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Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Laboratory Contamination
The Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Laboratory Contamination is a disputed and controversial issue involving the reported contamination of the groundwater, air, workers, and nearby residents near Boeing's (Rocketdyne's) rocket and nuclear test facility known as the Santa Susana Field Labs (or SSFL) in Southern California between 1954-1989.
The SSFL facility lies in the mountains between Simi Valley, Conejo Valley, and the West Hills community of the city of Los Angeles, and has been accused by researchers of contaminating the groundwater with TCE (a degreasing chemical) and radionuclides from nuclear power tests that began in the 1950s, as well as of contaminating employees and local residents with carcinogens.
The contamination controversy has led to numerous legal actions, many of which have not yet been resolved. Boeing acknowledges that environmental contamination has occurred, but has disputed many of the claims made against it regarding human health effects. The company is currently involved in a cleanup effort which is partially funded by NASA.
The Rocketdyne Worker UCLA Epidemiological Study of employees at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Canoga Park, and Chatsworth Facilities, located within Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, of Southern California, concludes that workplace radioactive contamination is responsible for more than one quarter of Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Lab worker deaths, (27.3%). SSFL is an open field lab and the testing areas consist of non-contained nuclear, rocket, and missile testing facilities. According to the report, the cancers and illnesses which killed the SSFL workers were caused by cumulative exposure to low-level radiation at the work site(s). The study evaluated 4,607 Rocketdyne and Atomics International employees, (AI), which was a division of, and merged with Rocketdyne, during 1984. Los Angeles Cancer Registry Data which only examined deceased worker data, was included in UCLA's reported findings which evaluated cancer data from SSFL and AI radiation workers employed from 1950 until 1993 in addition to Census Tract Cancer Data of the deceased workers. Rocketdyne workers who are living with cancer are not included in the study as data was only gleaned from records of the deceased employees.
The 1997 UCLA report states that workers from the Rocketdyne Lab have a cancer risk greater than eight times than that which has been shown by previous research published prior to the Rocketdyne Worker Health Study. Also, the study reports the fact that the workers have a much higher than expected death rate from leukemia, lung, and bladder cancers, as well as other malignancies.
Inhalation of low-level radionuclides over a long period of time, accumulates in the system until it is demonstrated by the gestation and then the occurrence of the malignancy. Many cancers, including cancers of the thyroid gland have a gestation period from four (4) to twenty (20) years or longer as have been shown by medical and scientific research of the residents near the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing(s) of August, 1945, in addition to the studies of the individuals exposed to contamination from the Chernobyl blast of April, 1986. Moreover, many cancers of the thyroid gland, including other diseases such as Hashimoto's and Grave's disease, are caused by radiation, trichloroethylene, and perchlorate exposure as well as exposure to other contaminants discovered at the SSFL site.
Possible release of toxins into the surrounding communities
Chemicals, (including trichloroethylene, perchlorate, hydrazine), and radionuclides have migrated by sediment transport in surface water runoff from the SSFL to offsite areas. In general, maximum concentrations have been detected just outside the SSFL property boundary; concentrations decrease rapidly with increasing distance from the facility. The area surrounding the SSFL is rugged and hilly and not easily accessible to persons in the nearby community, however, many individuals and families live in those communities known as Santa Susana Knolls and Box Canyon, as the communities and homes were created prior to the Second World War. There is a limited likelihood that persons in the community would come into contact with chemicals and radionuclides in soils and sediment just offsite of the SSFL as according to ATSDR's initial preliminary draft report. In addition, maximum concentrations of chemicals and radionuclides at these offsite areas are not at levels that would result in adverse human health effects if human exposure were to occur [DeRosa, 1997; ATSDR, 1997b, 1998]; however, the ATSDR report addressed above, was a preliminary draft as is the 1999 report, and the agency's later information expresses concerns that chemicals and radionuclides have now been found in samples collected in more distant residential or recreational areas surrounding the SSFL, including the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, Simi, and Santa Susana, at levels that would result in adverse human health effects if any human exposure were to occur in these offsite areas. Problematic is the fact that Perchlorate has now been discovered by the Department of Toxic Substance Control offsite at multiple monitoring wells located in residential communities within Chatsworth, Simi, and Santa Susana, thus, DTSC now officially links the contamination to Rocketdyne SSFL and further states that the field lab may never be clean nor will its area be released for residential use. ATSDR now reports its agency is more concerned about perchlorate contamination from the open field laboratory inasmuch as the toxin has migrated offsite at levels above Federal and State of California safe drinking water regulations. The final published discovery and report of the Rocketdyne Community Resident Health Study, which examines exposure pathways to longtime residents of SSFL contaminants directly linked by DTSC to the open field lab site, which was caused by decades of engine testing, will be published during the spring of 2004.
