Boeing, State Facing New Complaints on Santa Susana Toxic Cleanup

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Two state regulator agencies were accused Monday of placing the public's health at risk by allowing the Boeing Co. to demolish an old plutonium fabrication building on the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site and then planning to dispose the debris at an unlicensed dump in Kern County.

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 face a lawsuit if they don't block Boeing's actions in the next 24 hours.

"Your agencies' actions and approvals have created the risk of imminent public harm through the disposal of radiologically contaminated material at levels above background in sites that are not licensed to receive such materials," the groups' letter said. "This conduct violates numerous laws."

The Boeing Co. said in a response Monday that the structure they plan to demolish, known as Building 4055, was constructed in 1967 and played a key role in the development of technologies for uranium-plutonium oxide fuels.

"Boeing continues to work cooperatively with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and other state and federal agencies to ensure that decommissioned material from former radiological facilities, which have been released for unrestricted use, is disposed of safely in full compliance with the law," said Boeing spokeswoman Kamara Sams.

The DTSC said it is reviewing the letter, but is awaiting the federal Environmental Protection Agency's review of the result of samples taken from the building.

"We expect USEPA's decision shortly," according to the DTSC. "Because of this, this building is not being demolished at this time."

The agency also said it is confident that "the Area IV demolition activities are being conducted in conformance with existing regulations and the Order we have with The Boeing Company for the Santa Susana Laboratory," according to its statement.

But Consumer Watchdog said data provided by the DTSC and Boeing show that portions of the debris are radioactive, and that Boeing amended its procedures for building demolition to include radiological facilities that would allow disposal in unlicensed sites.

Consumer Watchdog also accused the DTSC of not performing an environmental review of the demolition and disposal plans, which they say is a direct violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Boeing has already delivered some 4,888 tons of debris from six demolished structures from the highly contaminated portion of the Santa Susana Lab known as Area IV, to unlicensed metal, asphalt, and concrete recyclers, according to Committee to Bridge the Gap, a SSFL activist group which has joined Consumer Watchdog. The Center on Race, Poverty, & the Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, and the Southern California Federation of Scientists, also jointly sent the letter.

Recycling companies such as Gillibrand of Simi Valley, Kimco of Sun Valley, and Standard Industries of Ventura have received material from the SSFL nuclear site, according to the report.

Tim McGuire, a sales supervisor at Gillibrand said his company does not accept any material until it has been approved as safe by the DTSC.

"We can't take in asphalt or concrete or anything until it is certified that it is not contaminated," he said.

But the report submitted by Consumer Watchdog says Boeing's own data shows that debris also has been shipped for disposal to the Buttonwillow hazardous waste landfill operated by Clean Harbors Inc. in Kern County, and to municipal or industrial waste landfills Azusa Land Reclamation, Lancaster Landfill and Hauling, and McKittrick Waste Landfill.

"The very idea that radioactive waste could end up in the zippers of consumers' jeans or in the steel girders of our office buildings is shocking," said Consumer Watchdog advocate Liza Tucker. "The state is doing the opposite of protecting the public. It's helping to expose the public to radioactive contamination. It's inconceivable."

"I think it's crystal clear that the state is violating a bucket full of laws," added Dan Hirsch, who co-authored the report and who is the president of Committee to Bridge the Gap. "They are shooting first, and asking questions later. They are dumping plutonium on poor farm workers."

Nestled between Simi Valley and Chatsworth, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory is a remote, 2,900-acre site developed in the 1940s where rocket engines had been tested and nuclear research had been conducted. 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.

The work left contamination in some parts of the area, in soil and groundwater, specifically perchlorate and dioxin. Site owners and environmental regulators still don't know the full extent of the soil and groundwater contamination but have been mandated by state law to clean up the land to strict levels.

Earlier this year, Consumer Watchdog urged state officials to investigate the DTSC for failing to properly protect the public against polluters and called the agency a weak enforcer.

"It's clear to me that this department is failing from protecting the public from toxic harm," Tucker added.

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