Department of Toxic Substances Control’s project director for the Santa Susana Field Laboratory is Rick Brausch. DTSC and Brausch contacted us for an interview September 3, 2010, the day news of the historic DTSC draft agreements with the Department of Energy and NASA were announced.
Michael Collins: How’d these proposed agreements happen?
Rick Brausch: This has been quite the roller coaster of events and saga especially over the last three years ever since the state law was enacted, SB 990, we’ve been involved in some fairly intense discussions and negotiations with these folks for the entirety of that. But over the past, I’d say since March, things really shifted gears and especially with the federal agencies, the DOE in particular, I think took a huge turn. We talked about this breakthrough arrangement where we could set aside the haggling over ‘How much should we leave there?’ and ‘How clean should it be?’ and what sort of land use, what sort of risk would remain. You cut past all of that and say ‘You know what? Let’s just clean it up to background. Let’s get past the haggling and get to a place where we all agree and move forward and be productive.
There’s no one particular element that I think you could point to. I think obviously the diligence and persistence of the community in desiring to see a resolution to this. The elected officials, Senator Boxer, Senator Pavley and Assemblymember Brownley and others. And then obviously the commitment of the Secretary (Linda Adams, Cal-EPA) came together and culminated in kind of this big push a realization on the federal side ‘Let’s stop arguing and let’s move ahead.’
MC: Does this keep the cleanup on track?
RB: Yes because ultimately what we are talking about here, and I won’t bore you with details of the cleanup process proper, but there’s a significant chunk of [the cleanup] that entails negotiations and identification of how much it’s okay to leave. We’re going to bypass that which usually takes quite a number of months and years to affect. That is dispensed with. We basically said ‘Okay, let’s clean up to background and now focus on that as being a performance standard.’ If you find it above background, you take it out. There really isn’t this question of how much and how clean and that sort of thing. We’re bypassing all of that.
MC: Any thoughts on why NASA and DOE did this and why Boeing is in a lawsuit with you folks and the state?
RB: Honestly, if I alluded to it, I think there are a lot of things that contributed to it so I don’t know if there is any one thing there. I guess if they wanted to talk to you about it, it would be more of a question I would ask them. All I can say [to NASA and DOE] is ‘Thank you, thank you for moving ahead. Thank you for being agreeable. Thanks for moving this process forward.’
MC: What do you expect in terms of special considerations in cleaning up the site?
RB: The obvious ones like Native American caves, the art and those sorts of things. We definitely want to be mindful of those sorts of things that are out there that we’re going to have to deal with. You’ve got issues like endangered species and how are you going to deal with those but you also have your very practical, technical issues of can you get into the crooks and crevices of bedrock? We’re not talking here about taking dynamite and blasting the hills level. We’re really talking this soil, how much and how are you going to affect that. It’s really impossible to tell. Some of that, you have to understand, you’ve always got to give yourself some opportunity to evaluate the circumstances that you encounter. Will we encounter any of those things? I don’t know. I hope not. I hope that it all becomes very straightforward and simple and we don’t have to deal with those nuances and eventualities because those are obviously use more brainpower and scientific research to figure this out. Those sorts of things, as you might imagine, you’ve got to put those in, just in case. The ‘just in cases’ can get in the way if you can’t account for them.
MC: How does this affect the community and what should the community take away from this?
RB: I think this stacks up for the community as a significant win for them. This basically says ‘We’re no longer going to argue about whether this community should be protected from the contaminants at the site; we committing as federal agencies to move ahead and remove this problem. This is, for all its intents and purposes, a huge win for the community. I really do hope we can come to a similar resolution with Boeing. They have obviously sued us and we’ll be sympathetic and work with them and that and my hope is though, we can come to kind of resolution here so that this is a path forward that all of them can sign up to. It simplifies the issues. It gets us on point. It focuses on a performance standard where everybody agrees is doable, acceptable and a path forward. Let’s just move. I think everybody in this community is absolutely tired of the wranglings and representations about this. I think unfortunately, as you’ve experienced, the community has suffered for it. You felt in large part as a community that you had to take sides on issues that you should never have to take sides over. I really believe that this becomes kind of a rallying point around which we can all say ‘Clean up is possible. Clean up is on track. Let’s move ahead.’