Supervisors push for field lab cleanup

UNITED VOICE—Ventura County supervisors voted 5-0 Dec. 17 to urge NASA to abide by an agreement that requires 100% cleanup at SSFL. Acorn file photo

UNITED VOICE—Ventura County supervisors voted 5-0 Dec. 17 to urge NASA to abide by an agreement that requires 100% cleanup at SSFL. Acorn file photo

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors is putting pressure on NASA to uphold previously made promises regarding cleanup at the Santa Susana Field Lab.

NASA is responsible for about 450 acres of the 2,850-acre field lab that was used for nuclear energy and rocket engine testing. Boeing Co. owns 2,000 acres of the site, and the U.S. Department of Energy oversees the remaining 400 acres, which includes Area IV where a partial nuclear meltdown occurred in 1959.

At their Dec. 17 meeting, Ventura County supervisors unanimously approved a letter urging NASA to stick to a 2010 agreement it signed with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, wherein the federal agency agreed to remove all contamination from the site.

The letter was requested by Supervisor Linda Parks in response to NASA’s supplemental environmental impact report released Oct. 25, which outlines four cleanup alternatives. Parks represents District 2 (Thousand Oaks and Oak Park region) and has been a staunch supporter of full remediation at SSFL.

My first priority is the safety of people. Leaving contamination on-site, particularly the highly toxic contamination, is dangerous for people’s health,” Parks told the Acorn on Dec. 16, adding that some of the toxins that have migrated off-site include asbestos, cadmium, mercury and lead.

The proposed cleanup alternatives outlined in NASA’s report show a large area of contamination that would be left behind. In addition, there have been at least 57 instances where toxic pollution ran off-site in stormwater releases after the Woolsey fire in November 2018, Parks said.

NASA’s study identifies an additional 370,000 cubic yards of soil at SSFL that should be removed as part of the cleanup. It also outlines four proposed remediation alternatives, three of which would leave between 50% and 98% of contamination on-site, according to cleanup activists.

Parks said all the contamination must be removed, period.

“We have clusters of childhood cancer near the field lab. They can clear the land and re-vegetate it. . . . That would restore habitat and protect people on- and off-site forever.”

After voting, District 4 Supervisor Bob Huber, who represents Simi Valley and environs, thanked Parks for proposing the letter.

“Considering where I live and what happened, this needs to happen,” Huber said.

Before the supervisors voted, two people spoke during the public comments period urging them to push for a complete cleanup to background levels.

Simi resident and cleanup advocate Jeni Knack said NASA’s report is a “horribly reckless proposal and leaves the public continually vulnerable to off-site migration.”

“ I’m concerned that the proposal alternatives and how they’re proposing them to the public and at the hearings defy logic, common sense and a level of integrity and transparency we expect in presentations of information to the public,” Knack told the board Dec. 17.

Knack was referring to a Nov. 20 public meeting NASA held in Simi Valley to get feedback on the study when longtime activist Dan Hirsch attempted to display a slideshow during public comment but was blocked by NASA representatives and asked to leave by police. Hirsch is president of the nonprofit nuclear policy organization Committee to Bridge the Gap.

“(Federal) laws don’t allow the polluter to propose alternatives to the legally binding (agreement),” Knack said. “They’re allowed to propose methods of how to achieve those goals, but they don’t get to decide how much.”

Michael Rincon, a Thousand Oaks resident and policy researcher for Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, said there’s no reason any alternatives except complete cleanup should even be considered.

NASA’s claims that large volumes of soil need to be excavated in order to remove contamination are untrue and a “scare tactic that created a false impression of ‘moonscaping,’” Rincon said.

“Soil removal is like removing a cancerous tumor—you only need to cut out the . . . area affected (and not) more than you need,” he said.

Parks said the 2010 agreement and alternatives clearly show a tremendous difference in the level of remediation, which makes a huge difference in the use of the land in the future, as well as an impact on people living near the site.

“(The agencies responsible for cleanup) have delayed decades . . . and now they’re trying to get the least amount of cleanup because they want to save money,” Parks said. “What this (2010 agreement) will do is that it will clean it up so it’s like before it was contaminated.”

Simi Valley City Councilmember Ruth Luevanos also expressed her support for a full cleanup and urged the board to call on all responsible parties to keep their promises.

“We are tired of people pointing fingers without ever taking responsibility for their actions,” Luevanos said in her letter to the supervisors.

“It is time for the Department of Energy, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Boeing and NASA to do the right thing and finally clean up the mess they made over 45 years ago.”

Site remediation was supposed to be finished in 2017 but has since been pushed back to 2034.

Also on Dec. 17, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a letter urging NASA to abide by the 2010 agreement.

To view the board’s letter and other documents, visit