Watchdog Groups File Suite Claiming Improper Disposal Of Field Lab Waste

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Allegations take aim at DTSC

Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit, believes radioactive waste at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Simi Valley is being improperly disposed of and has filed a lawsuit against the state’s toxic substances and health departments.

The organization, along with other groups such as Committee to Bridge the Gap, said lowlevel contaminated debris from demolished buildings has been dumped at municipal landfills and recycling facilities that are not licensed to receive radioactive waste. The groups filed the lawsuit Aug. 6 to immediately stop further disposal.

“We’re extremely concerned in the way the state has been approaching the cleanup,” said Liza Tucker, consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog. “We needed to act before more buildings would be sanctioned for demolition.”

The 2,850-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory lies in the hills of Simi Valley and was used for research and development of rockets, ballistic missiles and space shuttle equipment.

In 1959, the field lab had a partial nuclear meltdown.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), one of the groups Consumer Watchdog is suing, is overseeing the site cleanup.

The Department of Energy, NASA and Boeing Co. are in charge of cleanup for the site.

In response to the lawsuit, the DTSC issued a statement saying the claims are false and that debris is being disposed of properly.

“None of the building material demolished and disposed of under DTSC’s oversight . . . pose a risk to public health or the environment,” the statement said.

Boeing owns a large portion of the lab, including Area IV, where the Environmental Protection Agency found high levels of radiation. The EPA findings, the result of a three-year field lab study, were released in December 2012.

Boeing could not be reached for comment.

Dan Hirsch, president of Committee to Bridge the Gap, said he found documentation on the DTSC and Boeing websites that showed improper disposal of toxic metals and concrete at seven different landfill and recycling facilities. Two of the sites listed are P.W. Gillibrand Co. in Simi Valley and Standard Industries in Ventura.

Hirsch said the dumping of hazardous materials at these facilities is a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act and that Boeing and the DTSC are putting people’s lives in danger.

“People can be affected by the materials that those facilities may recycle,” Hirsch said. “I don’t think those facilities knew what they were taking in, but now residents could be exposed to radioactive waste.”

Martin Berkowitz, safety, health and environmental manager at Standard Industries, said the metal scrap yard has never received any radioactive material because the site has radiation detectors.

The company has worked with Boeing for 25 years, and Berkowitz said the yard often receives scrap from the lab.

“We receive metals from Boeing all the time, and it would be impossible to get any radioactive materials here,” he said. “The detectors find anything with levels beyond normal background, and even natural materials that have a small level of radiation are rejected.”

P.W. Gillibrand Co. could not be reached for comment.

Hirsch said he also found notices for the demolition of a plutonium fuel fabrication building slated for Sept. 2 on the DTSC website. Another building within the site is also slated for demolition by Sept. 14.

Both buildings are being reviewed by the DTSC for approval.

Hirsch said the possible destruction of the plutonium building was another reason to file a lawsuit against the state.

He said the department should provide an environmental impact report before considering the demolition of a heavily contaminated building.

“The soil, the water and the structures have all been exposed to radiation,” he said.

The DTSC said in its statement that all demolitions within Area IV are handled properly and follow the rules and regulations of CEQA.

“The DTSC reviews structures and buildings to determine if any hazardous chemical wastes are present that would require special handling and disposal,” the statement said.

Boeing and the DTSC estimate cleanup for the buildings and soil will be done by June 2017.

On Aug. 12, NASA released a draft of an environmental impact statement to cleanup their portion of the lab.

Groundwater cleanup of the entire facility could take centuries.

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