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The Rocketdyne facility is more poisoned than anyone knew. Now residents and community leaders of the northwest San Fernando Valley and Ventura County supervisors want more testing before new homes get any closer.

By Michael Collins

Los Angeles CityBeat/ValleyBeat – July 22, 2004

Two Mile Island[KB Home’s Runkle Canyon development is now called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands.]

“I didn’t know anything when I worked up at Rocketdyne, I just didn’t know anything,” said Bonnie Klea. “I didn’t have a clue how dangerous it was up there.” The West Hills resident sure knows now. Years after working at Rocketdyne’s sprawling Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) high in the hills between the San Fernando and Simi valleys, she came down with a rare bladder cancer in 1995. Ever since, she has been a vocal critic of the military and aerospace company now owned by the largest private employer in Southern California, Boeing.

Klea has fought Rocketdyne tooth and nail and has little to show for it. Her successful struggle against cancer is another story. “I had surgery and was in the hospital nine times in nine months. I had the tumor taken out. I had four different kinds of chemotherapy and I did a full term of radiation on top of that. I didn’t want it to come back so I said ‘give it all to me.’”

Of the cancer itself, Klea says, “It’s in the neighborhood. On my little street alone, I have two neighbors that have had bladder cancer.” Sixteen cancers have afflicted residents in 15 homes on Klea’s block. A 1990 state health department survey of cancer records showed elevated levels of bladder cancer in the census tracts closest to the lab. That includes tract 1132 where Klea lives, less than two miles from SSFL. The 2,668-acre lab has an abysmal pollution record of partial nuclear meltdowns, radiological mishaps, and chemical contamination, making it one of the most fought-over environmental cleanup sites in the nation.

component test laboratory
Click image above to read "Blinded by the Light"

Regardless, three housing projects are popping up within two miles of SSFL including a massive development at the former Runkle Ranch and the proposed Colton Lee Communities, both in Simi Valley. On the Los Angeles County side of the border, the Dayton Canyon Estates proposes new homes along a creek that carries Rocketdyne runoff through it. Even more bold, Boeing still hopes to release the lab land for unrestricted use including housing developments.

But new government data reveals pollution problems at SSFL are far worse than ever before realized. Groundwater under the lab is hot with dangerous levels of radioactive tritium. Rocketdyne dioxins register hundreds of thousands of times higher than previously known. The rocket fuel oxidizer perchlorate has been discovered at unprecedented levels resulting in extensive recent excavation of part of the lab, and the chemical is now found in numerous offsite wells. Trichloroethylene (TCE), a toxic rocket engine solvent, was found in SSFL soil vapor billions of times over limits considered even moderately safe for humans. And the volatile organic compound is slowly spreading offsite.

Against this gloomy backdrop, Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks is attempting to enact regulations that would have developers within two miles of rocket testing facilities test for perchlorate and TCE before breaking ground. Rocketdyne, which is in east Ventura County and releases lab effluent into Parks’s district, is fighting the initiative. Boeing is also attempting to prove that evidence of offsite pollution is either faulty or cannot be traced back to SSFL, apparently in order to keep cleanup costs and mounting legal bills from rocketing out of sight. The company seems confident that through its largess and cozy government connections, it can succeed.

“Even without these shocking new facts, what we already know should be greatly concerning not just to the hundreds of thousands of people living in the shadow of Rocketdyne, but to all of us,” said Jonathan Parfrey, director of the L.A.-based public health organization Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Although the meltdowns at Rocketdyne were smaller than the one at Three Mile Island, at least that disaster was largely held at bay by a containment vessel. The reactors at Rocketdyne had none. Add to that the inconceivable amount of chemicals polluting the lab, and what you’ve got is a never-ending nightmare of epic proportions.”

Nightmare indeed. The 1979 Three Mile Island disaster in Pennsylvania was the worst known nuclear meltdown in U.S. history. The partial meltdown there took place in a concrete and steel encased structure designed to prevent lethal radiation from escaping into the environment. Rocketdyne never had that kind of protection.

Hot Zone

In 1957, Rocketdyne debuted the nation’s first commercial nuclear reactor, the Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE), which supplied electricity to over a thousand folks in the then-tiny town of Moorpark. The SRE experienced a partial meltdown in the summer of 1959, in which a third of the reactor core melted and lethal radioactive gases spewed from the unfortified building.

