The hike on Saturday at SSFL went from the front gate to the Area 1 burnpit and CTL V (already bulldozed), up to COCA and then around and up Skyline Drive and back again.

My observations and thoughts related to the clean-up and what I heard from people that day...

by: Christina Walsh


Community Advisory Group

Walking up the steep road to the Skyline Tanks, we actually came across this old sign, very rusty, but you could make out the letters of “Wally Swan” if you looked really carefully (and had seen this photo before).

t the recent West Hills Neighborhood Council environmental committee meeting, I also found it refreshing to hear so many opinions and observations

A little SSFL history lesson:

One option, turned down by DOE, was to remove 400,000 cubic yards (I am rounding here) but you can imagine the difference. 

The other option was to remove just the 8000 cubic yards (or 2% of 400,000, using 1.4 potential fatality truck accidents as reasoning.  Is that what they mean by "balancing criteria?"  Because that is not the purpose for CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act]. It is not meant to be an excuse to do essentially nothing. That is where you might have heard the notion of the RPs leaving 98% behind. Committee to Bridge the Gap sued for an EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] and that is where Judge Conti's decision came from, that you now hear about, because he continues to have jurisdiction over Area IV (the nuclear portion), and that is why there is language in the new (2010) AOC that says the RPs will

and talked, it seemed that they all wanted it cleaned up and safe, so the question is really more about what you think remains at the site and whether contaminants migrated from the site to the neighboring communities. The mountains of documentation indicate lots of remaining contamination throughout the site.

So, what does it mean to be safe?

What does it mean to each individual? and then, how to make that work for everybody? -- not so easy.

Some primary questions:

What is safe?

What are the remaining sticking points to making that possible?

How did SB990 come to mean moonscape?

It doesn't, and never did.

Back in the day, things were very different, there was something called FONSI (finding of no significant impact) where the department of energy was walking away, estimating a mere 8,000 cubic yards of soil removal and that an environmental impact statement was not needed.

Now we have Boeing citing a potential moonscape from a million yards of soil removal. [both of these "responsible parties" are taking extremely different positions in what is needed.] One is saying there isn't much to do, the other is saying there is SO much to do, it isn't reasonable or even possible. How do you clean up contaminants at a level we cannot even detect using modern science? Of course that was never the intent of SB990, yet that is largely why so much money is being poured into denial instead of reasonable and timely cleanup.

Now, let's go back to the 8000 yards proposed by DOE and consider the more than 22,000 cubic yards of chemically contaminated soils removed from the park next door in the northern drainage due to the recent ISEO.  The [imminent and substantial endangerment order] by Norman Riley (former project director of DTSC for the site) issued after we took him for a hike to see the dump in the neighboring the creek itself, that led down to Brandeis (now called the American Jewish University).

seek relief from Judge Conti within 45 days of signing that document. Did that ever really happen? Certainly not within 45 days of last december, and not in any transparent way that explains what they were seeking relief for.

When asked, the DOE could not tell us what the relief they were seeking meant?

Committee to Bridge the Gap and his entourage went downtown to speak at City Council even though the issue was being heard in closed session.

Why closed session?

And why is the City of Los Angeles a key part of this decision when they have not involved themselves in the process currently ongoing?

Because they [City of Los Angeles] filed an amicus brief (a "me too" brief) in support of the CBG lawsuit, thereby making them a party in the process even though the long involved impacted communities have no voice in this, unless you are on the CBG Dan Hirsch team.

So we asked what relief they are seeking? No one seems to be able or willing answer this question.

When I think about the radiological investigation currently ongoing by EPA, where the accessible entirety of Area IV is being gamma scanned and geophysically surveyed so that the most precise and comprehensive soil sampling for radiological and chemical analysis can finally be done, I feel extremely encouraged about the future. The problem lies within the cleanup remedy decisions to be made based on those findings, within the current scope of the split AOC fiasco.

Is there a way to properly navigate the current process?

POISONED was a dance production commemorating 50 years since the major nuclear incident that occurred at the SRE in July, 1959. James Keane: Choreographer

So much has changed in the ten years I have been involved, and in many ways, it has changed for the better, because of new leadership at the site  -- Tom Gallacher and Steve Shestag of Boeing, Stephie Jennings, Thomas Johnson, and now John Jones of DOE, Norm Riley of DTSC who had the voluntary Consent Order signed in 2007 by all the responsible parties, and Craig Cooper, Nicole Moutoux, and Mary Aycock of EPA responsible for the radiological soil survey and background study being done through congressional funding as well as 43 some odd million, of the American Recovery Act monies to fund the way forward.

Rick Brausch has also had to really step up, as his position shifted from legislative director for DTSC, to Project Director for the SSFL Cleanup Project, a very different role and scope of work. Mark Malinowski was also recently added as Project Manager where this project has many unique aspects including the political dynamic making progress sometimes very challenging.

That is not to say change is always good.  We have since lost the leadership of Norm Riley through political antics and even interference in 2009 (and beyond) also resulting

in part of the site, slated for cleanup under the old order (Riley Order was signed prior to SB990 becoming law), so it does not include the stricter standards set forth by SB990 but it did set in motion a deadline of 2017 to get the job done) --and part of the site through the new AOC [Administrative Order on Consent] order signed in December 2010 by DOE and NASA and the new DTSC leadership, thereby dropping Boeing from the process, and agreeing to interpret SB990 into a cleanup order setting "background" as the standard for clean up, and skipping the risk-assessment role in determining what should stay, and what should go.

