When it comes to toxic waste sites, there is little debate on how important it is to clean up any particular location properly, thoroughly and with extreme caution on how such waste is transported and disposed of.
Simi Valley’s Santa Susana Field Lab — a rocket and nuclear reactor testing facility opened in the mid 1940s and owned by the Boeing Company since 1996 — is no different. In fact, the site, also known as Rocketdyne, is one of the most controversial sites in the country, with numerous current and former residents of the area coming down with life-threatening and debilitating illnesses linked to the toxic chemicals found in the soil, and leaked into the groundwater.
But as things go with such delicate situations, the rate at which these hazardous sites get cleaned up can often be a snail’s pace, with much bureaucratic red tape and numerous public reviews where little gets accomplished.
Unfortunately, certain potentially haphazard cleanups are sometimes necessary. And so it goes with the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board that ordered Boeing to remove tainted soil at a water runoff site before the rainy season begins this year. The Boeing Company submitted a grading permit application to the county last week to remove nearly 100 truckloads of contaminated dirt from two of the water runoff sites. The request of the L.A. board and the terms of the “ministerial” permit, though, were a lot different than one might expect when dealing with such a highly toxic site.
Supervisor Linda Parks raised her concerns at the County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday about the “ministerial” permit, and proposed an urgency ordinance that would require public input and more say on the county level in how the process would be handled. Her efforts, although noted, were futile as her proposal was defeated by a vote Tuesday of 2-3. Supervisor Peter Foy voted against the ordinance saying that soil needed to be removed before the rainy season and the discretionary permit could delay that process; Supervisor Kathy Long said she felt there weren’t any safety or health concerns and the agency in charge was sufficient; Supervisor John Zaragoza also voted against it.
The problem with the lack of discretion through the ministerial permit is that, unless everyone involved is extremely careful, mistakes of the past are destined to be repeated. And no matter how slow the process is to get things done, sometimes the jumps and hurdles are necessary — and may be needed in order to be even more thorough.
Consider, for example, the former NASA plant turned movie studios in Downey. Even though state and federal regulators determined that, through mitigation, the contamination that would not pose a significant risk to workers at the Downey Studios lot, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, numerous workers have reported a series of serious health issues related to toxic chemicals found in the soil at the site. And the reason for this? The city put the cleanup on the fast track to get it redeveloped and bringing in revenue. The lesson of Downey — you move too fast, you screw up.
The fact of the matter is that cleaning up the astronomically polluted Rocketdyne site needs extra care and special attention. And if need be, delaying this project for the safety of nearby residents, possible adjacent inhabitants and the environment should be justified and needs to remain the main priority. We hope that in the future, if a similar situation should arise at Santa Susana, our local officials will consider situations like Downey and choose discretionary over expedited processes to avoid any possible unintended consequences that can’t be undone.