The SRE partial meltdown released 15 to 260 times more radiation to the surrounding environment than did Three Mile Island, according to the Santa Barbara-based law firm of Capello & Noël. The firm represents over 300 individuals in lawsuits against Boeing and Rockwell International, the lab’s original owner. On June 8, the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, denied Boeing’s efforts to dismiss these radiation claims. The lawsuits argue that the SRE melt, in part, may have poisoned its clients and that the issue deserves to go to trial.

Also June 8, Rocketdyne officials held a press conference in Simi Valley to explain its first-ever findings of dangerous levels of radioactivity in SSFL groundwater. Radioactive tritium discovered in samples taken in March measured 80,000 picocuries per litter, four times the national drinking water limit. The company admitted that lab workers had been drinking the groundwater for decades. Rocketdyne Division Director for Safety, Health & Environmental Affairs, Steve Lafflam, acknowledged that the lab used the groundwater for drinking from 1948 until at least 1975 when employees began complaining of a rusty taste, according to Klea who attended the press conference. (Lafflam declined CityBeat‘s repeated requests for comment for this story.)

Klea, 61, used to drink SSFL tap water and brushed her teeth with it when she was a secretary at Rocketdyne from 1962 to 1971. “And then when I heard from Lafflam that we drank the groundwater – it’s just disgusting – I asked him. I said ‘Steve, this is the first time I ever heard somebody from your company admit that the employees drank contaminated water.’ ‘I didn’t say it was contaminated,’ he said.”

Wicked Brew

But, apparently, it is, and the contaminants aren’t just radioactive. On June 9, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) released its most comprehensive testing data to date for SSFL chemical pollution – over 10,000 samples and 19,000 analyses. The agency, which is responsible for chemical toxin oversight at the lab, looked at water, soil, and soil vapor readings. Much of the water data came from 132 new wells installed on the property from 2001 to 2004 (See test results sidebar at www.lacitybeat.com). Here are some of the more startling results:

• Trichloroethylene was used extensively at SSFL to clean rocket engines, test stands, and other machinery from 1954 through 1993. Before they thought to recycle the stuff, in 1962 for financial reasons, 1.73 million gallons slopped onto the ground and was sluiced into unlined troughs. A reported 520,000 gallons of it soaked into the groundwater and bedrock. DTSC data shows SSFL groundwater containing up to 79,000 parts per billion (ppb) of TCE, 15,800 times the EPA’s “maximum contaminant level” of 5 ppb. The chemical affects the liver, kidneys, immune function, and fetal development – large doses may cause death.

CityBeat has located the offsite well with the highest TCE concentrations several hundred yards away from the entrance to SSFL. The “RD-38” well, which looks like a water heater with slits in it, had a TCE reading of 690 ppb last year. The well overlooks Woolsey Canyon, which leads down towards the homes of over 23,600 residents in Box Canyon to the northeast, the apparent direction of the TCE plume’s slow migration.

• TCE soil concentrations at the site are also alarming. At the Alfa rocket test stand, ´´ TCE was found at 1,820,000 ppb in the dirt, 34,340 times the ‘preliminary remediation goal’ (PRG) of 53 ppb for soil.

• TCE vapors possibly present even more of a toxic threat. The chemical volatilizes from shallow groundwater through so-called “vapor pathways” in the soil. Breathing small amounts of TCE may cause dizziness, lung irritation, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and poor coordination. Inhaling large quantities may result in unconsciousness, impaired heart function, and death.

• According to information provided to CityBeat by a DTSC environmental geoscientist, TCE vapors could spell very bad news for Rocketdyne and the field lab’s adjacent neighbors. According to the calculations of this geoscientist, who requested anonymity for this article, TCE is five times more dangerous in the air than it is in the water at the same levels of Contamination. EPA studies from 2002 also show that the vaporized toxin may actually be up to 65 times more poisonous than previously thought.

The highest TCE soil vapor reading at SSFL is 500,000 ppb underneath the lab’s Liquid Oxygen Plant. Using the geoscientist’s calculations, the TCE soil vapor under the plant is over 29.4 billion times the preliminary remediation goal. Despite the danger that TCE poses, Rocketdyne’s current cleanup rate for the solvent in SSFL groundwater is 10 gallons a year. At this rate, it will take over 50,000 years to remove.

