SANTA SUSANA: The Battle for Cleanup Continues

SSFL ProtestsThe battle to ensure a full cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Lab increased in intensity in 2016 and 2017. The state and federal agencies that had promised cleanup took ever more troubling steps to break their commitments. The cleanup agreements signed in 2010 promised completion by 2017; the agencies have dragged their feet so much that cleanup, if it ever occurs, won’t even begin by then. We keep fighting; concerned elected officials keep pushing; and the media keeps probing.

The NBC4 I-team aired the sixth and seventh segments in their Emmy Award-winning “LA’s Nuclear Secret” series on the SSFL radioactive and toxic chemical contamination. These episodes focused on whether SSFL pollution has migrated to the 450-home new housing development in Runkle Canyon and the children’s camp at Brandeis Bardin Institute, both of which are located adjacent to contaminated SSFL areas.

At the March 2016 meeting of the SSFL Work Group, under leadership of SSFL Work Group Coordinator Denise Duffield, CBG interns Michael Rincon and Jenna Mota Melville made a presentation based on their analysis of Boeing’s own estimates of cancer risk from SSFL contamination. Using Boeing’s own data, they showed exceedingly high cancer risks despite Boeing’s proposals that it be allowed to walk away from most of its cleanup obligations.

protests at SSFLAs a result of the presentations, a number of community members volunteered to create a SSFL action group which has been meeting throughout the year to keep the push for a proper cleanup alive. A major focus was keeping up the pressure on the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), which has seemed to be, at minimum, failing to enforce the Administrative Orders on Consent (AOCs) to clean up SSFL. Indeed, DTSC has seemed the classic “captured regulatory agency,” captured by the polluters it is supposed to regulate. We have been working closely with groups from dozens of other impacted communities around the state who are having the exact same problems with DTSC, which seems to view its clients as the polluters not the public.

As long-time community activist Marie Mason put it, “DTSC should be looking to protect our communities and not allow Boeing to run the show, since they have a financial interest in not cleaning up all the radioactivity and toxic chemicals. It’s a sad state when members of the community go to DTSC public meetings and can’t tell if the people giving the presentation are the agency that should protect their health or the company that caused the pollution, because they sound exactly alike.”

CBG summer staff Mikey Rincon and Michael Chica worked energetically organizing in the community about SSFL. For example, they canvassed at local Farmer’s Markets for signatures on petitions calling for full cleanup and meeting of all cleanup promises, helped bus tours and “nature hikes” on the SSFL property. CBG and dozens of coalition members showed up on several weekend mornings to protest these greenwashing tours and to alert participants to the risk of taking a toxic tour on a contaminated site.

This has been a long, long fight for us, since we helped bring to public attention in 1979 the meltdown that the government had kept secret for decades. We thought the battle was finally over in 2010, when agreements for a full cleanup were signed. But since then, Boeing, the Department of Energy, NASA, and DTSC have all taken steps to breach the cleanup obligations. We’ll keep on keepin’ on, struggling to get this contaminated nuclear meltdown and missile engine testing site cleaned up.