So what is wrong with that?

For starters, after watching the self congratulatory photo-ops at the front gate, there were a few questions of clarification that needed to be answered.

No Risk Assessment?

No Boeing?

No one understands or agrees on what background is?

-The RP (responsible party) leadership spent two years arguing over what SB990 meant, and the deadline remains the same.

-Boeing owns most of the site, so the "landmark victory" only applies to a small portion of the site (270 acres in Area IV the DOE as agreed to clean up, and 460 acres owned by NASA out of the near 3000 acres we call SSFL).

-How do you clean up to a look up table (bright line -- not to exceed approach instead of using a risk based cleanup where balancing criteria are applied to balance the idea of cleanup with an effort to minimize the impact of the cleanup to the surrounding natural environment, and the communities below the site and how that process will potentially impact them (dust, truck traffic, etc).

This is also not a process anyone has experience with: not EPA, not the department of toxics, not the responsible parties (the federal entities NASA and DOE) because this is not how things are normally done by any of them. DTSC and EPA have a challenging time ahead, to get this right and keep moving forward despite the political rocks being thrown from both sides.

Since the signing of the landmark "win" in the AOC, Boeing sued and also won in federal district court, setting aside the infamous SB990 (Kuehl 2007-8) as unconstitutional.

So everybody wins?

Everyone, it would seem, EXCEPT the surrounding impacted communities, who have been left out of the process in many ways, and have been reasonably waiting for decades to see a long promised cleanup occur. Will it ever happen in our lifetimes?

I hope so, but difficulties continue with continued antics and political posturing, as the year 2017 gets closer.

So where does that leave us now?

John Pace, at SSFL in 2009 for the 50 year commemoration. John was a former worker at the SRE in 1959

"We don't want to have to go back in and impact the environment by taking more soil from areas already removed..."

That was a concept discussed by Boeing at the hike, as we walked by where the Canyon, the Bowl, the APTF, CTL1, CTL5, LETF used to be. All removed and presented as being done under less protective standards of yesteryear.

Here is my problem:ALL of these facilities were removed AFTER SB990 became law, and yet it was Boeing who chose to use less protective standards for cleanup, despite the law, and now are claiming it would mean going in twice...when it was THEIR decision to not follow the more stringent standards mandated.

They could have made an effort to clarify the law to be interpreted more fairly and reasonably, but instead, they chose to sue to overturn the law (leaving me to wonder if they ever intended to comply in the first place).

The law was overturned based on flawed arguments that "no one else in California being required to follow such a stringent law" (well, no other site has received

such massively toxic impacts either, so some would argue that there was good reason for SB990) -- to force the responsible parties to finally do this right. So how can reason and balance be applied?

Instead of continuing to draw lines in the sand to avoid compliance, avoid cost, and ultimately, avoid cleanup completion, it is time to have sincere and detailed dialogue about how to get this done right...for everyone.

The cleanup of CTL 1, 4, 5, LETF and APTF and STL IV facilities were all removed AFTER SB990 became law and it was Boeings choice to use a lower standard when SB990 required a stricter standard.  The inflexible unwillingness to see the obstacles and difficulties presented by SB990 on the part of the new DTSC leadership, pressured by electeds and fueled by Committee to Bridge the Gap, also contributed to the lines in the sand becoming farther apart instead of getting closer to a much needed compromise that was seen as "losing" by SB990 supporters, and anyone wanting compromise were seen as selling out. They chose to go with demolition first, and later sued to not have to go back in, so that was a decision made by Boeing, knowing full well that the law required more. At least in the inflexible interpretation presented by the state. Since the State is required to pursue an appeal, as it cannot accept a legal decision overturning an applicable law except from an appellant court.

Similar issues have been described when we hear about the SRE complex which in part is covered by a tarp.  It wasn't just a different standard when you look at the geophysical evidence that shows plenty of pipes and debris remaining under that tarp today, and the hazards involved with possibly causing movement of the mercury contamination remaining under the tarp by even driving a drill rig out onto the tarped area to perform sampling.


When discussed further, it became clear that the remaining contamination under the tarp is not minor or easy to deal with and is/will in fact preclude effective sampling of the area from even being possible.

If the remaining contamination is so severe why has it remained for so many years?

There are several radioactive areas that are excluded from the investigation, that leads me to believe there will be problems with finding the remaining contamination, it's nature and extent, and certainly from proper cleanup under the current (and only) funding provided to do so.

When will it get better?


Copyright 2001-2011 All Rights Reserved.

Gregg Dempsey, Senior Science Advisor, US EPA inspecting the “Bridle Path” background location for the Radiological Background Study

ABOVE: Allen Elliott, NASA; Laura Rainey, DTSC; and Jimmy Dodge, Former worker who helped recount an issue related to procedures used in handling TCE

LEFT: CTL III prior to the storage pond was lined. This pond is not indicated on current maps depicting the site.