One of the other SSFL contaminants now the focus of nationwide concern is perchlorate. The rocket fuel oxidizer made headlines June 22 after the Environmental Working Group released its report which found perchlorate in 31 out of 32 milk samples purchased from grocery stores in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The group also discovered that the California Department of Food and Agriculture had found perchlorate in all 32 milk samples collected in Alameda, Sacramento, and San Joaquin counties. Half of those samples exceeded the amount that the state considers safe for drinking water, 6 ppb.

Perchlorate is especially threatening to fetuses, infants, and children because it can affect the thyroid’s ability to make hormones. This can result in lowered IQ, mental retardation, diminution of motor skills, and loss of hearing and speech. Perchlorate in SSFL soil registers as high as 71,290 ppb or over nine times the chemical’s PRG for dirt.

In 2003, perchlorate was detected in 17 groundwater wells in Simi Valley with the highest reading being 19.2 ppb. Hits of 140 ppb and 150 ppb were also found in an artesian well on the Brandeis-Bardin property hard on Rocketdyne’s northern border. A reading of 28 ppb was detected in a well adjacent Ahmanson Ranch about two miles south of SSFL in 2002.

Dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals known to science and are dangerous at any level. Before the latest DTSC report, Rocketdyne dioxin measurements had been comparatively small. The agency reported that one type of dioxin registered 0.1 parts per trillion (ppt) from May to August 2001. But more recent measurements are simply staggering, with readings as high as 22,000 ppt at the so-called “fuel farm and pond dredge.”

The most poisonous dioxin, called TCDD, is found at SSFL in the Old Conservation Yard next to the melted SRE reactor site. It ticks in at 7.80 ppt. The “field action level” for this chemical, which means that some kind of remediation is mandatory, is 1.05 ppt.

Working Woman’s Blues

The DTSC numbers are also news to Bonnie Klea, who hadn’t a clue how polluted SSFL was when she worked there. “Here I am, just a little girl right out of Minnesota, moved here when I was 19 with a one-way ticket,” she said. Klea went to work for Rocketdyne because the pay was good and the opportunities ample. She ended up in Building 59, where Rocketdyne operated a Space Nuclear Auxiliary Power (SNAP) reactor. One of these reactors, though not the one she worked in, also had a near-complete meltdown in 1964 – SSFL’s second. With two other women, Klea ran the copy machines, answered telephones, delivered paychecks across SSFL, and made coffee. Nuclear workers used to access the reactor room through a small door in her basement office, yet Klea wasn’t trained in radiation safety and didn’t wear a badge to gauge how much radiation she was exposed to.

“I didn’t know anything at the time,” said Klea. “That building is where they worked on the SNAP reactor. It’s still there. Some of the reports I’ve read said the ground and the groundwater all around Building 59 are contaminated with radiation. The groundwater comes up and soaks that building and that building is totally contaminated.”

Klea was diagnosed with cancer in 1995. Her doctor immediately became suspicious when he saw what type of tumor she had. “As soon as he saw bladder cancer, he said, ‘Where do you work?’ and I said I had worked up at Santa Susana Rocketdyne. And he said ‘That’s it; I’ve treated many people who worked there from the scientists to the janitors to the secretaries.’ All my doctors made the same relationship of my cancer to my work. Bladder cancer is either considered smoking-related or occupational. Considering I was not a smoker, and I worked at Rocketdyne, well, that pretty much answered my question why I got that.”

Money Talks

Concerns over the myriad chemical and radiological poisons at SSFL led State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) to recently attempt to enact legislation that would prohibit developing the 290-acre radiological area of lab property for housing unless it is cleaned up to federal EPA standards. Kuehl’s bill was partially in response to the EPA’s determination last December that SSFL is barely tolerable for public day hiking, and that restricted picnicking to not last longer than two hours per visit.

On July 19, the Natural Resources Defence Council threatened to file a lawsuit, saying the planned cleanup is woefully inadequate.

SB 1456 made it easily through the state senate and then the state assembly’s committee on environmental affairs. But it died on the assembly floor, 39-30, with 11 abstentions, on June 24, after Boeing lobbied intensely against it. In an odd twist of logic, Lafflam had told the Los Angeles Daily News prior to the vote “It’s a disincentive to clean up to residential standards.” Kuehl decried the company’s behavior before the vote as “deplorable.” It was her third attempt to pass protective legislation concerning the site.

