From Physicians for Social Responsibility
Congressional and Local Elected Officials Release Letters to CalEPA Complaining that the SSFL Soil Cleanup, Which Was to Have Been Completed by 2017, Hasn’t Even Begun
For Immediate Release: October 14, 2021
A peer-reviewed study, just published by the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, found that radioactive contamination from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) migrated offsite during the 2018 Woolsey Fire, which began at SSFL. The study calls into question widely distrusted claims by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and its toxics department that no contamination was released.
SSFL is a former nuclear and rocket-engine testing facility located in the hills above the Simi and San Fernando valleys. Decades of accidents, spills, and releases – including a partial nuclear meltdown – resulted in extensive radioactive and chemical contamination that still has not been cleaned up.
The study “Radioactive microparticles related to the Woolsey Fire in Simi Valley, CA” was conducted by Marco Kaltofen of the Dept. of Physics, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Maggie and Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education. It examined 360 samples of household dust, surface soils, and ash from 150 homes as well as other locations collected in December 2018 through February 2019 by community volunteers who received training in sample and safety protocols. Photos and video of the sample collection can be downloaded here. The study found radioactive particles associated with the fire at SSFL as high as nineteen times background (normal) as much as nine miles away.
The study concludes that while most samples collected were at background levels, “some ashes and dusts collected from the Woolsey Fire zone in the fire’s immediate aftermath contained high activities of radioactive isotopes associated with the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL). The data show that Woolsey Fire ash did, in fact, spread SSFL-related radioactive microparticles….Alpha and beta counting, high-resolution alpha and gamma spectroscopy, and X-ray microanalysis using SEM/EDS confirmed the presence of radioactive microparticles in the Woolsey Fire-related ashes and dusts.”
“Most of the fire-impacted samples found near the SSFL site’s perimeter were on lands accessible to the public. There were, however, scattered localized areas of increased radioactivity due to the presence of radioactive microparticles in ash and recently-settled dusts collected just after the Woolsey fire. These radioactive outliers were found in Thousand Oaks, CA, and Simi Valley, CA, about 15 and 5 km distant from SSFL, respectively. The Thousand Oaks samples had alpha count rates up to 19 times background, and X-ray spectroscopy (SEM) identified alpha-emitting thorium as the source of this excess radioactivity. Excessive alpha radiation in small particles is of particular interest because of the relatively high risk of inhalation-related long-term biological damage from internal alpha emitters compared to external radiation.”
The findings contradict conclusions by CalEPA’s Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which, a mere 9 hours after the fire began on November 8, 2018, declared that the fire didn’t result in releases of hazardous materials. CalEPA/DTSC issued an interim study in December 2018, affirmed in a final version in December 2020, which asserted that “data from sampling and measurements did not detect the release of chemical or radiological contaminants from SSFL.” The CalEPA/DTSC claims were widely criticized (see, e.g., Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists).
The new findings call these claims into question and further reinforce concern about their failure to clean up SSFL as long promised. Had the state and the parties responsible for the contamination (Boeing, Dept. of Energy, and NASA) met their legally binding obligations to clean up SSFL by the 2017 deadline, the 2018 fire couldn’t have released contamination. And further failure to remediate the site will pose continuing risks to the offsite population, as set forth in letters by Congressional and local elected officials released today.
Congressional Letter to CalEPA Complaining About Failure to Clean Up The Site
Congressmembers Sherman, Brownley, Correa, and Napolitano and Senator Padilla sent a letter to CalEPA today, stating:
“The 2007 Consent Order and 2020 Administrative Orders on Consent govern clean-up of the site and tasked the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) with responsibility for overseeing the clean-up. These Orders required that soil cleanup be completed by 2017, however the agreed upon soil remediation at the site has yet to begin. We are deeply concerned about the lengthy delays in the clean-up of SSFL….”
“We strongly support the existing cleanup agreements between the state and the three responsible parties. These agreements should be vigorously enforced and proceed with all appropriate urgency.”
Eleven Local Elected Officials Confront CalEPA About Its Delayed Cleanup, Failure to Enforce Cleanup Agreements, & Negotiations With Boeing to Weaken Cleanup Standards
Also today, County Supervisors from Ventura and LA County, six mayors, and an LA City Councilmember sent a letter to CalEPA saying:
“It is now four years after the clean-up was supposed to have been completed per adopted agreements, and as yet the promised soil clean-up has not begun. We are opposed to any action that would significantly delay or weaken site clean-up. We are specifically concerned with the following activities of your agency:
- No State effort to enforce the 2007 Consent Order and 2010 Administrative Orders on Consent.
- Confidential negotiations between DTSC and Boeing that could delay or weaken clean-up by Boeing as required by the Consent Order and Administrative Order on Consent (CO & AOC).
- Proposed further delays in the Programmatic Environmental Impact Report while having not addressed shortcomings in the EIR that the City of LA, the County of Ventura, and others identified over three years ago.
- Possible changes to the Standardized Risk Assessment Methodology (SRAM2 Update) that would allow Boeing to delay and weaken clean-up.”
As indicated in the letter, there is widespread concern among electeds and the community about secret negotiations between the state and Boeing that could have the effect of further delaying the cleanup while allowing Boeing to walk away from cleaning up most of its contamination. In particular, there is concern that the core of such a Boeing-Newsom Administration deal would be to revise the Standardized Risk Assessment Methodology, or SRAM, which forms the basis for the cleanup standards, and to do so in a way that would allow as much as twenty times higher levels of contamination than permitted in the current SRAM.
“The community is incredibly grateful that our elected representatives are standing up for us, especially now while CalEPA remains in secret negotiations with Boeing. Given the agency’s conduct with the SSFL cleanup and its failure to protect many other impacted communities in California, we are concerned that CalEPA will cut a deal with Boeing that will leave the vast majority of contamination at SSFL,” said Jeni Knack, a community member who helped collect samples for the radiation study.
“Federally funded studies have previously confirmed that contamination has migrated offsite over U.S. EPA levels of concern, and that the incidence of key cancers in the neighboring communities increases with proximity to the site,” said Denise Duffield, Associate Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA. “In addition, site owner Boeing has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for exceeding contamination limits in surface water runoff leaving the site over many years. Until and unless CalEPA and the parties responsible for the pollution finally live up to their cleanup agreements, people living around the site will be at further risk to their health.”
“The bottom line is, if SSFL had been cleaned up by 2017 as required by the cleanup agreements, the community wouldn’t have had to worry about contamination released by the Woolsey Fire,” said Melissa Bumstead, co-founder of Parents vs. SSFL. “My daughter is a two-time cancer survivor, and no parent should have to worry that the SSFL might give their child cancer when there’s a fire on site, or when it rains or it’s windy.”
MSNBC to Air Award-Winning Documentary About the Santa Susana Field Lab
MSNBC has announced the acquisition of the documentary, “In the Dark of the Valley,” which follows the story of Melissa Bumstead and other local mothers whose children have been diagnosed with rare cancers and are fighting for SSFL to be fully cleaned up. The film has won numerous awards on the festival circuit, including Best Documentary at the Phoenix and Catalina Film Festivals. The film will air nationwide on November 14, 2021 at 10pm EST.
Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA) 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.