Becerra, whose wife Sally is a real estate agent for Troop Real Estate in Simi Valley, continued hammering the group at an April 23 city council meeting. “Several weeks ago in the Acorn, there was an article about our trip to Washington, D.C. and specifically the meeting we had with Senator Feinstein trying and asking her to facilitate getting EPA involved in the Runkle Canyon property. There were some comments in there I made about wanting to make sure we managed that issue responsibly, that we do it without creating hysteria,” Becerra said. “I stand by those comments.”
So it was with some reticence that Matheney, Serafine, and Southwick pleaded with the mayor and council members May 7 to come take a look at what was bubbling up in the hills above the city. “Nobody wants to run down property value, I mean, I’m sympathetic like everybody else but we cannot put the people in danger,” Matheney said during public comment at a city council meeting. “I’d be willing to go up. If you won’t pay for it, we will. I don’t know how much more fair we can get than that.”
“I happen to have been up there, also,” said Southwick. “There is some very nasty stuff up there.”
As the council members sat stone-faced, Serafine made a final pitch. “I’ve videotaped it if you don’t want to go up there. But I really think that it would be best for us to all go up, take a sample, give half of the sample to KB, let them go off and do their tests. We take our sample and we all go down to the post office to drop it off together. We all witness it went out to a lab that is transparent.”
Mayor Miller stirred to life. “This council really wants to know what’s going on up there so we can make arrangements to go up with you and we will do that,” said Miller, police chief of the city for 12 years before being elected mayor in 2006. “We have your phone numbers here and we’ll have the city staff get a hold of you and we’ll arrange a time to get together and we’ll go check it out and we can go from there.”
It was not to be. The city soon informed the Stop Runkledyne group that KB Homes had reminded them that they had already tested the surface water and had submitted that information in a comprehensive 42-page report that was already in the development’s EIR. That 2003 report by Huntington Beach-based Miller Brooks Environmental Inc. tested one asphalt sample and a nearby surface water sample.
In the body of the report, Miller Brooks writes that Title 22 metals were “below state and federal regulatory limits (see Table 1).” Title 22 metals are toxic metals listed in Title 22 of the state health code. But the report’s Table 1 actually says that the Title 22 metals in the surface water sample were “not analyzed.” Oddly, the Title 22 metals were tested in the asphalt but not in the water.
Really, Really Hot Property
The 2003 Miller Brooks report is the environmental report the city told CityBeat it used of all the reports on the project since 1999. It is also the same report that the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) called “not considered useful” when analyzing the strontium-90 in Runkle Canyon dust as we have already reported (“Dust in the Wind,” March 15, 2007).
CityBeat also reported that the citizens submitted a list of questions to the city which were forwarded to CDHS. Those questions were answered by the department on April 10 and contained some interesting omissions. Except for one soil sample slightly above background, CDHS wrote that there’s no evidence of elevated strontium-90 on the land between Runkle Canyon and Rocketdyne, the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. The implication was that if Brandeis-Bardin had little or no elevated Sr-90, and it’s closer to Rocketdyne, that Runkle Canyon’s high Sr-90 readings were suspicious.
CDHS states twice in its answers to citizens that there is only one sample known of elevated Sr-90 ever found on the Brandeis-Bardin property. Actually, there are 25 Brandeis-Bardin soil samples with elevated Sr-90 according to a Rocketdyne-funded study, the 535-page 1995 McLaren/Hart report, “Additional Soil and Water Sampling – The Brandeis-Bardin Institute and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.” The report also noted two hot water samples with Sr-90 on the Jewish camp property.
Additionally, CDHS stated in their responses that in a November 8, 2006 CDHS analysis that the chance of dying from Runkle Canyon Sr-90 was 0.00045 in a million. That analysis seems flawed: DHS took the “risk-based” number of possible deaths, about 5 per million, converted it into a “dose-based” number and then back again to a risk-based result to come up with 0.00045 out of a million. This scientific slight of hand ends up with a result 10,774 times lower than what the department said the figure was to begin with.
Indeed, this tiny CDHS number doesn’t even match the risk from strontium-90 at the Runkle Canyon site as claimed by Al Boughey, Simi Valley’s director of Environmental Services. In letter to the City Manager Mike Sedell last August 23, Boughey wrote, “[B]ased on the levels of strontium-90 on the site, the calculations indicate an increased cancer risk of 0.26 cases of cancer in a million… [B]ased on the concentration of strontium-90 and the cancer risk associated with that concentration, exposure to dust at the site would not [their emphasis] pose a public health risk on or off site.”
