– DEPT. OF ENERGY HAD COMMITTED TO CLEANING UP ALL CONTAMINATION, NOW SAYS IT WILL LEAVE 98% OF CONTAMINATED SOIL NOT CLEANED UP – JUST WEEKS AFTER WOOLSEY FIRE BURNS SITE
– NEW REPORT DEVASTATES TOXIC AGENCY ASSURANCES THAT FIRE CAUSED NO TOXIC RELEASES
The Trump Administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) has announced it intends to leave almost all of the contaminated soil in its area of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) not cleaned up, despite admitting that would violate the legally binding agreement it entered into with California in 2010. The breach of long-standing promises is included in the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the SSFL cleanup, released by the Department of Energy on December 18, 2018.
In 2010, DOE signed an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), committing to clean up all contamination that could be detected on it’s portion of the Santa Susana Field Lab, with some very narrow exceptions. The new EIS report declares DOE now intends to clean up only 38,000 of the 1.6 million cubic yards of soil it admits are contaminated. According to the DOE’s report, 98% of the contaminated soil wouldn’t be cleaned up. DOE also proposes to not remediate most of the contaminated groundwater at the site, but to just leave it to “naturally attenuate.”
The SSFL is one of the most contaminated sites in the state. It housed ten nuclear reactors, one of which suffered a partial nuclear meltdown and three others also experienced serious accidents. There was a plutonium fuel fabrication facility and a “hot lab” which cut up highly irradiated nuclear fuel shipped in from around the country. Radioactive and toxic chemical wastes were burned for years in open-air pits. There were tens of thousands of rocket engine tests. All of these activities and sloppy environmental practices resulted in widespread radioactive and toxic chemical pollution of soil, groundwater and surface water. Federally-funded studies found a greater than 60% higher incidence of key cancers associated with proximity to SSFL and migration of contaminants to offsite communities in excess of EPA levels of concern.
“The Trump Administration has just stuck its finger in the eyes of the incoming Newsom Administration and the half million people who live near this contaminated site,” said Denise Duffield, Associate Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “The question now is whether Mr. Newsom will aggressively defend California against Trump’s breach of a legally binding agreement with the state. Newsom needs also to fundamentally reform the troubled state toxics agency, whose failure to regulate the site contributed to the contamination in the first place.”
On the same day DOE broke the cleanup agreement, the widely distrusted DTSC released a preliminary summary about the Woolsey fire, which began at and burned much of SSFL. The DTSC summary continues the agency’s dubious claims that burning hundreds of acres of contaminated vegetation and soil couldn’t result in any releases of radioactive and toxic chemical pollution.
“DTSC’s report has no credibility,” said Duffield. “As the critique demonstrates, there are virtually no measurements from the time of the fire, which is what matters most, and only a handful of very insensitive measurements taken days after the fire was out. Even so, DTSC found some elevated soil and ash concentrations offsite, which it proceeded to dismiss.”
Melissa Bumstead, a West Hills resident whose young daughter has twice survived leukemia and who has mapped 50 other rare pediatric cancers near SSFL, expressed strong distrust of DTSC. “The DTSC has repeatedly lied to our community about the SSFL’s contamination and cleanup. Now they claim they can’t detect any contamination on the site, even though their previous tests found extensive chemical and radioactive toxins there before. Are we supposed to believe that the fire cured the site of all contamination, and if so, wouldn’t that mean it burned and blew the waste off site and into our communities? We want to know that our families are safe from radioactive waste in our communities. But the DTSC’s report hasn’t given us those answers.”
DOE and DTSC promised that all contamination at SSFL would be cleaned up by last year. Both have broken their promises, the cleanup hasn’t even begun, and DOE has now declared it has no intention of living up to the legally binding agreement it signed. DOE instead claims it will clean the site up to an “open space” standard where it would supposedly be safe for someone to occasionally hike on the property. That does nothing to protect the people who live near the site 24/7.
“Hundreds of thousands of people living nearby will be at increased risk if Mr. Newsom, once he is Governor, doesn’t take strong steps to fight the Trump Administration’s breach of the cleanup agreements and also to fundamentally reform DTSC,” said Duffield. “We eagerly await his strong action to fully and finally get SSFL cleaned up.”
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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.