facts or obvious scientific arguments matter to this “captured agency” or to their fibbing front women and men.

Not cleaning up Rocketdyne means that its 600 acres draining into the Jewish camp will continue to pollute 2,700-acre Brandeis-Bardin for time immemorial with the radiation and chemical levels going up in the groundwater the whole while if this trend continues.

Facts fuel the fight that unmoves contaminated mountains, saving them from development and the tons of toxic dust construction and habitation brings. Fires are another matter. Failure to clean up SSFL will ensure that fires will spread tons of its toxic vapors over Southern California for longer than we will even be here.

24 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting
June 1998June 2022

2 Comments

  1. This is an excellent, troubling article about BCI (Brandeis). I went there in the early seventies. Reading this article made me feel sick that the both the radiation and chemicals have increased. All I can say, in Yiddish, is Oh vey! (oh my). This is disgusting and our water board, Governor [Newsom] , DTSC, Cal-EPA are all in bed with the polluters. Polluters’ money over our kids’ health. This is upsetting how money has bought off our governor, EPA, DTSC, and [Los Angeles Regional] water board. That is a crime too and we in the community are stuck getting sick. What can we do??

  2. Another Simi Mom

    I am intimately familiar with the comparative elevations above sea level of the “south side” of Simi Valley, bumping up against the Santa Susana Field Lab. I have hiked it, ridden horses on it, looked at it daily for much of my adult life.

    The Field Lab is at the highest elevation. Brandeis-Bardin is at a lower elevation. Surface water and underground water runs down hill. (Duh Gavin Newsom & DTSC are you even smart enough to know that?)

    Enviroreporter’s observation that the quantity of radionuclides in the monitoring wells is GOING UP is completely normal. Contaminants in water run downhill, along with the water.

    Remember that the most radioactively contaminated area of the Santa Susana Field Lab is Area IV, where the almost-melted-down nuclear reactor was located. Area IV is where all the nuclear materials processing went on. Everyone needs to assume, the surface water and underground water is running down hill there too. Into Runkle Canyon. Into the new tracts of homes off the south end of Sequoia Avenue. Under White Bark Lane. The radionuclides are heading for the flatlands of Simi Valley, towards the Arroyo Simi.

    No the dear children of Simi Valley are not safer having moved from the southern hills to the flatlands near the Arroyo. Our dear Ayden, who got radioactivity related leukemia, lives/lived right along the Arroyo Simi.

    I have been a part of Simi Valley since the days when it was called the “Hot Check Capital of Southern California” and Simi Valley’s City Council, Board of Supervisors representative, Chamber of Commerce leadership, and real estate broker community were called the “Check Bouncer Elite”. Truth be told they still are. Dead beats and rip off artists profiting from lying to their constituents and community…killing the locals with cancer to make a buck.

    The manipulative and dishonest employees of the California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (“DTSC”), the equally dishonest and manipulative leadership of the CalEPA, and California’s disgusting egomaniac golden-boy Gavin Newsom, who wants to be President, ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT PROTECT the lives health of the children and adults who live in the southern half of Simi Valley, or as the wind blows to homes EAST of the Santa Susana Field Lab. California-state level officials involved with the Field Lab are also part of the Check Bouncer Elite…trying to advance their careers and their employment-related cash flow off the backs of dead and dying children and adults who live/lived in Simi Valley. The radionuclides are in the water running down hill, CONCENTRATING UNDER THE MAIN PARTS OF SIMI VALLEY, and the corrupt state-employee pond scum have not even bothered to warn the public.

    On Judgment Day the Check Bouncer Elite and the California Employee Pond Scum are going to stand before the Lord and they will be sent downhill as well, to a very hot place where they richly deserve to be.

    God save the children of Simi Valley and western San Fernando Valley, because no one else will.

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