Elections and Education! Why the Santa Susana Field Laboratory Cleanup is Such an Important Issue Today

POLITICS-Those who are “City Watchers” will understand two key issues – the importance of our upcoming elections and the need for candidates in all City races to be educated on a number of issues. 

Right now, there are 15 candidates for the City Council District 12 Special Election to be held on June 4, 2019. Here is the current list of certified candidates for that race.  

Also happening at this time are upcoming Neighborhood Council races in the West San Fernando Valley including West Hills and Woodland Hills, which will be held on May 19, 2019.

There is also campaigning for upcoming 2020 elections, including support for City Council candidates to fill vacant seats and the seats for some who will be “termed out” (since the City has term limits for various offices).

The map below from the City of Los Angeles is used to show the rough proximity of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site which is in Ventura County to the City of Los Angeles boundaries, to Council District 12 in West Hills and Chatsworth as well as parts of Canoga Park, and to Council District 3 in Woodland Hills, and parts of Canoga Park.

The hexagon captures most of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site: 

Our candidates for the Council District 12 election need to be aware that there are multiple points of view on the SSFL cleanup. 

Again, a “City Watcher” will understand that issues that go before the City Council are usually dependent on which Council District our elected officials believe is most impacted by a project. In this case, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) is closest to the community of West Hills in terms of where the truck traffic resulting from the cleanup of the lab will originate in LA. 

From West Hills, trucks most likely will enter Canoga Park, and either go north to the 118 freeway or south to the 101 freeway. These directions depend upon the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Report written by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), the lead agency in the cleanup. Unfortunately, there have been numerous routes proposed since 2014, and the routes referenced by DTSC in 2017, differ from the routes proposed by NASA in their Environmental Impact Statement and by the Department of Energy (DOE) in their Environmental Impact Statement. With these traffic routes in mind, the City has historically listened to the Councilmember for Council District 12 despite the fact that an equal amount of traffic can also go through Council District 3.

The City Council is pushing for a cleanup by NASA SSFL and the DOE SSFL to the 2010 Administrative Order on Consent (2010 AOC) which does not require a human health risk analysis. That is what the supporters of the 2010 AOC agreed to and asked for, and continue to ask for – a cleanup to “Background” for both chemicals and radionuclides by these two agencies without any discussion of risk. However, when DTSC held their meeting on their Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Report for the SSFL site, members of almost every stakeholder group complained that the document did not discuss risk. 

In the DOE’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, which was published in December 2019, five alternatives were considered: 

  • No Action Alternative - $3.3 million
  • Conservation of Natural Resources Alternative, Open Space Scenario - $43 million
  • Conservation of Natural Resources Alternative, Residential Scenario - $50 million
  • Cleanup to Revised Look Up Table (LUT) Values Alternative - $230 million
  • Cleanup to AOC LUT Values Alternative - $774 million  

The DOE chose as their recommended cleanup standard the “Conservation of Natural Resources Alternative, Open Space Scenario.” One justification for this alternative is that the DOE is not the landowner. The Boeing Company owns the land, and The Boeing Company has an environmental easement recorded for the whole SSFL site. 

Here is the link to the DOE SSFL website for their Final Environmental Impact Statement documents.  

Recently, the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) came out with a new report on the SSFL proposed cleanup. This is a link to their report: 

In this 2019 OIG report, it states: 

“In 2010, NASA agreed to clean the soil on its portion of the site to the most stringent 

standard, known as Background level, despite the fact that a risk-based cleanup typically 

would be less extensive. In a 2013 audit, we reported that cleaning the soil to a Background 

level by 2017 would cost $209 million. To date, soil cleanup has not begun, and the scope of 

the planned cleanup has grown significantly; NASA’s current projections estimate the cost at over $500 million for an effort that could take until 2045 to complete.”  

This link is to The Boeing Company’s press release on their conservation easement:  

For our Council District 12 elections, our candidates need to be aware of the various cleanup plan alternatives for the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site. Most importantly, they should be aware that there was no “meltdown” at the SSFL site, but there are radionuclides there from nuclear research that do need to be addressed. 

Furthermore, Congress must appropriate the funding for the NASA SSFL and the DOE SSFL cleanup. 

I am concerned that our current Congress will not approve funding for the AOC level of cleanup for a site that is most likely to be open space / parkland. 

Why is this so important? 

The Woolsey Fire

People in the area impacted by the Woolsey Fire are being led to believe by some concerned parties that large amounts of radionuclides could have been released during this fire. What most people are unaware of is that: 

  • the structures in AREA IV where the nuclear operations occurred did not burn – these structures are most likely the largest potential source of the radionuclides on the SSFL site.
  • the SSFL site has burned more than one time over the last seventy years. Yet in the 2010 - 2012 radio nuclide survey of AREA IV and the Northern Buffer Zone by the Federal
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not find any evidence of any widespread radiation from a discrete incident in 1959, or any evidence that fires had spread the radionuclides site wide. The EPA’s radiological studies can be found on this link on the DOE SSFL website.  

Our future elected officials for Council District 12, as well as those running for Mayor, City Attorney, the State Assembly, State Senate, and Congress all need to have staff that are engaged in the SSFL issue, people who have the ability to read technical documents and who are willing to attend meetings such as DTSC Open Houses and WaterBoard meetings related to the SSFL site. 

Our candidates need to be aware that while there is a petition to clean up the SSFL site to the Background level, many of the signers on this petition might believe that the “worst nuclear disaster in the United States history occurred at the SSFL site because of stories on social media and a broadcast by NBC Los Angeles.  

Some of the information on this website is not accurate including that there was a nuclear meltdown or a nuclear disaster at the SSFL in 1959, according to the California Department of Justice statements in current litigation relative to the SSFL site. 

Many local residents in the communities surrounding the SSFL site have petitioned their elected officials for the strictest cleanup of the SSFL site because they believe that certain residents’ cancers were caused by the site. There is no scientific way to confirm or deny the source of an individual’s cancer. A discussion of cancers in our community will be the subject of future articles. 

We need our candidates to be aware that while the petition referred to above does exist, members of four Neighborhood Councils – Canoga Park, Chatsworth, West Hills, and Woodland Hills Warner Center, have all taken positions that do not support the cleanup to the 2010 AOCs. Each of these Neighborhood Councils, as well as other local groups, have supported a risk-based cleanup. 

Here is the link to the City Council File Management System. 

Council File 19-0145 is where to find the files related to actions taken by the Los Angeles City Council related to the SSFL, including authorization to hire outside counsel to litigate on the SSFL. 

On that site, my cover letter to the Mayor et al regarding the historic votes of the four most impacted Neighborhood Councils as referenced above can be found here.  

Candidates for City Council 12 need to decide: Will you take the position of wanting the strictest cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory based upon a stakeholder petition? Or will you consider the input of the Neighborhood Councils who are advisory bodies to the City of LA that have already addressed the SSFL cleanup issue -- some for more than 12 years? Will you consider the input of other locally impacted groups and environmental groups who support a less invasive cleanup? 

Candidates: Please personally study the issue so that you can accurately educate your future constituents on the SSFL cleanup.


(Chris Rowe has been a 41-year resident of West Hills, was a former West Hills Neighborhood Council Board Member, and has a B.S. in health education. She can be reached at rowecl@yahoo.com. Photo a gift from the Jim Owens Family. The Sodium Reactor Experiment Complex in the foreground. Circa late-19502 to 1060s.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.