Los Angeles Daily News – Santa Susana Field Lab Activists Say Tainted Structures Must Not Go To Landfills


Activists and residents living near the Santa Susana Field Lab have for decades grappled with the environmental consequences that haunt the hilly terrain in the Santa Susana Mountains, once the testing site for rockets and nuclear reactors. Now they worry about what they see as a different kind of catastrophe.

Four groups, Consumer Watchdog, Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA, Southern California Federation of Scientists, and Committee to Bridge the Gap, have urged the California Supreme Court to reverse a First District Court of Appeal ruling that allows Boeing to tear down five structures at the Santa Susana Field Lab and deposit the tainted debris in landfills and metal recycling centers the groups say are not equipped to store radioactive waste. 

Liza Tucker from Consumer Watchdog warned on Tuesday, July 18, “The case has implications for other sites (where the waste would be taken) in the state. We don’t want a situation where other communities are exposed to radiologically contaminated debris that is dangerous.” 

An amicus letter filed separately on July 11 by Friends of the Earth, California Communities Against Toxics and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service warned that, if the appellate decision is not reversed, significant harm could occur “both by allowing radioactive material from the Santa SusanaField Lab to be improperly disposed of, and by giving state regulators an effective green light to allow that practice statewide, affecting numerous other radioactive sites, solid and hazardous waste facilities and recyclers, and residents and consumers throughout the state.” 

Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, said in a phone interview that “the state legislature has spoken, that this type of radioactive waste is not to be landfilled.… It’s not permissible to put it in any landfills, and that’s why we ask the Supreme Court to review.” 

In their challenge to the First District Court of Appeal, Consumer Watchdog and other groups accused Boeing of “applying their diluted decontamination standard, and disregarding the text of the existing regulation, literally for decades.” 

The petition warns, “If the [Court of Appeals] Opinion is allowed to stand … it will be taken by the respondents as an authoritative endorsement of their long-standing practices. … Their abiding determination to evade the law is clear from the history of this very controversy.” 

Boeing didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

The petition filed by the four leading groups urged state agencies that oversee the Santa Susana FieldLab to “hold to the regulatory promise of removing and safely disposing of all residual radioactive materials that can practicably be removed from these structures previously utilized for nuclear weapons research.” 

Environmental advocacy group Parents Against Santa Susana Field Laboratory, founded by mothers of children with rare forms of cancer, has filed its own letter with the court, urging the judge to “enforce the state’s regulation requiring full remediation of contaminated nuclear sites and to prevent that regulation’s replacement with unauthorized weaker standards that were never properly adopted.” 

The petition comes as Boeing is expected to raze half a dozen buildings on a 290-acre portion of the Santa Susana Field in coming months, including a defunct plutonium fabrication facility, according to Consumer Watchdog. 

During the height of the Cold War, the sprawling Santa Susana Field Lab was a testing ground for liquid-rocket engines nuclear reactors and various nuclear applications. In 1951, an infamous partial nuclear meltdown sent off clouds of radiation into nearby communities in the San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley. 

The buildings Boeing is expected to tear down are located in Area IV of the Santa Susana Field Lab, which spans 2,800 acres between Simi Valley and Chatsworth. 

Residents and activists worry that the state agencies who oversee the site could potentially allow Boeing to dispose of contaminated metals and other materials in landfills and other sites not licensed for toxic waste.

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