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Supervisor Barger wants rocket plant cleaned up


The Board of Supervisors this week joined Ventura County and the city of Los Angeles officials in pressing for a full clean-up of a contaminated site once used for developing rocket engines and nuclear reactors in Simi Valley.

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory is a 2,668-acre complex of abandoned industrial research facilities in the Simi Hills owned by Boeing, NASA and the Department of Energy.

Though the site is in Ventura County—about two miles from the border of Los Angeles County—with radioactive and chemical contaminants remaining in the soil, stormwater runoff and airborne dust particles have affected residents in the western San Fernando Valley, according to Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Kuehl and Supervisor Kathryn Barger supported demanding the highest level of cleanup—“back to the site’s native environmental state”—of the portion of land controlled by the DOE.

In 2010, the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control entered into an administrative order with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the DOE that “required all detectible radioactive and chemical contamination be removed to background levels.” Background levels are similar to those before the facility was put into use.

But in January, the DOE released a draft environmental impact statement that offered three alternatives for partial cleanup and sought to exempt 330,000 cubic yards of soil, citing negative biological impacts.

Kuehl and Barger said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency tasked with judging negative consequences to wildlife and habitats, cited no issues in its 2010 report. An updated report by the service has not yet been completed.

The board directed its chief executive officer to coordinate comments on the EIS from all county departments and asked county attorneys to bring in outside counsel to help assess its options.

Residents told the board they were tired of appearing at public hearing after public hearing and being assured agreements had been reached, only to find they still had to fight for the site to be cleaned up.

Some echoed the motion’s mention of potential rare cancer clusters in children and adults.

The mother of a young girl with cancer said she had met an unusual number of other “cancer moms” in her neighborhood.

Citing statistics that .02 percent of the population is affected by childhood cancer, she thought, “there has to be something wrong in West Hills that this keeps happening.”

Her self-reported data shows “above average” incidences of three types of pediatric cancer in West Hills: an eye-brain cancer and two types of sarcoma.

The woman acknowledged that the data doesn’t prove the cancer was caused by contaminants at Santa Susana, but said the effects would be consistent with chemicals and radioactivity found there.

The field laboratory was used from 1949 to 2006. Kuehl said it was one thing when the consequences of work there was not well understood, but accused modern-day federal officials of deliberating turning a blind eye.