CityBeat has obtained records that show that Boeing contributed a total of $83,538 to 28 current members of the California Assembly between 1999 and 2003. This represents 35 percent of the assembly. The company also contributed money indirectly to both the Republican and Democratic Assembly PACs, and to the California Manufacturers and Technology Association PAC, which also lobbied against the Kuehl bill.

Of the 28 Assembly members who received money from Boeing, 21 subsequently voted against the legislation and an additional four abstained, which has the same effect as a “no” vote since, under Assembly rules, a bill needs 41 affirmative votes to pass. Thus 25 of the 28 recipients of Boeing’s contributions helped kill the legislation.

“The events of the last few days demonstrate once again that big polluters are not merely toxic to the communities that reside nearby, but also to the democratic system,” said Dan Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap environmental group. In 1989, Hirsch first brought to media attention the SRE partial meltdown, and was largely responsible for shutting down Rocketdyne’s nuke work in 1990 because of the company’s safety and pollution record. “All but two or three of the recipients of these legalized bribes voted the way Boeing wanted on the Kuehl bill.”

Residential development of the polluted lab property isn’t the only land use concern troubling legislators. Alarm over offsite migration of Rocketdyne contaminants is what prompted Supervisor Linda Parks to take steps to make sure it doesn’t go unchecked. Parks’s concern with SSFL contamination dates back to the Ahmanson Ranch hearings in late 2002.

In that case, mega-bank Washington Mutual’s Ahmanson Land Company fought a 17-year battle to transform 2,783 acres of pristine oak-dotted land into a new conurbation. This year, WaMu had planned to begin building 3,050 luxury residences, two golf courses, and 400,000 square feet of commercial space on its property located on the southeast corner of Ventura County. But when Ventura County tested the groundwater in 2002 and found perchlorate, the plans began to unravel and the development tanked in part due to toxic troubles.

First Line of Defense

On May 4, Parks introduced to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors a recommendation that would establish a two-mile radius around “known rocket test sites,” which would “require major discretionary land use projects proposed within two miles of existing or former rocket testing sites to perform testing for toxic contaminants such as perchlorate and trichloroethylene (TCE).” The measure is aimed at catching potential contamination before it is disbursed into surrounding communities by grading or drainage, and ensuring that homes are not built on top of unidentified toxic

“Testing for toxic contaminants prior to development helps protect the public’s health,” said Parks. “It is as sound a requirement as those currently in place that require testing for landslides, floodways, or earthquake fault lines when siting a development project. Currently there are no requirements to test for contamination in the development process. The County of Ventura was reluctant to test for contaminants in wells on Ahmanson Ranch when the housing development was going through environmental review. It was only as a result of citizen pressure that the county acquiesced, tested, and found perchlorate ´´ in the one well they tested. Assuring the testing occurs routinely with developments in areas where contamination is predictable makes sense.”

Debating the motion, fellow Supervisor Judy Mikels, a vehement proponent of the failed Ahmanson Ranch project and in whose district Rocketdyne is located, eyed this reporter and described media coverage of the ranch’s pollution woes as “hysterical.” Mikels went on to oppose the motion. “There is ultimately an underlying agenda beneath this,” she added.

“Why wouldn’t you want to do this, that’s the question?” retorted Supervisor John Flynn, also an ardent supporter of the unsuccessful WaMu development but a backer of Parks’s initiative. “It seems to me to be a prudent thing to do, since it has been on the radar screen, to make sure that people are going to be safe,” Flynn later told CityBeat. “That’s why I supported Linda in the motion that she made.”

“It makes common sense to be cautious about an issue that has so many unknowns,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Steve Bennett, who also backed Parks. The item will be up before the Board for a final vote July 27.

Naturally, Rocketdyne was less than pleased with Parks’s proposal. “Requiring invasive testing for specific chemicals as part of the Initial Study based simply on geographic location will overlap and conflict with existing regulatory programs,” wrote Lafflam in a June 3 missive to the county. “Additionally, a testing requirement would unnecessarily stigmatize property, and create the potential for increased costs and litigation for property owners affected by the requirements.”

Parks doesn’t quite see it that way. “There are no regulations requiring developers who want to build projects near Rocketdyne to first test for contamination of water or soil,” Parks told CityBeat. “We are the first line of defense for protecting the public from being exposed to contamination in the ground below them, the air above them, or the water that may be used to irrigate the landscape around them.”