Contaminated water may have been used in fire-fighting efforts
Radionuclides may have been released during the fires near and adjacent to the Santa Susana Field Lab. These blazes burned more than 800 acres (3 km²) within the Bell Canyon, Parker, Sage, and Ahmanson Ranches, as well as portions of the Santa Susana Mountain Range. More than 200 firefighters worked to contain the fires which came within one mile (1.6 km) of the Rocketdyne/Boeing Santa Susana Field Lab, (SSFL). The water used from the Rocketdyne Silver Nale Holding Pond to extinguish the blazes came from Outfall #02 near Bell Canyon, and that is water that has been discovered to be contaminated with radioactive and non-radioactive hazardous toxic wastes. The Agency for Toxic Substance Disease Registry, (ATSDR), noted their concern about the potential of deep fracture flow from the SSFL contaminated water, and expressed concern about the level of contaminants found in water from Outfall #02 in their preliminary draft of 03, December, 1999.
Many residents unaware of possible dangers
Residents of the field lab's surrounding communities were never notified of the activities taking place at the open field lab, nor were they ever notified of the nuclear materials used during spills, accidents or releases, and are now subjects of study regarding contaminant exposure from SSFL by UCLA.
Residents have not performed their daily activities while wearing protective clothing and although Rocketdyne Workers wore some protective clothing, more than one quarter of the workers deaths were caused by onsite cumulative radiation poisoning. Whether or not firefighters working against the blazes in the Santa Susana area wore protective clothing or were notified of the source of the water that was used to extinguish fires from Rocketdyne's contaminated holding pond remains unknown.
Suspected Lab Activities
- The original, experimental, nuclear facilities on site at Rocketdyne, were a nuclear power plant(s) that provided electricity to thousands of homes.
- One thousand megawatts provides power to 1.1 million homes. Each one of the nuclear reactors at Rocketdyne provided one megawatt of power with the exception of the sodium reactor (SRE) which provided 20 megawatts of power; enough power to provide electricity for thousands of homes in an open field lab with no containment of resultant radiation to the area.
- The amount of radioactivity in the area due to nuclear and rocket/missile fuels remains unknown as Rocketdyne remained unmonitored for over fifty years. Record keeping of many of the rocket/missile testing and use of carcinogenic fuels do not exist.
- Tests were conducted for the United States Army and United States Air Force by Rocketdyne for such missiles as Redstone, Minuteman, and Peacekeeper. These missiles are nuclear missiles and are not part of the space program. They are in fact, thermo-nuclear weapons which are integral to Missilier activities.
- Minuteman missiles contain three cylinders, and each cylinder contains one thermo-nuclear warhead, totalling three thermo-nuclear warheads for each Minuteman. The Peacekeeper missile is also known as The One Hundred City Bomb: Peacekeepers contain ten cylinders, each of which contains ten thermo-nuclear warheads totalling one hundred thermo-nuclear weapons, thus the named identity of One Hundred City Bomb.
- Much fuel was used during the testing of these missile engines which resulted in the release of multiple carcinogenic contaminants to the air, water, and soil in the area, (consisting of an open field lab and surrounding hills including Santa Susana Mountain Range, Simi Hills, and the Santa Monica Mountains), as well as increased risk of exposure pathways to residents, agriculture, flora, and fauna.
- Trichloroethylene, was used as a cleaning solvent at Rocketdyne/now Boeing, Santa Susana Field Lab, where TCE and other hazardous materials including perchlorate have seeped into the soil for years including offsite migration now discoverd by ATSDR and DTSC.
