Los Angeles

Growing Concerns About ‘Toxic Rain and Ash' From Woolsey Fire

Scientists say thousands of homes and a children’s camp could be at risk.

There are new concerns among people living near the mostly-contained Woolsey Fire: rains predicted for Thursday night could wash tons of potentially toxic ash down from the charred Santa Susana Field Lab toward homes in bordering neighborhoods and into a popular children's camp.

"I think the rain is of concern," Dr. Tilman Ruff, a public health physician and Nobel Prize winner told NBC4. "Areas that have burned are denuded and the rain is...distributing toxic materials in new ways," Ruff added.

Documents and satellite images obtained by the NBC4 I-Team show about half of the 2600 acre Santa Susana Field Lab was charred by the Woolsey Fire. The images show that green vegetation that once covered the field lab is now blackened ash.

"The ash could contain a witch's brew of radioactive and toxic chemicals including PCBs, mercury, chromium 6, and perchlorate," said Dan Hirsch, former director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz and an advocate to fully clean up Santa Susana.

Maps obtained by NBC4 show at least 18 drainages, or streams, flow from the Field Lab to neighborhoods with thousands of homes including Bell, Dayton, and Runkle Canyons and to the popular Jewish retreat center, the Brandeis-Bardin campus, home to Camp Alonim.

"Children are most vulnerable," said Melissa Bumstead of West Hills, whose daughter was struck with a rare cancer at age 4. "There's all kinds of very, very hazardous chemicals (at Santa Susana), and a lot of these can be inhaled or ingested, especially by children." 

"It is certain that the rain will carry ash to neighborhoods near Santa Susana and that ash can contain contaminants from the Field Lab," Hirsch told NBC4.

In 2015, the NBC4 I-Team exposed potential threats to 500,000 people living within five miles of the radioactive site in a series of reports beginning in 2015 called "LA's Nuclear Secret."

Contact Us