Rocketdyne Acres

Despite the failure of the Ahmanson Ranch development and the fierce opposition to Rocketdyne ever being developed for housing without a stringent cleanup, three developments are springing up within two miles of SSFL. The drainage for the dioxin-polluted Old Conservation Yard at the lab heads down toward a newly approved housing project in Runkle Canyon. The project is slated for 461 homes within a mile of the radiological area of SSFL – much closer than Ahmanson Ranch. Samples collected January 8 during an environmental review of a 550-acre portion of the 1,595-acre site, indicated levels of perchlorate at 50 ppb and 60 ppb in two of four groundwater/silt specimens. This is approximately double the 28 ppb reading of perchlorate found in the groundwater under Ahmanson Ranch. The developer, Peter Kiesecker, said he won’t use the Runkle groundwater for irrigation but has left open the option of building a 23-acre, 18-hole golf course at the development that would require vast amounts of cheap water.

Another development in the works is Dayton Creek Estates, which is a mile downwind from SSFL in Los Angeles County. One hundred and fifty single-family homes are planned there on 64.2 acres out of the development’s 359.4 total acreage. Dayton Creek runs through the project and is fed by SSFL’s Happy Valley drainage, which has undergone massive excavation due to perchlorate contamination. The project’s 1999 Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), fully aware of SSFL’s proximity, doesn’t note impacts on the development from SSFL in its “areas of controversy” section. The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) estimates that 69 million gallons of discharges, from SSFL rocket engine tests alone, go down Dayton and an adjacent creek every year. The developers do note, however, that the FEIR is not a “definitive investigation of contamination.”

Rounding out major new development around Rocketdyne are the proposed Colton Lee Communities. That plan envisions building 189 apartments 1.5 miles from SSFL. The eastern Simi Valley site is on 23 acres of a former horse ranch in Santa Susana Knolls, the Simi neighborhood closest to Rocketdyne.

Positively False

The findings of perchlorate in groundwater slated for Ahmanson Ranch caused concern for government agencies and Boeing alike, and the LARWQCB ordered retests of the well. The news that the well retested without any detection of perchlorate delighted Rocketdyne officials, according to an August 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times. “Based on this conflicting data, our conclusion is there is no perchlorate [in the wells],” a Rocketdyne official told the paper. “We have committed to do a lot more to demonstrate and prove that.”

But the testing protocols, partly developed by Boeing, ignored some of the basic recommendations of the scientists hired by adjacent Calabasas in that city’s lawsuit against the development. “A more precise determination of perchlorate in the aquifer could only be made using an adequately designed and constructed monitoring well using appropriate sampling techniques,” said former Calabasas analyst Matt Hagemman. “Well MW-1 is in no way an adequate monitoring well according to state guidelines.”

Boeing’s new, suddenly sunny analysis didn’t sit well with DTSC’s Ron Baker, the agency’s communications director. “We have high confidence that perchlorate was present in the well,” he said in the same article, referring to the positive reading a year earlier.

To further attack the original finding of perchlorate, Boeing hired a firm, AMEC, to analyze the methods used by Advanced Technology Laboratories (ATL), the lab that had detected the toxin in Ahmanson Ranch groundwater. ATL was subcontracted to do the analysis by American Scientific Laboratory, which was hired by Ventura County in 2002. The AMEC report concluded that the analysis by Advanced Technology Labs was faulty. What surprised some observers is that Boeing approached the LARWQCB and asked the agency to send the report to the lab and ask it to reconsider its conclusions, which the water board did. ATL subsequently changed its report, without giving any explanation, writing that it “acknowledges the possibility of misidentifying the perchlorate peak thus reporting a false positive for the result.”

Supervisor Parks questioned the propriety of the LARWQCB’s actions and asked how it serves the public interest to seemingly take the side of the company. “It is of concern that the Boeing Company would take the step of hiring a laboratory (AMEC) to dispute the finding of perchlorate on a piece of property Boeing doesn’t even own,” wrote Parks in a March 8 letter to the Board. “While Boeing’s move to discredit American Scientific Laboratory’s findings may be in the best interest of Boeing, I question the Regional Board taking Boeing’s AMEC study to the American Scientific Laboratory for review and asking them to reconsider their previous detect, suggesting ‘if … you determine the perchlorate was a false positive, then please issue a revised laboratory report.’”

“Boeing did this independently,” said Dave Bacharowski, LARWQCB assistant executive officer. “It wasn’t something we requested. They are concerned with the problems with having data out there, which may not be of the highest quality or be questionable.”

