On March 26, 2008, Radiation Rangers “Fearless Frank” Serafine and “The Good Reverend John” Southwick visited Runkle Canyon and found a strange sight – thousands of white rocks and what appeared to be some kind of white evaporate or precipitate covering large swaths of land. Southwick called EnviroReporter.com by cell phone from the canyon. “This stuff is everywhere,” he said. “It looks like it snowed in Runkle Canyon!” (See “White Blight” article for in-depth coverage.)

The next night, the Rangers gave samples of the rock with white precipitate to SSFL Workgroup panel member Norm Riley of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), pictured below. Riley is the Project Manager of the Rocketdyne cleanup and is also the point man on the April 2008 agreement with KB Home to investigate contamination problems in Runkle Canyon where the developer hopes to build 461 residences. “Norm remarked ‘can I take this on the plane?’ and we laughed about it,” Southwick said. “He later commented that he had seen this substance ‘all over the place’ up in Runkle.”

On June 10, 2008, in consultation with EnviroReporter.com, Southwick and Serafine again headed for the hills. “When we returned to Runkle Canyon in June, a hot day I might add, we found large quantity’s of the white powder,” Southwick later said. “Walking on it gave me the feeling of walking on fresh snow — it had a definite crunch to it. It seemed to be a very bright white in the sunshine.” As the photos show, the evaporate covers a large area but the mechanism for how it got there is still not fully understood. The photographs do indicate however that little vegetation lives in this zone and that the white substance may be related to both surface and groundwater, both of which flow into and under the canyon from neighboring Rocketdyne.

(Click thumbnail to view entire photograph)

These same men, Serafine and Southwick, found suspicious looking water in a Runkle Canyon creek in May 2007 along with fellow Radiation Ranger “Toxic Terry” Matheney. Moorpark-based Pat-Chem labs tested the water and found high amounts of the heavy metals arsenic, nickel and vanadium after asking the city of Simi Valley to test the gooey stream.

The city refused saying the developer had tested the water, which it hadn’t. Subsequently, the city conducted tests on the water and their test results revealed even higher amounts of nickel and vanadium. Also, cadmium was found at nearly three times more than the EPA’s “preliminary remediation goal” for tap water and 700 times the public health goal.

Chromium, which the government says is carcinogenic, was detected at 20 percent higher than the state’s “maximum contaminant level” for tap water. Serafine and Southwick also saw what appeared to be a new well head, possibly for monitoring the groundwater. Perchlorate and the rocket engine solvent trichloroethylene have been detected in Runkle Canyon’s groundwater.

While the connection between Runkle Canyon’s heavy metal-laden water and the newly discovered white precipitate is not yet clear, it does appear that the land may be more troubled than anyone – residents, the city, KB Home, and even the DTSC – had previously known. Perhaps equally troubling is DTSC’s reaction to their own testing results of this material, results that EnviroReporter.com analyzed and found to be indicative of heavy metal contamination, especially in the form of chromium, that could impact the water quality of the Arroyo Simi aquifer that supplies 20 percent of Simi Valley’s tap water.

24 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting
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