Now extinct Washington Mutual
Now extinct Washington Mutual

Special Report

Ventura County Reporter – December 26, 2002

The story “Rocketdyne Ranch” [Reporter, Dec. 12] is an outrageous hatchet job, one built almost entirely on deceptive editing and omission of fact.

A case in point is the article’s treatment of a scientific screening for soil and surface water contamination on the Ahmanson Ranch property, conducted two years ago by the toxics investigation firm Kleinfelder, Inc. The story quotes activist Jonathan Parfrey as characterizing Kleinfelder’s work as “most likely rigged. Their methods of testing for radio-nuclides were probably phony.”

This is an astonishing claim and cries out for some sort of support. However, reporter Michael Collins utterly fails to tell readers what evidence, if any, Parfrey has for his statement. Instead, Collins immediately moves the discussion to a different study on a different topic conducted by a different firm—an investigation by Rincon Associates of groundwater underneath state-owned property near Ahmanson. We are treated to a discussion of “decanting of sediment samples” that has absolutely nothing to do with the Kleinfelder study.

This editorial maneuver is performed surreptitiously, all within the same paragraph. Apparently, Collins and his editors were hoping that readers simply wouldn’t notice the shell game in progress.

Later, the Kleinfelder report is assailed by another local activist, Encino resident Liz Crawford, who claims the report’s conclusions regarding absence of soil contamination are invalid because Kleinfelder “used Rocketdyne’s polluted dirt as ‘control’ specimens… ” But this is simply false—the Kleinfelder report did no such thing. Crawford’s claim has been completely refuted in several public hearings over Ahmanson and in the supplemental EIR itself. But apparently, Collins and his editor would prefer that readers remain misinformed about this.

The simple fact is that available data on soil and surface water failed to support claims that Ahmanson Ranch has been contaminated by operations at Rocketdyne. Neither is their enough evidence to substantiate claims that Rocketdyne is the source of perchlorate, a toxin recently identified in one of four subsurface water samples taken from a well on state-owned property near Ahmanson.

This well is slated to supply irrigation water to the project, but Ahmanson has agreed to treat the water and remove perchlorate. Treatment will produce water that meets state drinking water standards. This will also eliminate any rational basis for public health and safety concerns. However, many anti-Ahmanson figures like Rob Reiner want to pretend otherwise, however much Collins and his editors try to keep their readers in the dark.

Collins and his bosses—Reporter editor Sharon McKenna and publisher David Comden—should be ashamed of themselves for having to resort to editorial sleight of hand and glaring omissions to make their arguments. In their fervor to assist those opposed to the Ahmanson Ranch development project, they make a mockery of responsible journalism and show contempt for both their readers and the truth.

Tim McGarry
Vice President,
Corporate Public Relations,
Washington Mutual

Michael Collins replies:

You are correct in that the Washington Mutual subcontractor for testing the Ahmanson Ranch groundwater was Rincon and not Kleinfelder. Kleinfelder tested the surface water and the soil. However, that oversight doesn’t change the core facts surrounding the testing methodology. At risk of repeating some of what is stated clearly in the article, let me spell it out again:

In Appendix A, the approved SEIR states, “The sampling program conducted by Kleinfelder does not appear to be performed as a comprehensive toxics evaluation of the project area. As it was conducted, it can be considered as a cursory screening of the site for contaminants.” The SEIR states this, not Jonathan Parfrey. At the hearings last week, former federal EPA Secretary Carol Browner testified that Kleinfelder should have taken 600 to 700 soil samples when in fact they only took six samples just six inches under the surface.

To address your contention that the Ahmanson soil is not contaminated based upon available (emphasis added) soil samples, we reference Dr. Steve Wing, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina and an expert on radiological exposure and contamination: “As an environmental and occupational epidemiologist and member of the [Rocketdyne’s] Santa Susana Field Laboratory Advisory Panel, I am concerned by prospects that the site will be developed without thorough consideration of health issues related to nuclear and chemical contamination of Ahmanson resulting from activities at SSFL.” This letter was submitted into evidence at the hearing.

In regard to activist Liz Crawford’s comments, she replies: “Even though Kleinfelder’s January 2000 report was not conducted as part of the EIR process, I expressed my concern about it during the public comments which is part of the official record for the SEIR. I questioned their testing protocol because the report said they based, in part, their chemical and radiological testing of the samples on previous tests done at SSFL. If they used Rocketdyne’s rigged techniques mentioned in the 1989 Groundwater Resources letter, it would be highly irresponsible.”

An Oct. 9, 1989 letter obtained by The Reporter to Rocketdyne from Groundwater Resources, Inc., clearly states how high levels of radioactivity in water can be lowered by decanting and filtering, resulting in more favorable results. From that letter, we can make an obvious deduction. However, we prefer a direct answer to this question: Did your subcontractors testing the surface and groundwater use this Rocketdyne technique of decanting and filtering the water, thereby “rigging” the results, as Parfrey would say?

Liz Crawford states that Kleinfelder used Rocketdyne soil as “control” samples when testing Ahmanson dirt. In your letter, you claim “This is simply false—the Kleinfelder report did no such thing.” However, The Reporter has the Kleinfelder Sample Analysis 1 for “Soil Samples/Radionuclides RD Levels, Ahmanson Sample Levels, EPA Levels,” which contains a column of “SSFL Levels” to compare with the Ahmanson samples. SSFL is Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

Aside from the clarification regarding the correct name of the subcontractor (addressed above), the Reporter and I stand behind the facts as presented in the “Rocketdyne Ranch” cover story.