Why it matters:

The $42 million dollar ARRA funded investigation of radiological impacts at Santa Susana was restricted to Area IV, because they said the work was restricted to that side of the Hill. Violations of illegally using unauthorized amounts of Tritium in an area not licensed for it.

"If we don't look where the contamination is, we are certain, never to find it."

Gut the EPA? Demolish the EPA? or actually make it work?

Even California’s CALEPA and Department of Toxic Substances Control has new challenges amidst the changes coming from the Trump Administration.

Why Santa Susana Field Laboratory is the perfect example of why regulatory reform, not destruction, is needed.

When we talk to people in most communities, they have little positive to say about the EPA despite the mission statement of protecting the human and natural environment. Why is that? 

How is the regulatory system broken? 

Most importantly, the polluter is in charge of the investigating. In the case of criminal and civil investigations, we would never accept the defendant to be in charge of the investigating, so why do we accept it with the environment?

Why don’t people take more seriously, the importance of access to clean water?

As with most things, they don’t think it applies to them. When water access is reduced, it will become more important, but it might be too late by that time.

Enforcing the Clean Water Act is important for all navigable waters, because we don’t know when the drought trends will move again to the severe, as they have in Sudan where more than 20 million people are being displaced from drought and famine, and even mass extinctions because the diminished open-space that supports remaining habitats are at extreme risk. This includes the javan rhinoceros, snow leopard, tiger, asian elephant, red tuna, vaquita porpoise, mountain gorilla, sumatran orangutan, baulan turtle, irrawaddy river dolphin….what? Aside from absurd and unnecessary heartbreak, these are all primary species who have significant impact on the health and balance of the eco-environment they live in. Without them, that change in balance can be catastrophic.  

There are plenty of flaws with the system and most of them favor the polluter or discharger—mostly, they control the process and the resources.

The biggest problem with EPA and CalEPA regulation is the litigious nature of the process and the reluctance or sometimes refusal to admit offsite migration for reasons of cancer harm litigation so the regulator is reluctant to say anything that could potentially be used by a litigant to demonstrate harm or impact. 

The polluter does all the work, collects the data, investigates itself, and the regulator merely over-sees the process which often entails reading of tens of thousands of technical pages created by the contractor to do the work, who is hired and paid by the polluter so their motivation is to find in favor of the polluter. That is how they get more work!

Santa Susana Field Laboratory—home to the nation’s first partial nuclear meltdown. The SRE, as it was known [Sodium Reactor Experiment] experienced a power excursion in July of 1959 where 13 of 43 fuel rods melted. According to some of the surviving workers, they spent several shifts trying to lift out the damaged rod, millimeters at a time, only to find it melted to a point where it severed leaving a “blob” in the core. 

Santa Susana Field Laboratory is also where rockets were tested to go to the moon and beyond and is largely how our nation’s space program began. Also not without impacts. Report

Today, the responsible parties, who include the federal government in NASA, and the Department of Energy for the nuclear side, and the remaining land is owned and operated by the Boeing Company who purchased the property from Rocketdyne/Rockwell in 1996, responsibility and all. 

According to the Daily News, Boeing purchased the property in order to get the $123 million dollar cleanup contract for the site. As owner, and acting agent for the federal government, the defense contractor giant is able to receive reimbursements for much of the process to cleanup their own mess. Perhaps the joke is on them as the cleanup costs have risen to the billion dollar range after finding remaining rads as documented by the 2012 $40 million dollar EPA Rad Survey which was funded by President Barack Obama’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act [ARRA]. 

This meant we finally had answers about what remained, not  just from the partial meltdown, but also the 30+ uranium fires, spills, and other accidents that occurred over the course of decades. This included the burning of toxic waste in “burn pits” and the discharge of liquid waste including TCE into the streams surrounding the site which make up the headwaters of the LA River.

Did we finally have answers? Not even close. Because the regulator relationship with the polluters, they refuse to state clearly the status or current condition of the site. Instead, they go from question to question of people who want reassurances that they aren’t cancer time-bombs having lived in the neighborhood for 10, 20, and 30 years and more. 

If the point of the EPA is to protect people and the environment, why is everyone so dissatisfied with their work? 

It seems EPAs mission would be perceived to be heroic. Where does this go sideways?

If the regulator creates a community advisory group, according to their state statutes, in order to improve public understand and participation in the cleanup of the site, then shouldn’t that group represent the often diverse interests of the surrounding affected community?

Not so fast! The California State Community Advisory Groups, through created through statute, are not accountable to anyone, and can change their membership at will without any interference or correction from the State whose communities they represent.

For this reason, as in the case of SSFL [Santa Susana Field Laboratory], the membership is shifted to represent the interests of Boeing and other responsible party pension holder lobby groups. In the case of the http://SSFLCAG.net the polluter [Department of Energy] funds the operation of the CAG, and the CAG uses what appears to be all of those resources to aggressively oppose cleanup in the interest of fears about traffic, trucks, and dust-borne viruses.

During the EIS Environmental Impact Statement open comment period held by Department of Energy http://www.ssflareaiveis.com/documentation.aspx, the CAG altered the choices presented by DOE to appear that all three options were compliant with the legally binding agreement signed seven years earlier. This resulted in neighboring Neighborhood Council groups to vote against their own best interests, and instead, in favor of the polluter.

EPA’s 2012 RAD Survey is considered the most comprehensive ever conducted, yet no one is talking about it. Why? Start here

EPA and CalEPA both hire great scientists, but they don’t put much in the way of resources behind communication, not on social media, and in-person contact is even worse. 

If people don’t understand the goal, they cannot understand or support the solution.

As with most things, communication is the key. But it’s a two-way street, and government process makes sure the public can only speak two minutes at a time, making it harder and harder for the point to hit home, or to navigate a process that is not easily seen or understood from the outside—perhaps by design. So how do we change the design to work FOR the people?

Since the agreement to cleanup was signed in 2010, we shouldn’t still be waiting for the decision on how to start and what to do. The kick-the-can mentality of bureaucracy has it’s downside and this is at least part of it. Time is part of the equation to harm. How long were you exposed and to what?

When clusters of pediatric cancers that surround the site are prevented from being heard at community meetings about the site, and the anxiety of fear, denial, and guilt felt by the surrounding residents about “what to do about this information,” is manipulated by the polluters to give people the ultimate alternative-fact: There’s nothing to see here, there is no problem, so you can move along with your busy day. People buy into this idea much more easily than we would have expected. But the human time-bomb factor that neighbors feel, along with frustration of the decades of inaction make it easy to believe that doing nothing is the best answer. It’s certainly the easiest as long as you’re not one of the unlucky  ones.