Spivey also contradicted numerous official documents, and two maps from the 1970s and 1995, that confirm that part of the dog park is partially located over the old nuke dump. “There was no radioactive material buried under the Brentwood lease site,” he said referring to a diagram of the area that was created by Locus Technologies, a Walnut Creek-based company with offices in downtown Los Angeles. Inexplicably, the late 2000 Locus map showed the Barrington Park baseball field and dog park common fence, adjacent and above the arroyo, making an angular bend that conveniently keeps the lease area from overlapping the radioactive dump. In fact, the fence makes no such jog – it is straight and the lease area is clearly over part of the waste site in the earlier maps. I asked Spivey if this new rendering meant that the dump wasn’t under the dog park. He nodded affirmatively.
The VA foursome seemed most emphatic when it came to the rad waste PwC had reported as being under Brentwood School’s athletic fields. Again, the 2000 Locus report was cited as proof of that no radioactive waste was found under the soon-to-be athletic fields. “Six soil borings were drilled at the location where apparent medical incinerator ash was encountered prior grading operations,” the report said while stating that the material was tested for metals but not radiation.
“We actually had a Geiger counter with us and we monitored every load that came out, every load that they were excavating” said Spivey. “It was dead inert debris that posed no harm to anyone.” Spivey displayed a photo album that showed these ash piles and one picture had a man with a Geiger counter.
The Locus report also had a map that marked the locations of these debris pits, including one with the locations of the ash dregs. This reporter practically had to wrestle a copy of it from Fallen. “You don’t need that,” she protested but soon relented when it was clear that it wasn’t going to be handed back to her.
The locations are key to understanding the extent of the radioactive dumping at the Veterans Administration. The West LA VA cremated irradiated lab animals and simply buried the ashes like it had with the other nuclear waste. In 1960, an Atomic Energy Commission directive ordered a halt to much of it. “This means that at this Center no C-14 will be disposed of by incineration without permission from the AEC, in writing.”
The Locus map show three considerably-sized pits, up to hundreds of feet long, euphemistically called “buried historical solid waste disposal area(s).” The two largest are in the “lower bench” of the facility and look to have been located where the track and tennis courts are today. The third ash pit was found in the “upper bench” either under or by one of the school’s current baseball fields.
Was this ash pit where the remains of countless radioactive animals injected with carbon-14 were deposited? Would a Geiger counter detect it if it was? “A Geiger counter wouldn’t work because much of this material would be alpha or beta-emitting,” said CBG’s Hirsch. “Even if there were gamma-emitting material, you’d have to stand in that one spot for five or ten minutes and then stand in another spot for five or ten minutes to have a long enough count time to adequately detect it.”
So how could have the PricewaterhouseCoopers report have supposedly gotten its information on radioactive material being buried under the school’s athletic fields have been so wide of the mark? “It was a draft report that was never reviewed,” said Daniels of VA Assets Management. Co-worker, Steinberg Bluth, agreed. “It was unfortunate that it was released to the public before it went through a review.”
“We don’t know how they made the wrong assumptions, not knowing the site, not talking to experts like Ben (Spivey)” said Fallen. “The report should have gone through us. Ben, who’s the expert, was not consulted.”
Considering the so-called ‘expertise’ encountered in this meeting, I could only imagine what the never-seen PwC answers were to my questions. What secrets was the VA hiding?
“Let’s hope that you debunk the myth,” Daniels said as the meeting came to a close. When asked what myth she was referring to, the VA official fell silent.
Given the shaky science and baseless hyperbole surrounding the Brentwood waste disposal site, and the fact that it’s in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles, it is no surprise that the VA is nervous about the final Team PwC report. “VA is not in receipt of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ final report submission and is therefore not able to provide comment on a document clearly identified as draft with a disclaimer regarding factual and editorial errors,” wrote Susan Pendergrass, DrPH, Director, Office of Strategic Initiatives in a Feb. 23 follow-up letter.
Eliciting true and accurate information about the CARES West LA VA conundrum may be made easier by a March 27 letter to VA Secretary Nicholson from the House of Representatives Committee of Government Reform. The letter, signed by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), and Waxman, the ranking minority whip, requests the contract between the VA and PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC and its contractors and a whole slew of documents related to the CARES process at the West LA VA.
The letter also posed questions about who excavated the radioactive material from the Brentwood School athletic field and where was it disposed. “Has the public been informed that contaminates are buried under or near the location of the Brentwood School athletic facility? Whose decision was it to leave the non-excavated radioactive medical waste in place?”
With the advent of the CARES initiative, how the community handles the possibility of development of the old nuclear and chemical dump remains to be seen. But for the few folks left that remember the lost dump, the idea of building out the property is an anathema.
“Given this unsettling history, why would anyone in their right mind want to ignore this dump and believe anything the VA has to say about it?” said former CBG staffer Ramberg. “When the Ahmanson Ranch development crashed in 2003 over concerns that neighboring Rocketdyne had polluted it with radiological and chemical contamination, the developer Washington Mutual had to walk away. It just doesn’t pay to develop ‘hot’ property. But it might pay to properly test the place to see how poisonous it is.”
There is a distinct difference between the failed development at Ahmanson Ranch and the VA’s Brentwood nuke dump – Washington Mutual didn’t know of the pollution problems with their property until this reporter exposed them. In this case, the Veterans Administration either doesn’t have a clue as to the radionuclides in their dump because of a poor understanding of radio-science or, perhaps worse, the department has made a conscious decision to ignore them. It is unlikely that either scenario will be comforting to the residents of Brentwood.