July 16, 2018

Boeing Fails to Launch an Agreement


A new consent order raises more questions than it answers regarding Santa Susana cleanup.


Boeing Fails to Launch an Agreement

Rocket launch test stand at the Santa Susana Field Lab in Simi Valley circa 1972. Rocketdyne tested engines for the space program on the site from about 1949 until the late 1990s.

After more than twenty years of demanding transparency regarding the cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Lab, the public’s right to know has now turned into further public outrage.

The cleanup, headed by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, is outlined in a 2007 consent order among the state, U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE), NASA and Boeing Co., which own or operated facilities at the 2,850-acre site that has chemical and radiological contamination.

The public concern is that the contaminants from the nuclear meltdown and 40 years of rocket testing may have seeped into the surrounding ground water and toxic fumes may have spread to nearby communities in Ventura County, Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley.

Investigation and cleanup activities at the site include air quality testing, soil investigations, groundwater cleanup and monitoring, hazardous materials and waste handling, and a radiation cleanup program. Therefore, in response to increasing pressure from community groups and environmentalists to reveal the negotiations among the responsible parties, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control announced on August 19 that it had negotiated a new draft cleanup order—but with only two of the three SSFL responsible parties—the U.S. DOE and NASA.

“I have pushed all year for the public to be able to see the draft Consent Order, for a transparent process with public input,” said Dan Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a well-respected environmental activist who first made the public aware of the 1959 nuclear meltdown on the site after the government denied it.

“Boeing, DOE, and NASA refused, insisting that this be done behind closed doors and with no public scrutiny, until there was a draft that parties had agreed to,” Hirsch said. “When DOE and NASA agreed to the draft in July, the state was able shortly thereafter to make it available for public review and I am grateful.”

Presently, a 118-page draft Consent Order version 2.0 that has been negotiated between DTSC, NASA and the DOE is being circulated for public comment until October 2.

But when the draft was released in August, the Boeing Company was not one of the respondents.

According to the DTSC, an agreement had not yet been reached with Boeing Co., which owns a majority of the site, when they agreed to release the document.

“For the past year, Boeing, the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA have worked with the DTSC to establish an approach for incorporating the provisions of SB 990 into our existing cleanup Consent Order,” Kamara Sams, a spokeswoman for Boeing, wrote in an August 27 e-mail.

“Recently, Boeing and the federal agencies reached consensus with the State on all the substantive provisions of a draft amended consent order, including agreements to seek public comment before the amended order was signed.”

According to Boeing, all that remained to complete the draft was negotiating agreement on a single legal issue to accord them the same rights the State is giving to DOE and NASA.

“We are surprised that the State chose to release the draft amended order prior to completing negotiations with us and to drop us from the draft, without informing us or the agencies prior to making these unilateral decisions,” Sams said.

Local environmental activists are outraged at the strange turn of events during a critical time in the negotiations.

“There is no basis to trust DTSC,” said Christina Walsh, a co-founder of ACME, a local environmental watchdog organization. “They just gave us a fake document and said they weren’t behind it. How does the public comment on it?”


On July 26, 1959, the SSFL was the site of the worst nuclear meltdown in the United States. According to an independent study conducted in 2006 by the Santa Susana Field Laboratory Advisory Panel, the meltdown released 459 times more radiation than a similar meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island in 1979.

Due to Cold War security concerns, the nuclear reactors at the field lab were not covered, so the cloud was not contained and subsequent contamination in nearby wells is being linked to hundreds of cancers in the area.

Currently, the DOE has arranged to transfer $38.3 million in stimulus funds to hire the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a comprehensive radiological survey of Area IV, the location of the meltdown.

Boeing and SB 990

"Boeing purchased Rockwell, which included Rocketdyne, in 1996. Boeing has never received any government funding for the clean-up of Santa Susana," according to Kamara Sams, spokeswoman for Boeing. But after years of complaint over the lack of cleanup at the field lab, then-state Sen. Sheila Kuehl introduced Senate Bill 990 in the spring of 2007, which was signed into law in October of 2007.


Boeing Fails to Launch an Agreement

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin visits with engineers of the Bravo III rocket launch test stand at the SSFL in 1954.

SB 990 prohibits the sale, transfer or lease of any part of Santa Susana Field Laboratory for any use, unless the Director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control certifies that the land has undergone complete remediation, pursuant of the most protective cleanup standards.

Boeing formally opposed SB 990 in a statement dated September 7, 2007, citing logistical and technical obstacles to achieve its stringent compliance standards. (www.calradforum.org/)

October 14 marks the two-year statute of limitations for Boeing to enter into litigation regarding the constitutionality of the bill.

Meanwhile, environmental activists charge that holding up the draft consent order may be an attempt for Boeing to abdicate its responsibility.

“Boeing wasn’t ‘removed’ from the draft Consent Order, either version 1.9 or 2.0,” Hirsch said. “Boeing refused to agree to either draft.”

According to Hirsch, DOE and NASA had informed the state in July that they were ready to approve the draft Order 1.9 and would do so even if Boeing wouldn’t agree to it.

“Boeing has refused to agree, insisting on an outrageous ‘tolling agreement’ being added to it that would guarantee it the right to sue to overturn SB990, even if the statute of limitations on such suits had legally passed,” Hirsch said.

Alternative Universe

The DOE and NASA have now made the public aware that while they remain committed to their public responsibility regarding the cleanup, a different version of the draft document exists.

“This is an alternative version of the 2007 draft order, containing changes that DOE and NASA have proposed to the version of the agreement previously posted,” Rich Brausch, the deputy director of the DTSC, said at a public comment meeting on September 29. “While these changes have been discussed among the representatives, the three parties had not agreed to the current version of the Order.”

According to its statement, NASA further stated that while awaiting public comment and until a new consent order is finalized, NASA continues to diligently pursue its ongoing cleanup at SSFL—under DTSC oversight and in compliance with the existing 2007 consent order.

According to Elliott, project manager for environmental cleanup of NASA’s 451 acres at the SSFL, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (Los Angeles Region) has authority for storm water (surface water) runoff.

“Boeing holds all the permits for the site that pertain to that surface water runoff (known as NPDES permits) and we work closely with Boeing. Therefore, it remained a mystery as to why they were not a party to the current draft order,” he said.

Hirsch said it was more likely the DTSC would continue to negotiate with Boeing so that they will lift their refusal to be on the joint Consent Order.

“How long are we going to dance this dance,” Brausch asked? “This is the art and process of negotiations.”

It could be, however, that without Boeing’s agreement