Judge Rules Against State Agency Over Santa Susana Field Lab

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A Superior Court judge has granted a preliminary injunction Monday against California's Department of Toxic Substances Control, saying the state agency failed to comply with environmental laws while overseeing Boeing's demolition and disposal of buildings at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

The ruling, handed down by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner last week, sided with community activists who argued that the DTSC allowed Boeing to demolish and dispose of buildings at unlicensed dumps, which violates the California Environmental Quality Act. The groups have said the buildings, which were once used for nuclear research, "remained contaminated with high levels of radiation" and that demolition would release unknown toxins.

"We are grateful that the judge has halted the irresponsible disposal of radioactive waste from Santa Susana," said Liza Tucker, an advocate for Consumer Watchdog, one of several groups that filed a lawsuit against the DTSC in August.

"We will make every effort to ensure that this toxic regulator follows the state's signature environmental law, instead of breaking it, by stopping Boeing's illegal disposal of radioactive waste at dumps and recycling shops not licensed to receive such waste," Tucker said in a statement.

Officials with the DTSC argue its agency has no oversight of the demolition of structures built on contaminated land. But Consumer Watchdog's suit against the DTSC claimed there are documents that prove the agency was allowing Boeing to practice "underground regulations."

A spokesman with the DTSC said Monday state officials are reviewing the latest ruling. "Considering the court repeatedly emphasized that the ruling is of a 'preliminary nature' in the proceeding, DTSC is confident that the court will ultimately agree that DTSC in no way failed to comply with CEQA," read the statement.

A final ruling is pending, but in the meantime Boeing will delay demolition and disposal of buildings in Area IV, the area in question.

"While we are disappointed by the decision to issue a preliminary injunction against the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the California Superior Court did not find that Boeing's demolition and disposal activities are unsafe," said a statement from Boeing. "The court found that the only alleged harm is procedural in nature due to the fact that the petitioners were not able to review and comment on these activities under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA."

Nestled between Simi Valley and Chatsworth, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory is a remote, 2,900-acre site developed in the 1940s. It was used to test rocket engines and conduct nuclear research. The Boeing Co. now owns a majority of the land. 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, the report said. 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.

Reach the author at [email protected] or follow Susan on Twitter: @sabramLA.

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