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Boeing altered its cleanup plan for toxic Santa Susana land. Here's why that worries local leaders

Daily News - 9/18/2017

Sept. 16--The first draft of a years-long awaited clean-up plan for the Santa Susana Field Laboratory has drawn concern from Los Angeles city and county officials as they wade through the more than 1,100-page document compiled by California regulators.

The draft environmental plan released last week by the state's Department of Toxic Substances and Control summarizes soil and water and water clean-up on the Santa Susana Field Lab, a 2,900-acre site nestled between Simi Valley and Chatsworth. The site was developed in the 1940s to test rocket engines and conduct nuclear research.

In 2007, the DTSC signed a consent order, setting a 2017 deadline for Boeing, the federal Department of Energy and NASA to complete the site cleanup. Three years later, the Department of Energy and NASA signed the agreement to clean their small portions of the land to the highest environmental standards.

But most of the land is owned by the Boeing Company and even though the DTSC had said they would hold Boeing responsible for cleaning up their portion of the land to strict, environmental standards, local lawmakers remain skeptical. The concern arose after Boeing released a letter on Aug. 22 to shareholders, saying they have changed the clean-up standard from "suburban residential" to "recreational."

"The revised proposed cleanup will be based on recreational land use scenarios, and not a 'residential' cleanup as we originally volunteered," according to the Boeing letter. "Our proposed cleanup will protect the health of any individuals who will visit the site in the future for recreational purposes and the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. It will also protect the ecological resources that make the site a unique open space and wildlife habitat, as well as preserve the invaluable Native American cultural resources."

County leaders from both Ventura and Los Angeles responded in a letter to the DTSC and California Environmental Protection Agency, saying they were concerned that the change in designation would permeate into the final clean-up plan. They fear the land would remain contaminated.

"Boeing's attempt to reduce the level of clean up to a much weaker standard will leave some of these toxicants in place, risking people's health long into the future," according to the letters, signed by Los Angeles County supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Kathryn BargerLos Angeles Councilman Mitch Englander and Ventura County Supervisors Linda Parks and John Zaragoza.

"It is discouraging that, even though nothing has changed, Boeing wants to break its pledge," they wrote.

A response by the DTSC to their letter was not returned, a Los Angeles County official said Friday. But in a statement to the Daily News, the DTSC said it is "proposing that Boeing comply with the 2007 Consent Order by cleaning up its area of SSFL to a risk-based cleanup standard that provides for safe suburban residential development and use of the property."

Dan Hirsch, president of the activist group Committee to Bridge the Gap, which worked with residents for 30 years to push for a thorough clean-up, placed the blame on the DTSC. He said the agency's draft plan leaves too many opportunities for unscrutinized alternatives to seep into a future, final version of a clean-up plan.

"DTSC has broken its longstanding promises for a full cleanup of the radioactive and chemical contamination at Santa Susana," Hirsch said. "The (environmental impact report) says they will instead leave a great deal of the contamination not cleaned up, but refuses to disclose how much. They are hiding the ball. If the pollution is not cleaned up and can continue to migrate offsite, the result would be increased risk of cancer and other health impacts to the people who live in the area around SSFL."

Criticism of the DTSC has increased in the last few years, most notably with its two-year plan to clean up 2,500 homes near Vernon's shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant, where many homes have been contaminated with toxic materials. Los Angeles County leaders have said the cleanup plan falls short in protecting the health of the community and will take too long. Activists have said the DTSC allowed Exide to operate for 33 years under a temporary permit, despite warnings of environmental violations and the harmful levels of lead and arsenic released and later found in homes, yards and schools. Public health officials have said such levels increase the risk of cancer, breathing diseases and learning problems, especially among children under 7 years old.

Meanwhile, Boeing officials said the company recorded a conservation easement in April that ensures nearly 2,400 acres of the land it owns at Santa Susana will be preserved as open space habitat.

"We know some local residents remain concerned and we want to assure them the public is safe," said Boeing spokeswoman Megan Hilfer. "The Department of Toxic Substances Control has confirmed repeatedly that the Santa Susana site is safe today for those who visit and work here, and does not pose a threat to people who live in the surrounding areas."

The draft environmental impact report can be reviewed by the public through October 23.

The report also is available at:

--California State University, Northridge, Oviatt Library, 1811 Nordhoff Street 2nd Floor, Room 265, Northridge.

--Department of Toxic Substances Control, Chatsworth Regional Office, 9211 Oakdale Avenue, Chatsworth.

--Platt Library, 23600 Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills.

--Simi Valley Library, 2969 Tapo Canyon Road, Simi Valley, CA.

There also will be two public meetings:

--6 p.m. to 9 p.m.Oct. 5 at the Valley Ballroom, Grand Vista Hotel, 999 Enchanted Way, Simi Valley.

--2 p.m. to 5 p.m.Oct. 7, at St. John Eudes Church, 9901 Mason Avenue, Chatsworth.

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(c)2017 Daily News (Los Angeles)

Visit the Daily News (Los Angeles) at www.dailynews.com

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