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“THE SANTA SUSANA FIELD LABORATORY CONTROVERSY: An Introduction to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory”

“THE SANTA SUSANA FIELD LABORATORY CONTROVERSY: An Introduction to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory”

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Santa Susana Field Laboratory and radiation

“For more than 25 years, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has been the lead regulatory agency overseeing the investigation and cleanup of environmental contamination at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), a former rocket engine test site and nuclear research facility in the Simi Hills in southeastern Ventura County.” (1)

“About the Santa Susana Field Laboratory

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) is located 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles in southeastern Ventura County, near the crest of the Simi Hills at the western border of the San Fernando Valley. A former rocket engine test and nuclear research facility, the 2,849-acre field laboratory is currently the focus of a comprehensive environmental investigation and cleanup program, conducted by Boeing, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and overseen by the Department of Toxic Substances Control.” (2)

I have lived for more than 35 years within about five miles as the crow flies from one of the most controversial environmental cleanup sites – the Santa Susana Field Laboratory aka: Rocketdyne, “Santa Susana”, or the SSFL.  When I first moved to West Hills in 1978, I could hear the rocket engine tests, and I often felt the ground shake during those Rocketdyne or NASA engine tests.

My focus on this site for more than 6 ½ years has been to study the potential offsite health risks to my community of West Hills and other local communities that surround the Santa Susana site.

I have chosen to write about this controversial site at this time because a lawsuit was filed by four nonprofit groups including Consumer Watchdog against the California Department of Toxic Substance Control and the California Department of Health (CDPH) on August 6th, 2013. (3)

I will be reviewing the lawsuit by Consumer Watchdog et al, the technical paper that they refer to in their story, and the responses to these allegations by DTSC and the Department of Health.

This is from the statement of DTSC regarding the allegations by Consumer Watchdog:

“The safety and legality of the cleanup, however, have been called into question recently. The allegations are that DTSC allowed radioactively contaminated waste to be disposed of at andfills and other facilities not licensed to take it. And that DTSC failed to follow all laws and regulations that govern environmental cleanups. Both allegations are false. None of the building material demolished and disposed of under DTSC’s oversight from Area IV or any other portion of the SSFL site poses a risk to public health or the environment. In addition, none of the cleanup activities has occurred without required review of the environmental impacts." (1)

 I agree with the statement of Stewart Black of DTSC in the Los Angeles Times article:

“I’m appalled at the reckless nature … of the inaccurate characterization of the clean up,” he said, adding that the report has generated “unnecessary fear in Southern California communities.” (4)

 While the California Department of Health was also included in this lawsuit, it is my understanding that the California Department of Health was forced to play a secondary role in the oversight of radioactive materials at Santa Susana due to California State Law – Senate Bill 990 or SB 990, which was signed into law on October 14, 2007.  This law made DTSC the lead agency for both the chemical and radiological cleanup of the SSFL site. (5)

 For now, my first thoughts are:

1)      Who are the scientists and what are their educational and professional qualifications from these four nonprofit groups who are reviewing the technical documents related to the demolition of the Boeing structures?

2)      Where is the evidence that the metals that are being sent to the recycling facility from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory are radioactive from site related activities and that they may contain plutonium?

3)      Is Consumer Watchdog aware of the high naturally occurring radionuclides in the Santa Susana soil and bedrock that are similar in nature to the radionuclides that were used in nuclear operations or produced by nuclear operations at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory?

4)      Can I please be referred to the scientists at the four nonprofits for their explanations of the statements that are being made?

5)      Which scientists from these four agencies are willing to be deposed in a lawsuit by the State Attorney General’s office and will testify in a trial as technical experts against DTSC and CDPH if this matter goes to court?

I will also be asking questions of DTSC, CDPH, and Boeing, regarding the building demolition plans, their sampling methods before demolition, and their sampling prior to decommissioning of the former structures that were used for nuclear research. I will be asking the DOE and the Federal EPA about what they know about the decommissioning process of these structures in the past, and what methods of demolition and waste separation are a matter of Best Practices at DOE and EPA environmental remediation sites. Both the DOE and the EPA should have this information due to their historical site assessments of all of AREA IV of the Santa Susana Field Lab, and as a result of the $40 million radiological survey that the EPA performed in AREA IV.

Finally, my concern for health and safety of the employees at Santa Susana and the residents of my community stem from my desire to enter public health field at an early age. I bring to this cleanup site my knowledge of certain health related issues from working in hospitals and nursing homes; a BS Degree in Health Education; and more than 30 years of reading articles and technical publications related to public health and environmental health issues.

In the past 6 ½ years, I attended probably close to a hundred meetings of a technical nature related to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory with DTSC, the EPA, the LARWQCB, Boeing, DOE, and NASA. I have visited the Santa Susana site more times than I can keep track of.  I have read probably close to a thousand formal letters and technical documents related to Santa Susana in the past > 6 ½ years. And I have personally interviewed more than 20 former Atomics International employees that worked at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory on reactor research in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Below are the best websites for technical information on the Santa Susana Field Laboratory:

Other agencies which are involved in the cleanup of this site include the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB also called the “Water Board”). The LARWQCB does not have a specific website for the SSFL. However, technical documents that are submitted to the LARWQCB related to the Boeing surface water permits are found on the Boeing Santa Susana website. (6)

The federal Environmental Protection Agency did a radiological survey of all of AREA IV and the Northern Buffer Zone of the SSFL. (10)

The Responsible Party’s websites:  Boeing (7), DOE (8), and NASA (9).

Updated links: 12/30/2018

(1) DTSC Statement regarding allegations by Consumer Watch et al:

(2) DTSC Santa Susana Field Laboratory website:

(3) Consumer Watchdog Filing Suit to Block Top Toxics Regulators From Disposal of Radioactive Waste, Including Plutonium, From Nuclear Site:

(4) The Consumer Watchdog original Complaint link:

(5) “Consumer group files lawsuit over alleged radioactive waste”:,0,4648507.story


(7) Boeing Surface Water Management Program:

(8) The Boeing Santa Susana Field Laboratory website:

(9) The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Santa Susana Field Laboratory website

(10) The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Santa Susana Field Laboratory website: Please note that the NASA SSFL website has changed since this original story. The most current link to stories or updates to NASA SSFL can be found here:

(11)  The Federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory website:

Please note that the EPA's Santa Susana Field Laboratory website is no longer active.




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I'm always in awe of the amount of technical information about SSFL that you've learned. I consider you to be one of the best repositories of SSFL data.

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