Photo Credit: Betsy Annas. Councilmember Mitch Englander and SSFL Cleanup Advocates

Photo Credit: Betsy Annas.
Councilmember Mitch Englander and SSFL Cleanup Advocates

The Los Angeles City Council approved a resolution on March 20 to oppose any legislation or administrative action which would transfer property at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) currently administered by NASA until the property is fully cleaned up.

The resolution, introduced by Councilmembers Englander and Zine, was approved unanimously and demands that the site be cleaned up to background, as promised in 2010 cleanup agreements, before any transfer of the land.

NASA’s portion of lab was the site of tens of thousands of rocket tests for decades, which left it grossly contaminated with trichloroethylene, perchlorate, PCBs, dioxins, heavy metals, and other toxics which can cause cancer and other harmful health impacts. In 2010, NASA signed an agreement with the State’s Department of Toxic Substances Control to cleanup the site to background levels.

Community members and advocates became concerned, however, when NASA declared the land as excess federal property, which is the first step in transferring it to a new owner. The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, which may not be subject to the federal cleanup agreements, has expressed interest in acquiring the site. Other suggestions to transfer the property to other entities prior to cleanup are also being floated, including the National Park Service have been put forth, even though the National Park Service has made it clear it cannot accept contaminated land.

“I am delighted that the City Council approved this important resolution,” said Bonnie Klea, a former worker at SSFL and longtime cleanup activist. “The only agreement we have for a cleanup of NASA’s property is between NASA and DTSC, not with any future owner. The City of Los Angeles is right to be concerned – the lab is at the headwaters of the Los Angeles River – and we know contaminants do migrate offsite.”

Boeing and the Department of Energy also own property at SSFL that remains contaminated with dangerous radionuclides resulting from nuclear tests and a partial nuclear meltdown at the site in 1959. Last year, the US EPA found elevated radiations remains at the site, up to 1,000 times background levels. While the DOE also agreed to cleanup it’s property to background levels, Boeing has refused to do so and successfully sued the state over state law SB 990 that would have required strict cleanup.

“Today, the City of Los Angeles demonstrated its continuing support for a cleanup of SSFL that is fully protective of public health,” said Denise Duffield, Associate Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “If only Boeing would do the same, we could all rest a little easier.”