Department Of Energy Wants To Alter Clean Up Plans For Toxic Santa Susana Site

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A clean-up plan for a contaminated portion of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory has been released by a federal agency, with some saying the options don’t go far enough while others call some alternatives just right.

The Department of Energy released the draft environmental impact statement earlier this month to outline how the agency would move forward with cleaning the soil within Area IV, the roughly 280 acres of land within the Santa Susana Field Lab where rocket engines and nuclear power were once tested. The agency also presented plans for removing contaminated structures and to a lesser extent, dealing with groundwater.

“The release of the draft (environmental impact statement) is an important step in our mission to clean up the former DOE site at the Santa Susana Field Lab in a way that protects human health and the environment,” said John Jones, federal project director at the Department of Energy in a statement. “Public input on the cleanup alternatives is a critical next step to achieve this mission.”

There are several alternatives presented on how to deal with the soil, including traffic in and out of the site and the effects of a cleanup on the natural surroundings. Options range from doing nothing until the chemical compounds in the soil deteriorate over time, to a strict remediation plan that would clean the soil beyond federal standards. That option was agreed upon between the DOE, NASA and state regulators in 2010. Based on that agreement, the cleanup should have been completed this year. But in the draft environmental impact statement, the DOE said those standards may do more damage than good.

“DOE also determined that implementing the 2010 AOC requirements and remediating soil to meet the (agreement of consent) would have the potential for adverse environmental impacts due to the large area of land that would be disturbed and the large volume of soil that would be removed,” according to the statement.

That the DOE has presented alternatives means it has backed away from what it agreed upon, said Dan Hirsch, president of Committee to Bridge the Gap, a group that has worked for about 30 years to pressure owners and regulators to decontaminate the site.

“They’ve broken out of the cleanups entirely,” Hirsch said. “It’s a complete breach of 2010.”

Hirsch said the agreement included a thorough environmental clean-up plan to be drafted by the Department of Toxic Substances Control. That report was due last year and is still pending.

The DTSC, however, agreed Friday that the DOE should not have consulted with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on its own to justify a clean-up option that is inconsistent with what all the agencies agreed upon in 2010.

“First, and most importantly, we note that it appears DOE is proposing clean-up approaches that fail to fully recognize the AOC provisions that apply to sensitive plant and animal species located at SSFL,” said DTSC director Barbara Lee in a letter to the agency. “These provisions allow limited exceptions to clean-up activities to safeguard protected species. As you know, DTSC is committed to implementing and enforcing the (agreement).”

In a statement, a DOE spokesman said Friday the agency is still committed to working with the DTSC.

Nestled between Simi Valley and Chatsworth, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory is a remote, 2,900-acre site developed in the 1940s. It was used to test rocket engines and conduct nuclear research. The Boeing Co. now owns a majority of the land. Boeing officials have said the company is committed to cleaning its portion to residential standards, then leaving the land as open space.

In May 1989, surveys from the Department of Energy, reported exclusively in the Daily News, revealed that radioactive and toxic contamination from decades of nuclear experiments and rocket tests had leaked into soil, groundwater and bedrock at the hilltop site. Kept secret from the public was the partial meltdown of one of the reactors in 1959, an accident that released radiation into the air. That the meltdown ever occurred is still disputed among some, but no one disagrees that there are portions of the land that are contaminated.

Results of a federal radiological survey released in 2012 showed that of the 437 samples collected, 75 exceeded standards agreed upon by the DOE and the DTSC.

Abe Weitzberg, who worked for the DOE for 40 years and continues to consult for the agency among others, said he sent a letter praising it for considering more options. He said one thing he liked was that they admitted the clean-up standard agreed upon in 2010 was unworkable.

“They came up with one (option) that is basically reasonable,” Weitzberg said of the DOE’s plan to clean the land to residential standards — similar to Boeing’s.

“You clean everything up to suburban residential, which still cleans up higher concentrations of stuff and doesn’t do too much damage to the site,” he said. That doesn’t bring too much traffic and effects to surrounding areas, he added.

Hirsch said if the DOE is allowed to get away with its alternate clean-up standard, then state regulators have failed the public. He listed Vernon’s Exide and the natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon as examples of lax regulations.

“The press and many policymakers have woken up to the fact that we have terrible pollution like in Santa Susana with regulators asleep at the switch,” Hirsch said. “I think Santa Susana is the poster child. This is a meltdown site.”

The public can comment on the proposed clean-up plans until March 14 online at http://www.ssflareaiveis.com/comment.aspx or by mail to: Ms. Stephanie Jennings

NEPA Document Manager, SSFL Area IV EIS

U.S. Department of Energy

4100 Guardian St., Suite 160

Simi Valley, CA 93063

Two public meetings will be held at the following days, times and places:

• Saturday, Feb. 18, from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Grand Vista Hotel, 999 Enchanted Way, Simi Valley.

• Tuesday, Feb. 21, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Airtel Plaza Hotel, 7277 Valjean Ave, Van Nuys.

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Source : http://www.dailynews.com/2017/01/13/department-of-energy-wants-to-alter-clean-up-plans-for-toxic-santa-susana-site/

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