- More than one million gallons (3,800 m³) of trichloroethylene,(TCE), was used to degrease and clean engines and parts ecetera at the Rocketdyne Field Lab,(SSFL), for 30 years, (1954-1983). Engines were flushed with TCE and more than one half of one million gallons (1,900 m³) of trichloroethylene seeped from the soil to the groundwater beneath the lab, and the Agency For Toxic Disease Registry,(ATSDR), has expressed concern regarding potential deep fracture flow of this highly toxic contaminant discovered at the groundwater and surface water level which the agency considers a greater danger than perchlorate, because it sticks to soil particles, moves more slowly through fracture spaces, and remains in sandstone. (Rocketdyne officials state that half a million gallons (1,900 m³) of the solvent were lost to the soil during the flushing process.
- The long-term effects of trichloroethylene on human beings is unknown, however, UCLA now is investigating the open field laboratory contamination effects within the university's Santa Susana Resident Health Study. In animal studies, chronic trichloroethylene exposure has produced liver cancer in mice, but not in rats. Studies on its effects on reproduction in animals have been similarly inconsistent, and so no conclusive statements about its ability to cause birth defects in humans can be made, but ongoing Veterans Administration research studies regarding trichlorethylene, perchlorate, chemical, military, and Ship and Hazardous Defense, (SHAD), contamination and human exposure, resulting in and related to illnesses and diseases, address these issues and findings as well as provide Service-Connected benefits for related disabilities.
- Billions of gallons of water contaminated by TCE, other contaminants and radionuclides, must be pumped and treated at the Rocketdyne SSFL during its cleanup which will continue beyond the year 2006, according to Boeing spokesman Dan Beck.
- Water from one of the holding ponds at the Santa Susana Field Lab, which may have been contaminated, was used to extinguish the Bell Canyon, Parker, Ahmanson, and Sage ranches fires during June, 2000. Perchlorate contamination has become a major problem within the United States military sites, some of which have been closed down, including California's March Field , among other sites, as perchlorate contamination has been discovered in agricultural lettuce product from multiple sites in Northern California during February, 2003, in addition to [high levels of perchlorate toxin discovered during July 2003, at Brandeis-Bardin Institute], and monitoring wells in West Simi at Erringer/Royal Roads, and East Simi, including Stearns and Stow Streets, which now has been directly linked to offsite migration from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory by DTSC and its Chief Director, Edwin Lowry. *Multiple lawsuits have brought forth the Public Discovery of the facts documented here including materials from the Madeline L. Felkins library.
Rocketdyne / Boeing Lawsuits
- Appeals Court Denies Rocketdyne/Boeing Santa Susana Field Lab Case Review*More Than 300 Wrongful Death/Personal Injury Cases Now Qualify for Prosecution.
- The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Boeing Co.'s petitions for rehearing a case in which Simi Valley and San Fernando Valley residents charged the company contaminated neighborhoods surrounding the Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Lab.
- Residents claimed the toxic discharge from nuclear and rocket testing facilities at the site caused cancer and other illnesses.
- During November, 2002, a three-judge panel had reversed a lower court's decision preventing a group of residents from suing Boeing Rocketdyne over radiation exposure that allegedly made them sick.
- Boeing then filed a petition for a rehearing and asked for the entire 9th Circuit Court to review the case.
- Plaintiffs' attorney, A.Barry Cappello, has said that both requests were denied by the court, which clears the way for a total of approximately 300 cases that will qualify for prosecution.
*Boeing spokeswoman Blythe Jameson said it was uncertain whether an appeal would be made to the Supreme Court, "but it is under consideration." (Decision 10 June 2003)
- The Department of Defense, United States Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Energy, NASA, United States Air Force, NEPA, National Environmental Policy Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, United States Department of Justice, Agency for Toxic Substance Disease Registry, U.S. Attorney General, Center for Disease Control, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Toxic Substance Control, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the California Department of Health Services , State of California Attorney General, and Southern California Regional Water Board, are among the agencies involved in the multi-million dollar effort to clean up the SSFL and its offsite contaminant migration.
- See Also CERCLA, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act in addition to the National Priority List of Hazardous Contaminants as well as the National List of Priority Sites, (NPL).
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