Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based advocacy group, is accusing Boeing Co. of hindering efforts to properly clean up its portion of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Simi Valley.
Boeing owns about 80 percent of the former field lab, including a portion known as Area IV that experienced a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959. The rest of the site belongs to the federal government.
In a 56-page report titled “Inside Job,” which was released June 5, Consumer Watchdog alleges that Boeing recently used “influential fixers” at the California
Department of Toxic Substances Control and Gov. Jerry Brown’s office, unbeknownst to the governor himself, to weaken cleanup standards for the contaminated site.
In 2007, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 990 requiring Boeing, NASA and the Department of Energy—the three parties responsible for the site—to conduct a full cleanup of the SSFL under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s highest health standards. The law put the DTSC in charge of overseeing the cleanup.
However, according to the Consumer Watchdog report, which was written by consumer advocate Liza Tucker, a thorough cleanup of the field lab was “abandoned to the detriment of public health” when Brown took office in 2011 and appointed Debbie Raphael as director of the DTSC.
“Boeing accomplished this reversal by employing fixers to ensure that government officials would change course and allow most of the contamination to be left behind,” Tucker wrote.
According to the report, Consumer Watchdog came to that conclusion after a six-month investigation during which numerous documents were obtained via Public Records Act requests.
Raphael resigned from her post last month after a controversial three-year tenure, which included non-SSFL-related allegations that the DTSC was slow to respond to urgent matters and that the agency’s oversight operations had significant flaws.
“Raphael’s resignation is insufficient, however, to fix this agency’s deeply rooted problems because its senior leadership remains,” Tucker’s report states. “This leadership is closely enmeshed with the industry it regulates, creating a dysfunctional culture. It is time for a thorough housecleaning of such managers.”
Consumer Watchdog sent a copy of its 56-page report and a letter to the governor’s office on June 5 urging Brown to “fix the dysfunctional leadership at the DTSC” and put a full cleanup of the SSFL “back on track.”
In a prepared statement provided to the Simi Valley Acorn this week, Boeing officials said the aerospace company signed a comprehensive cleanup agreement in the form of a Consent Order with the DTSC in 2007 “and continues to comply with it.”
“Boeing remains committed to remediating Santa Susana to a level clean enough to allow suburban residential housing—a far more stringent level than is required for actual future land use as protected open space,” the statement reads.
Furthermore, Boeing said it hired multiple experts, legal counsel and consultants to help share the company’s cleanup progress with the public and government agencies.
“We are proud of the actions we’ve taken to clean up Santa Susana and the steps we are taking to preserve the site as open space for future generations,” Boeing said.
In a separate statement, DTSC officials said they are “committed to a complete, science-based cleanup” of the field lab as required by California law. Officials also called the Consumer Watchdog report “fundamentally flawed.”
The report’s “claim that DTSC has already approved a final cleanup plan for the Boeing portion of the site is simply mistaken,” the statement reads. “Its selective review of the record misconstrues DTSC’s actions and fails to note that state officials have met with a wide array of interests, including elected officials and the parties responsible for cleaning up the contamination.”
The 2,850-acre SSFL in the southeast hills of Simi Valley is not only a former nuclear test site but was used for research and development of ballistic missiles, rockets and space shuttle equipment.
Last August, Consumer Watchdog and three other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against DTSC and the Department of Public Health alleging that the agencies, along with Boeing, were improperly disposing of radioactive material during building demolitions in Area IV.
A Sacramento Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction against the DTSC in December, forcing the agency to stop approving demolitions in Area IV. The injunction is still in effect, and no court date has been set for a follow-up hearing.
On May 1, NASA announced plans to demolish about 30 buildings on the smaller portion of the site that belongs to the federal government.