BROKEN PROMISES: NASA’s Draft SEIS for Soil Cleanup at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory

What You Need to Know, But NASA Won’t Tell You

In October 2019, NASA released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the cleanup of soil at its portion of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) which proposes breaking out of its agreement to clean up all of its contamination and leaving most of its contamination not cleaned up. Tell NASA it must protect public health and the environment by keeping its word and cleaning up ALL of its contamination!

NASA’S Draft SEIS is Illegal and Violates its Cleanup Agreement.
In 2010, NASA signed an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), committing to clean up all contamination at its portion of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) to background levels—in essence, returning the site to the condition it was in before NASA so heavily polluted it. NASA does not have the authority to choose not to comply with it. Even were the AOC not to exist, NASA, as the polluter, does not have legal power to determine how much of its pollution it will clean up. That authority is delegated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to DTSC. Nonetheless, NASA has now issued a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) proposing to breach its obligations under the AOC and DTSC’s directives and instead choose to leave the majority of its contamination not cleaned up. This is illegal and a direct threat to public health and the environment.

NASA has Taken Extraordinary Measures to Prevent Informed Public Comment on it’s Draft SEIS.
At its November public meetings, NASA refused to let community members show information that is critical of its Draft SEIS, going so far as to have its security personnel stand between their projector and screen to physically block the presentations, and even having police officers remove an SSFL expert from the meeting. The only way for the public to share comments was to give them to the court reporter, who was seated at an unmarked table with a laptop. There were no signs to let people know who the reporter was, or to explain his purpose at the meeting. In addition, NASA failed to make 75% of the references in its Draft SEIS and appendices publicly available – 176 documents in total. There cannot be meaningful public comment if the public does not, during the full comment period, have readily available the documents upon which NASA based its claims in the Draft SEIS. Multiple requests for the documents to be made public have, to date, gone unanswered. This set up was intentionally designed to stifled public comment and sharing of information.

NASA Admits It Has Discovered There is Much More Contamination Than it Previously Knew – And Yet Proposes to Do Far Less Cleanup Than it Had Promised.
NASA asserts it is preparing this Supplemental EIS because of “significant new information”—primarily that it has discovered that there is 75% more contamination on its property than it previously estimated. One would think that such a discovery of more pollution would result in more cleanup. However, NASA has instead proposed to radically reduce the amount of cleanup it does.

NASA Proposes to Not Clean Up As Much as 80% of Its Contamination.
The AOC NASA signed and to which it is legally bound requires cleanup of 100% of the pollution NASA created over decades of sloppy and irresponsible environmental practices. NASA is now proposing to breach those commitments and instead leave up to 80% of the contaminated soil not cleaned up. The “No Action” Option would leave 100% of the contamination behind!

NASA Dramatically Misrepresents the Alternative Standards it Proposes in Breach of its AOC.

  • Alternative B: NASA calls its Alternative B proposed “Revised Lookup Table Values.” Under the AOC agreement, DTSC—not NASA—sets “Lookup Tables,” which set forth cleanup standards as required in the AOC, based on background values and detection limits. In this alternative, NASA proposes ignoring those and substituting its own, far laxer levels, for seven key contaminants. The differences are large; if NASA were to get away with this proposal, it would leave contaminants at levels as much as three million times higher than required by the agreement.
  • Alternative C: NASA falsely claims its Alternative C is set to Suburban Residential Standards and is based on the DTSC-approved Standardized Risk Assessment Methodology (SRAM). But NASA didn’t use the DTSC SRAM Suburban values and didn’t disclose the actual derivations of its values. The values it puts forward are often hundreds of times higher (i.e., weaker, less protective) than the SRAM-based suburban residential risk based screening levels.
  • Alternative D: The supposed “recreational” standard, is the weakest of all. It assumes someone is on the property only a few hours a week, whereas people are living nearby nearly 24 hours a day 7 days a week and would be potentially exposed to migration from SSFL of contamination NASA now wants to not clean up. Those cleanup levels proposed by NASA are hundreds and thousands of times less protective than the cleanup values required by the AOC or the DTSC-approved SRAM-based suburban residential levels.

NASA’s Proposed Cleanup Standards Would Harm Ecological Receptors.
NASA asserts that its supposed suburban residential cleanup standards (Alternative C) and its recreational cleanup standards (Alternative D), would be fully protective of plants and animals at the site, so-called “ecological receptors.” But its own tables demonstrate that claim to be false. Over and over again, the contamination levels NASA proposes to leave in place far exceed the levels NASA itself admits would pose risk to the ecological receptors, by factors of hundreds or thousands.

NASA Grossly Inflates Soil Cleanup Volumes So It Can Push for Weaker Cleanup Standards.
In order to try to build a case for breaking its cleanup agreement, NASA has heavily inflated the volumes of soil that would need to be excavated to meet the AOC cleanup agreement requirements. It has done so with an indefensible assumption: that wherever there is soil contamination in the surface, soil would have to be removed down to bedrock or 20 feet below ground surface (BGS). NASA knows this is an absurd assumption and admits as much, stating: “These numbers … represent the upper levels of expected excavated soil quantities….” NASA uses these inflated numbers to create the false impression of “moonscaping” and huge numbers of trucks, all to the end of trying to get out of cleaning up the contamination its environmentally reckless operations at SSFL created and which it is bound to remediate by the cleanup agreement it executed with the state in 2010.

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