By Michael Collins
A decades-long battle over Boeing’s massive Santa Susana Field Laboratory came to a historic climax on Friday as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that would require that the lab be cleaned up to the highest Environmental Protection Agency standards and turned over to the State as parkland. The bill, SB-990, was authored by State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) in whose district Rocketdyne lies and was greeted with elation by environmentalists who have battled the aerospace giant for years over pollution problems emanating from the site which suffered a partial meltdown in 1959 that was the worst in U.S. history.
“One of our main concerns was that this land could eventually be sold for housing and commercial development,” said Senator Kuehl in a statement on her website. “The Letter of Intent from Boeing makes sure that that will never happen. I am very grateful to my legislative colleagues, especially Assemblymember Julia Brownley, and the Governor for taking action to address the serious danger to public health and safety posed by the SSFL. I also commend the Boeing Corporation for their willingness to work with the State to clean up the site. Above all, I am grateful to the people who live adjacent to this site, who have survived cancer and watched loved ones die of that disease; who came to my Assembly office in 1996 with this disturbing, little known story; and who have been fighting ever since for this clean up to take place. They are the heroes of today.”
“I am pleased to announce this historic agreement will benefit the environment, nearby residents in Ventura County and the people of California,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “I would like to applaud Senator Kuehl for her leadership on this issue and commend the Boeing Company for working with officials to come up with this solution that will protect the health of residents in adjacent communities.”
Historic indeed. The legislation requires that Boeing fund a clean up that would use risk-based calculations based on the EPA’s strictest standards long-fought over as EnviroReporter.com has reported. Boeing would pay for the cleanup, instead of the taxpayers, and will be overseen by the State’s Department of Toxic Substances Control which will seek to expedite an efficient and comprehensive remediation of the 2850-acre lab to residential standards of no more than 1 in a million cancer fatalities caused by any single substance on the site.
“I am very happy that the Governor is doing this,” said Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn, who has long been concerned about pollution emanating from Rocketdyne onto and under adjacent Runkle Canyon where KB Home is pressing to break ground on an already-approved 461-dwelling development contaminated with heavy metals and high strontium-90 readings. “He continues to surprise me and I am grateful to him.”
Once the site is cleaned up, it will be turned over to the State free of charge according to a Letter of Intent signed by the parties. “The State agrees that the property will not be used in the future for residential, agricultural, commercial or other uses, except for park, recreational or open-space uses,” the LOI reads. “Boeing agrees to restore the Property to an unimproved natural state prior to transfer.”
Boeing will also pay $750,000 per year for three decades to fund the transfer to the State with the first payment due once the first transfer of remediated land takes place. The company also agreed to waive any claims against the State and indemnify California against any future “claims associated with remediation, third party claims and claims by federal, State or local governments.”
Longtime Rocketdyne watchdog Dan Hirsch, president of the Los Angeles-based Committee to Bridge the Gap, sounded a note of caution about the legislation in which he had a major role in shaping. “We are extraordinarily grateful to Senator Kuehl for her decade-long efforts to enact law requiring strict cleanup of this contaminated facility,” Hirsch told EnviroReporter.com. “It is a tremendous accomplishment. We view, however, with some caution Boeing’s promises in its letter of intent. The devil will be in the details. Given the history of broken commitments, we will be watching closely, and if in the still-to-be-drafted binding agreement Boeing breaks its promise to adopt truly protective cleanup standards, we will vigorously oppose any amendments to the legislation just signed into law that would weaken it.”
Nevertheless, environmentalists reacted with joy October 12 to the news at a meeting about future Rocketdyne clean up at DTSC’s Glendale headquarters, according to “Fearless Frank” Serafine, a so-called Radiation Ranger and part of StopRunkledyne.com, a group dedicated to halting KB Home from building a 461-home development in Runkle Canyon adjacent to Rocketdyne before a new Environmental Impact Report is completed. Serafine arrived at the meeting just as the Governor’s signing of SB-990 was announced to the crowd of around thirty. Soon the group was listening to Serafine describe the myriad of pollution problems at the proposed Runkle development.
“What is the City of Simi Valley going to do now that the unbelievable has happened and Rocketdyne is expected to be cleaned up to the one-in-a-million level?” Serafine said after the meeting. “They supported this bill. I believe KB Home and their lapdog political allies are going to find that out soon enough that wishing away the strontium-90, vanadium and arsenic in Runkle Canyon isn’t going to cut it anymore.”
Dr. Bennett Ramberg, a well respected nuclear public policy analyst, took a cautious view of the implications of the announcement. “Along with the good news about Boeing’s acquiescence to Superfund status for its Rocketdyne facility, there remains a stain on the corporation, its consultants and government authorities. Over decades, each of these bodies repeatedly misrepresented the environmental character of the facility. In so doing the institutions violated the public trust leaving it to a small band of citizens to act in the public interest. This is not a reliable safeguard. Rather, one legacy of the Rocketdyne experience must be “truth in talking” legislation to prevent corporate and government bodies from ever again misusing their station to intentionally misrepresent environmental facts that endanger the public health and welfare.”