This number used by Boughey is still 578 times higher than CDHS’s estimate. Neither set of numbers reinforces faith in the credible science practices of the department or the city.
Further undermining the department’s credibility are the public comments made recently by Robert Greger of the Radiological Health Branch of CDHS. At an April 19 meeting of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory Work Group in Simi Valley, Greger seemed a bit tenuous about the department’s conclusions about Runkle Canyon. “Department of Health Services doesn’t really know what the status is there,” Greger told the crowd of around 80 people. “So we still don’t understand the situation.”
Apparently, Sacramento doesn’t understand the situation with the Radiological Health Branch of CDHS, either. In late May, 12 state senators, including Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D- Santa Monica) and Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) sent a letter to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee communicating their concern that the branch may be “engaged in an unauthorized de facto deregulation of the handling and disposal of [low-level radioactive waste].”
“My experience with the radiological health branch over time is that they have become – I won’t say captured – but somewhat sympathetic to the industry,” Kuehl told Sacramento-based Capitol Weekly. “We just need a lot more information. We need to know why they may have been helping the industry skirt some of the regulations.”
Kuehl is the author of new legislation that would require that Rocketdyne be cleaned up to most stringent EPA Superfund standards which aim for no more than a one-in-a-million chance of contracting a fatal cancer from any particular chemical or radionuclide. SB 990 was approved in a 21-16 vote May 21 in a huge victory for environmentalists and will move to the Assembly for consideration.
The legislation comes on the heels of a momentous EPA decision to reevaluate the old Rocketdyne lab for inclusion as a Superfund site, a designation it didn’t grant during its 2003 evaluation. Both U.S. Senators Boxer and Feinstein support putting it on the Superfund National Priorities List.
“EPA said it would take them about nine months to do that evaluation,” said Rocketdyne watchdog Dan Hirsch at the April 19 community meeting in Simi Valley. “The last time they undertook such a review, it wasn’t completed for about five years. They have done this evaluation twice before – twice before they have not listed it. The difference this time, they say, is that they will consider the entire site, not just [the nuclear area], and consider chemical contamination, not just radioactive.”
“Their formula is that you have to have people living on the site to be able to qualify as a Superfund site no matter how contaminated the site is,” Hirsch continued. “It doesn’t get to be Superfund until people move onto it. I wouldn’t hold your breath about the Superfund designation.”
Hirsch’s dour prediction might be mitigated by a May 2 court ruling by U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, who slammed the Bush administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) study of radioactive contamination at Rocketdyne, a study that adopted a cleanup standard that would expose future residents to elevated risks of cancer far higher than the EPA allows.
The DOE study, which concluded that their $258 million cleanup of the nuclear area of the lab would leave no significant environmental impact, had been criticized by the EPA, Boxer and Feinstein, and the state of California. Hirsch’s group, the Santa Cruz-based Committee to Bridge the Gap, sued the DOE over these lax radiation standards in a 2004 lawsuit along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the city of Los Angeles.
Conti said, among other things, that DOE discounted groundwater contamination, overlooked the combined effects of chemical and radioactive contamination, and employed a radiation standard that would give each exposed person a 3-in-10,000 chance of contracting a fatal cancer. The DOE standard “improperly placed future residents of the site at an increased cancer risk many times higher than CERCLA (the federal toxic cleanup law) allows,” the judge said, noting that the SSFL is surrounded by millions of people who should be assured that the government is cleaning up the facility to the highest cleanup standards. “It is difficult to imagine a situation where the need for such an assurance could be greater,” Conti continued.
“Over and over again, I’ve had neighbors tell me that they were unaware of the nature of activities up at the SSFL,” said Coryell. “They don’t understand why the city isn’t demanding that Rocketdyne clean up the lab and adjacent land to EPA Superfund standards. In a city that undertakes a comprehensive marketing campaign to educate citizens about parking enforcement strategy, no effort has been made to increase public awareness with respect to Rocketdyne’s impact on our environment. Why?”
Fighting City Hall
Armed with this information, and the results of their own tests, Matheney, Serafine, Southwick, and this reporter met with Simi Valley Mayor Paul Miller and City Manager Mike Sedell on June 11. I was there to explain the Pat-Chem findings and ask how the city didn’t notice the inadequacy of KB Homes’ surface water tests. I also wanted to know who did the fact-checking around the municipality when it came to these environmental tests. The meeting was ostensibly to talk about where the development stood since the city received the April 10 CDHS answers to the group’s questions.