Santa Susana Field Lab

State Announces Cleanup For Contaminated Nuclear Site, Which Advocates Call ‘A Back Room Deal'

In a statement to the I-Team, Boeing said the agreement "provides a clear, accelerated path forward" for the cleanup of SSFL, and calls it "a win for California."

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The state on Monday announced an agreement with the Boeing Corporation to clean up a large part of one of California's most contaminated sites--the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL)--located in the hills above the San Fernando and Simi Valleys.

In a 2015 investigation called "LA's Nuclear Secret," the NBC4 I-Team exposed how radioactive and chemical contamination from the Field Lab was spilling into nearby neighborhoods, where there were dozens of childhood cancer cases.

SSFL was the site of a 1959 partial nuclear meltdown and then decades of rocket tests, all of which left a stew of radioactive and toxic chemicals in the ground. Boeing now owns the majority of SSFL.

"The agreement sets forth a path for a very stringent soil cleanup and it includes protections of human ecosystems and groundwater," said Meredith Williams, director of California's Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), who on Monday announced the deal with Boeing.

But the truth is just the opposite, say advocates who've been fighting for a full cleanup of SSFL for decades, like Dan Hirsch, former director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"This agreement assures that Boeing will never do a full cleanup, and that it will leave the vast majority of the contamination in place," Hirsch told the I-Team.

Hirsch says buried in the fine print of the 850-page agreement, are numbers that reveal the state is allowing Boeing to clean up far less contamination, than in a 2007 cleanup agreement that Boeing signed but was never executed.

In recent years, the head of the California Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees DTSC, has said he won't change the cleanup requirements in the 2007 agreement.

"Those are legally binding agreements. We will hold them to those agreements... our job is to regulate, not to negotiate," said Cal EPA director Jared Blumenthal in 2020.

But Dan Hirsch says the state has now, in fact, negotiated a more lenient cleanup agreement with Boeing behind closed doors.

"This is a backdoor deal with Boeing to let it out of the cleanup. It has nothing to do with good science, it’s just the opposite," said Dan Hirsch.

Also opposed to the state's new agreement with Boeing are parents who live near the field lab, whose kids developed rare forms of cancer sometimes associated with radioactive or chemical contamination.

"They make it sound like they’re helping us and protecting our children and they’re doing the opposite," said Melissa Bumstead of West Hills, founder of Parents Against Santa Susana Field Lab. 

Bumstead's daughter Gracie developed a rare cancer at age four. "This agreement is going backwards. It's putting our kids at risk, we're not safer," says Bumstead.

In a statement to the I-Team, Boeing said Monday's agreement "provides a clear, accelerated path forward" for the cleanup of SSFL, and calls it "a win for California."

The state will hold a public hearing on the Boeing agreement on June 2, and Melissa Bumstead and other parents plan to be there to oppose the agreement.

"We are going to be there in force. We can see how this [agreement] is going to hurt our children and we’re not going to allow it," Bumstead told NBC4. 

BOEING'S FULL STATEMENT TO NBC4:

"Boeing supports the comprehensive framework with the State of California as it provides a clear, accelerated path forward for Boeing’s cleanup at the former Santa Susana Field Laboratory.  The framework protects the important environmental and cultural resources at the site, which will never be developed under a conservation easement. It is a win for California and reflects Boeing’s deep commitment to safety, sustainability and the communities where we live and work."

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