After NASA this week announced it would delay its decision to clean up a long-contaminated Santa Susana lab site, neighbors began calling foul, claiming the tainted area is making them sick.
Years of rocket engine testing has made roughly 450 acres of land -- located between Simi Valley and Canoga Park -- toxic. NASA also tested nuclear reactors in the area more than 50 years ago, and nearby residents say radiation has seeped from the site for years without them knowing.
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Holly Huff, who lives in Santa Susana and has been fighting for a cleanup for more than two decades, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009. She believes her disease could be linked to the mess.
“They say they don’t know what causes it, but if you look up Strontium-90 it causes bone cancer,” she said. “(The ground) is dirty, it’s still coming down every time it rains, every time it’s windy, and it needs to be cleaned up -- it's the right thing to do.”
Chemicals used in NASA’s decades-old exercises have contaminated the area’s soil and groundwater with trichloroethylene (TCE), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Dioxin, according to data from tests. The contaminants are all known human carcinogens.
The space group in 2010 agreed to a cleanup. This week, however, it decided to demolish dozens of buildings onsite and delayed making a decision on the rest of the procedure.
Neighbors are worried the delay could mean the site will never be properly cleaned -- at least anytime soon.
“Well that’s simply not the case,” a NASA spokesperson told NBC4 over the phone. “The deferral is not anything to do with backing up from the agreement.”
NASA said the delay will allow for more soil and water testing to figure out a precise location for the cleanup. Demolition is slated to begin this summer, but some residents are not getting complacent.
“It’s a train you get on,” neighbor Dawn Kowalski said of the battle for the elusive cleanup. “You can’t get off.”