THE SANTA SUSANA FIELD LABORATORY (ROCKETDYNE) BURNED IN THE WOOLSEY FIRE, THREATENING TOXIC EXPOSURES FROM CONTAMINATED DUST, SMOKE, ASH AND SOIL. THE DEPARTMENT OF TOXIC SUBSTANCES CONTROL DENIES RISK THAT IT CREATED BY DELAYING THE LONG PROMISED CLEANUP.
For Immediate Release: November 9, 2018
Last night, the Woolsey fire burned the contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), a former nuclear and rocket engine testing site. Footage from local television showed flames surrounding rocket test stands, and the fire’s progress through to Oak Park indicates that much of the toxic site burned.
A statement released by the California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) said that its staff, “do not believe the fire has caused any releases of hazardous materials that would pose a risk to people exposed to the smoke.” The statement failed to assuage community concerns given DTSC’s longtime pattern of misinformation about SSFL’s contamination and its repeated broken promises to clean it up.
“We can’t trust anything that DTSC says,” said West Hills resident Melissa Bumstead, whose young daughter has twice survived leukemia that she blames on SSFL and who has mapped 50 other cases of rare pediatric cancers near the site. Bumstead organized a group called “Parents vs. SSFL” and launched a Change.org petition demanding full cleanup of SSFL that has been signed by over 410,000 people. “DTSC repeatedly minimizes risk from SSFL and has broken every promise it ever made about the SSFL cleanup. Communities throughout the state have also been failed by DTSC. The public has no confidence in this troubled agency,” said Bumstead.
Nuclear reactor accidents, including a famous partial meltdown, tens of thousands of rocket engine tests, and sloppy environmental practices have left SSFL polluted with widespread radioactive and chemical contamination. Government-funded studies indicate increased cancers for offsite populations associated with proximity to the site, and that contamination migrates offsite over EPA levels of concern. In 2010, DTSC signed agreements with the Department of Energy and NASA that committed them to clean up all detectable contamination in their operational areas by 2017. DTSC also in 2010 committed to require Boeing, which owns most of the site, to cleanup to comparable standards. But the cleanup has not yet begun, and DTSC is currently considering proposals that will leave much, if not all, of SSFL’s contamination on site permanently.
Dr. Robert Dodge, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, shares the community’s concerns. “We know what substances are on the site and how hazardous they are. We’re talking about incredibly dangerous radionuclides and toxic chemicals such a trichloroethylene, perchlorate, dioxins and heavy metals. These toxic materials are in SSFL’s soil and vegetation, and when it burns and becomes airborne in smoke and ash, there is real possibility of heightened exposure for area residents.”
Dodge said protective measures recommended during any fire, such as staying indoors and wearing protective face masks, are even more important given the risks associated with SSFL’s contamination. Community members are organizing a campaign on social media to demand that DTSC release a public statement revealing the potential risks of exposure to SSFL contamination related to the fire.
But for residents such as Bumstead, worries will remain until SSFL is fully cleaned up. “When I look at that fire, all I see is other parents’ future heartache,” said Bumstead, “And what I feel is anger that if the DTSC had kept its word, we wouldn’t have these concerns, because the site would be cleaned up by now.”
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Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA) is the largest chapter of the national organization Physicians for Social Responsibility and has worked for the full cleanup of SSFL for over 30 years.. PSR-LA advocates for policies and practices that protect public health from nuclear and environmental threats and eliminate health disparities.
Parents vs. SSFL is a grassroots group of concerned parents and residents who demand compliance with cleanup agreements signed in 2010 that require a full cleanup of all radioactive and chemical contamination at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.
RESPONSE TO LA MAGAZINE ARTICLE:
On November 10, Los Angeles Magazine ran an article claiming there was no risk related to SSFL contamination from the Woolsey fire that we now know actually began on the SSFL property itself. Below is our response.
Los Angeles Magazine must print a correction – this article is filled with errors and misinformation:
- There is no need to put quotes around “significantly contaminated” – SSFL is one of the most contaminated sites in the nation, subject of a promised but long-delayed state and federal cleanup; it is heavily contaminated with well documented nuclear and chemical contamination, from, among other things, a partial nuclear meltdown.
- The claim in the first hours of the fire by DTSC, an agency that has no public confidence to the point that the state legislature commissioned an Independent Review Panel to investigate its failings (which include the Exide fiasco in Vernon,) that it didn’t “believe” there was a risk is cover for its failure to live up to its cleanup commitments (it had promised the site would be cleaned up by 2017 and the cleanup hasn’t even begun). It is pure conjecture. DTSC does not have have any scientific data to back up the claim. It based the spurious assertion on its claim that the fire in its first hours was not in areas where contamination could be released, but the state fire department now shows almost all of the contaminated site as within the fire boundary.
- DTSC did not release it’s statement in response to the Forbes article, it released it the night before, when virtually nothing was known about the extent of the fire at SSFL
- SSFL is NEVER referred to as Area IV – that is simply one area in the site, the area where most of the nuclear activity occurred
- Given the extent of contamination in the site’s soil and vegetation, it is indeed possible and likely that contamination from the site was spread further from the fire in smoke, dust, and ash.
The bottom line is it irresponsible to claim that SSFL contamination was not spread further by the fire. Los Angeles Magazine may wish to read its own cover story from 1998: HOT ZONE – Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory was on the front lines of the Cold War. Now some who lived near “The Hill” say they share two distinctions: chronic illness and the unswerving belief that the lab caused it.