Concern Mounts That NASA Is On Verge Of Breaking Out Of Santa Susana Field Lab Cleanup Agreement

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SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog and four other environmental groups today said that NASA could be about to break the commitments it made in a 2010 agreement to clean up all the detectible contamination at its former Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) rocket testing site in the Simi Hills.

Consumer Watchdog, Teens Against Toxins, the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Committee to Bridge the Gap said that NASA is apparently laying the groundwork for such a breach by falsely claiming that commenters on its draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on the cleanup were evenly divided on whether NASA should live up to its obligations in the cleanup agreements.

When pressed to provide actual data to backup such a claim, NASA refused, and Consumer Watchdog submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, obtaining all submitted comments.

“The comments show that a crushing majority of people, including residents living near the site who have lost loved ones to cancer, want this site totally cleaned up,” said Consumer Advocate Liza Tucker. Area residents, doctors, professors, pastors, and many others wrote in support of the cleanup, she said.

Teens Against Toxins reviewed all the comments and tabulated them. The result:  over 3000 people submitted comments. A stunning 98% called on NASA to strictly comply with the 2010 legal cleanup agreement.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Davis Gortner, of Teens Against Toxins, who lives right next to the site. “More than 3000 people wrote in supporting living up to the cleanup agreement, and about 70 were opposed. That’s not ‘evenly divided,’ that’s more than forty-to-one in favor of the promised full cleanup.”

Tucker said that NASA appeared to be laying the groundwork to renege on the Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) it signed with the State of California in 2010 promising to clean up the NASA portion of the site to “background”—the level of naturally occurring materials in the environment before any contamination took place.

As recently as last September, NASA Associate Administrator Richard Keegan testified before Congress that NASA remained committed to the AOC.  In response to a question by Congresswoman Julia Brownley, who represents communities near SSFL and serves on NASA’s oversight committee, Keegan said, “NASA is committed to fulfilling our obligations under the AOC.” In response to a follow-up question from Congresswoman Brownley, Keegan reiterated, “We are committed to the agreement under the AOC.”
At a meeting of the Santa Susana Field Lab Work Group on February 5, attended by hundreds of members of the public, NASA SSFL project manager Peter Zorba appeared reluctant to re-affirm that commitment. Video of the NASA Congressional testimony and Mr. Zorba’s questioning about whether the commitment still holds is at:

At the meeting, Zorba indicated that the NASA Final EIS on the cleanup would be issued this month. NASA has previously stated that if it could get out of the AOC, it could leave two-thirds to 90 percent of the contaminated soil not cleaned up, saving itself tens of millions of dollars.
“Should NASA decide to renege on the AOC and renegotiate the cleanup standard in the agreement, a direct threat to public health will remain at a site that has suffered numerous toxic spills, including half a million gallons of the carcinogenic solvent TCE,” said Tucker. “Thousands of people will protest such a decision.”
For more on chemical contamination connected to NASA’s activity at the site, see:

Should NASA announce it wants to not be held to its 2010 commitment to clean up all its contamination and instead renegotiate the agreement so as to allow most of the contamination not to be cleaned up, the following people will also available for comment:

Dawn Kowalski, Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition: 805-522-8059
Denise Duffield, Physicians for Social Responsibility: 310-339-9676
Dan Hirsch, Committee to Bridge the Gap: 831-336-8003


Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, following everything from oil and gas to the regulation of toxic substances in the state of California. She comes to us from Marketplace, the largest U.S. broadcast show on business and economics heard by ten million listeners each week on 400 radio stations. Liza worked at this public radio show for a decade, first as Commentary Editor and then as Senior Editor for both Washington and Sustainability News.

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