Injunction Halts Approval of Santa Susana Field Lab Cleanup

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Environmental watchdogs scored a victory last week when a Sacramento judge stopped state toxics regulators from approving Boeing’s demolition and disposal of buildings once used for nuclear research at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory near Simi Valley.

The organizations — Consumer Watchdog, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Committee to Bridge the Gap and the Southern California Federation of Scientists — fear the buildings are contaminated with unacceptable levels of radiation that demolition could release, according to a decision by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner.

At the same time, the groups say the debris is going to a disposal facility that is not licensed to receive radioactive waste.

Mobile users can view the court documents here.

Sumner, however, wrote that the case doesn’t address whether Boeing’s demolition and disposal activities are safe.

The question is whether the Department of Toxic Substances Control must conduct an environmental review under state law. He found that based on record the organizations would prevail on that allegation.

The preliminary injunction against the department is temporary pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the organizations last summer.

The suit alleges the agency and the Department of Public Health violated the state’s environmental quality act by failing to conduct an environmental review before demolishing and disposing of structures in Area IV, the site of nuclear testing at the 2,800-acre field lab.

“The court stresses the interim nature of the relief,” Sumner wrote in his Dec. 11 decision. “The preliminary injunction preserves the status quo pending hearing on the merits. That hearing will likely be held in the next four to five months.”

Sumner denied a preliminary injunction against the toxics department and the public health department on allegations they violated the Administrative Procedures Act.

Liz Tucker, a Consumer Watchdog advocate, said in a statement that the public interest groups were grateful the judge had halted the disposal of what she called radioactive waste at the field lab. She added that the organizations will make every effort to ensure the toxics department follows the California Environmental Quality Act.

“The demolition and disposal of these structures must be part of the CEQA review and not rubber-stamped long before any review is completed,” Tucker wrote in a statement.

Toxics agency officials are reviewing the opinion and determining the next steps, spokesman Russ Edmondson wrote in an email.

Because the judge repeatedly wrote that the ruling is of a preliminary nature in the proceeding, the department is confident that the court will agree that the toxics department did not fail to comply with the environmental law, Edmondson wrote.

Boeing will voluntarily delay demolition of buildings in the nuclear research area of the lab and the disposal of the associated debris, a company spokeswoman wrote in a statement. The aerospace company will continue with a sitewide investigation and cleanup at the lab.

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