Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Lab Demolition Plans Delayed

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A Sacramento judge has denied the Boeing Co.’s motion that argued that demolition and disposal of old buildings on the Santa Susana Field Laboratory can proceed without any intervention by state regulators.

The ruling, made last week, means that the issue will continue on to a court hearing to determine the role of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Department of Public Health in the project. Boeing owns buildings formerly used for nuclear research on the Santa Susana site, at the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley.

Longtime activists who have worked toward cleanup efforts on the site called the ruling a victory.

“This is an important step on the way to ensuring that state regulators must consider the demolition and disposal of any radioactively contaminated structures at the Santa Susana Field Lab in their environmental assessment of the cleanup of this site,” said Consumer Watchdog Litigation Director Pam Pressley in a statement.

In 2013, Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based advocacy organization, joined by several other groups, warned the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Department of Public Health that they faced a lawsuit if they didn’t block Boeing from further dismantling a structure.

The groups, which include the Committee to Bridge the Gap, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, and the Southern California Federation of Scientists said by allowing Boeing to demolish those buildings then discarding the debris at unlicensed dumps, the DTSC and DPH violated the California Environmental Quality Act. They also said the buildings remained contaminated with high levels of radiation and that demolition would release unknown toxins.

Boeing officials said they were disappointed by the judge’s decision and said the lawsuit is delaying demolition until the hearing. A date has not been set.

“While we are disappointed by the decision to deny Boeing’s motion for summary judgment, we appreciate that the court took the time to thoroughly evaluate our arguments,” according to a statement. “It is important to note that the court made clear that it was expressing no opinion on how it will ultimately rule on the petitioners’ claims.”

Boeing has said it is committed to cleaning up its portion of the site for use as open space, although longtime cleanup activists have said that level isn’t good enough.

In a statement, the DTSC repeated that it too is committed to cleanup efforts, but that the agency has no role in overseeing demolition of those structures.

“DTSC is confident that when the court rules on the merits, it will determine that Boeing does not require DTSC’s approval to demolish buildings outside DTSC’s regulatory authority,” the agency said in a statement. “DTSC has complied with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.”

Nestled between Simi Valley and Chatsworth, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory is a remote, 2,900-acre site developed in the 1940s. It was used to test rocket engines and conduct nuclear research. Boeing now owns a majority of the land. In 1989, the Department of Energy released a report admitting that a partial meltdown of a sodium reactor had occurred in 1959 on a section known as Area IV.

An environmental impact report prepared by the DTSC to outline a cleanup plan is expected to be completed sometime this year.

Reach the author at [email protected] or follow Susan on Twitter: @sabramLA.

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