The state DTSC also got involved and blasted AMEC’s report and the lab’s sudden change of opinion: “We … strongly and vehemently disagree with the conclusion that the Ahmanson Ranch detection is a false positive,” wrote Fred Seto of the DTSC’s Hazardous Materials Laboratory in a November 17, 2003 e-mail.

“According to the method used [EPA Method 314.0], the sample peak can be reported as perchlorate because the retention time of the sample peak is within the perchlorate retention time window,” Seto noted in a July 1 internal agency memo that DTSC provided CityBeat. “AMEC did not use appropriate data that revealed the possible presence of perchlorate.”

“Pretty amazing,” said Rocketdyne critic Hirsch. “The water regulator acts as an agent for the polluter, Boeing, to make a pollution finding ‘disappear’ while stiffing its sister toxics agency that says in writing that Boeing’s claim is bogus.” According to internal LARWQCB e-mails obtained by CityBeat, the water board’s tendency to run interference for Boeing also included an attempt to muzzle Hirsch.

One memo indicates that Boeing had been pressuring the agencies to declare Boeing not responsible for the perchlorate pollution found “in groundwater from wells in a largely residential area … in Simi Valley,” below its perchlorate-laced rocket testing site, and that the agencies wanted to secretly give Boeing what it asked for. But there was a problem: Perchlorate would be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the EPA-sponsored SSFL Workgroup, on which Hirsch serves as a community representative. The memo read, “Heads-Up: US/EPA Workgroup meetings are often hijacked by Hirsch, used to put agency integrity and competence into question, and generate a large number of agency action-items (e.g. information reports, additional sampling).” This was written by Stephen Cain, LARWQCB public relations officer, in a late 2002 message to the water board’s then-executive director, Dennis Dickerson.

Bacharowski then sent his own e-mail two days later in which he discussed keeping secret the agency’s stance that Boeing had nothing to do with off-site perchlorate contamination. He noted that they would meet later that day with Boeing to plan their strategy.

“My God!” said Hirsch. “They secretly conspire with the polluter to declare it not responsible for the pollution and then, worrying that I may accuse them of being too cozy with the company and having secret meetings, they meet secretly with the company to figure out how to deal with me! Have they no shame?”

Boeing’s tactics don’t surprise former Rocketdyne secretary Bonnie Klea. She fought and lost a worker’s compensation claim against the company and turned down a confidential settlement that would have silenced her. “I didn’t want to do that, because I wanted to stay involved to expose them,” said Klea. “I wanted to keep working on it. I mean, I was so mad. It was so insulting for them to offer me $5,000 for what I had gone through. And they knew the job gave me cancer.”

Rocketdyne may or may not have been the cause of Klea’s rare bladder cancer and the scores of deaths and grave injuries laid at their door. But the company is clearly concerned that its toxic legacy could cost them millions through lawsuits and the cleanup of the site. Protecting the community from the real possibility of chemical and radiological poisoning has apparently taken a back seat to the company’s insistence that it has the right to develop the property for housing.

People like Bonnie Klea point a way out of the quagmire. Community members laud the transformation of Washington Mutual, a company that went from faceless corporation to a good community friend in one simple move: they sold Ahmanson Ranch to the state. So, too, the Rocketdyne lab could partially redeem its lousy reputation by remediating according to environmental, not nuclear industry, cleanup standards. Then, the Boeing company could make a gift of this amazing jumble of sandstone rocks and meadows to the State as parkland.

It’s not a new idea. How to compensate for the human misery caused by the toxic pollution is another matter entirely. Boeing’s “Code of Conduct” includes this: “Employees will not engage in conduct or activity that may raise questions as to the company’s honesty, impartiality, reputation or otherwise cause embarrassment to the company.” Perhaps Boeing ought to make its Rocketdyne employees and policies adhere to this admonition. And if they can’t, it may be time to find the people who will implement guiding principles that will attempt to turn the lab’s lethal lemons into lemonade.

“Let’s face it – Boeing is an incredibly powerful player in California,” said Parfrey. “To save a few bucks, they plan to saddle future generations with their deadly poisons. We should all care about Rocketdyne, because if they can get away with it at the site of nuclear meltdowns, then polluters can get away with it anywhere.”

Read companion piece “Blinded by the Light” that details astronomical readings of chemicals.

25 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting

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