DTSC Defends Santa Susana Lab Cleanup Oversight; Activists File Lawsuit

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Toxics department officials this week defended their oversight of cleanup activities by the Boeing Co. at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory and disputed allegations by environmentalists in a new lawsuit that the agency is allowing illegal disposal of radioactive waste.

Activists in the lawsuit filed this week argue that the department is violating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to review the environmental impacts of demolishing structures at "Area IV" of the Santa Susana site. The groups also contend that the department is allowing the waste to be disposed of at landfills that are not authorized to accept radioactive waste.

The contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory sits on more than 2,000 acres outside Los Angeles and includes multiple facilities operated by Boeing, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA). Those three entities are responsible parties at the site, which historically was used to test nuclear reactors and rocket technologies and has resulted in contamination of soil. Boeing now owns most of the land at the site.

The stringency of cleanup standards at the site has long been debated and viewed as setting a potential precedent for cleanups at other radioactive sites around the country.

Attorneys for Consumer Watchdog, Physicians for Social Responsibility and other groups Aug. 6 filed a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court challenging an authorization made to Boeing by the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Department of Public Health (DPH) to demolish and dispose of radioactive structures at Area IV of the site.

Area IV is the site of widespread radiological and chemical contamination from a partial nuclear reactor meltdown in 1959 and from other sources, such as the burning of radioactive and toxic wastes, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says DTSC has violated CEQA by failing to perform any environmental review for the demolition of structures prior to authorizing the demolition. DTSC is also expressly approving Boeing's disposal of this radiologically contaminated waste offsite to facilities that are not licensed or designed to accept this waste, the lawsuit charges. The lawsuit is available on InsideEPA.com. (Doc ID:2443383)

During an Aug. 6 conference call with reporters, DTSC officials defended their oversight of the cleanup while also deferring key questions on radioactive waste disposal standards to DPH. DTSC officials were also responding to a report sent to the agency by the environmental groups on Aug. 5, which argues Boeing's own data indicate structures already demolished were radioactively contaminated. The report also claims that earlier this year Boeing amended its procedures for building demolition to include radiological facilities and to allow for disposal in unlicensed sites. It gave the public no notice or opportunity to comment, the groups argue.

But DTSC Deputy Director Stewart Black said during the Aug. 6 conference call that, "quite frankly, I feel it's important to set the record straight. The allegations that DTSC is allowing disposal of radioactive waste at facilities not licensed to receive that waste is not only false, but irresponsible, and I take issue with that. The safety and care that we implement as we oversee cleanups at sites like [Santa Susana] is important to us."

Black argued that the report released by the groups Aug. 5 was "generating unnecessary fear in southern California communities. The scientific evidence is irrefutable: none of the materials to date disposed of pose a threat to human health or the environment." He said this is based on a review by DTSC, U.S. EPA, DPH and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

With regard to the lawsuit, DTSC attorney Nancy Bothwell later in the call said the agency is "alerting our counsel to be prepared for any kind of litigation. That would be the [attorney general]. But we're hopeful these organizations would provide more concrete evidence before choosing to file [a lawsuit]."

The lawsuit was filed just minutes before DTSC's conference call, according to a source.

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