Water Board approves deal with Boeing over toxic site

Despite strong objections from neighbors and environmentalists, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board voted unanimously Thursday to approve a deal with Boeing Co. that aims to ensure polluted stormwater does not are still not flowing in local creeks and the Los Angeles River after the company cleans up the notoriously toxic Santa Susana Field Lab.

The deal requires Boeing to monitor stormwater flowing into the Calleguas Creek watershed for 195 pollutants after the company completes its cleanup of the 2,850-acre site atop a plateau in southeastern Ventura County. Boeing would have to test for contaminants in waterway outfalls for at least 12 storms to ensure pollutant levels would not violate federal water quality standards or background levels. Subsequently, the water board could decide to release Boeing from these regulations if it considers that the area no longer poses a risk to public health or the environment.

The grounds of the field lab are filled with heavy metals and radioactive contaminants after industrial activities by Boeing, rocket maker Rocketdyne, NASA and the US Department of Energy, which used the site as a testing ground for rocket engines for space exploration and nuclear reactors for power after World War II. These contaminants – including brain-damaging lead and potent carcinogens – have migrated offsite and have been observed in local creeks that flow into the Los Angeles River.

Boeing, NASA and the Department of Energy are each responsible for cleaning up different areas of the site. These parties and the state entered into a consent decree in 2007, which required them to clean up the site and minimize the cancer risk to 1 additional cancer case per 1 million exposures. However, the health risk depends on how the site is used and disputes over cleaning standards have led to significant delays.

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control is the agency responsible for overseeing the company’s soil and groundwater remediation. The cleanup standard has yet to be decided, but the work could take 10 to 15 years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars regardless of the excavation and soil removal scenario.

Thursday’s vote was seen by many agency heads as a victory and a way to limit further delays that could result from litigation.

“Today’s vote paves the way for a rigorous cleanup of one of the most polluted sites in the country and is a monumental step forward after decades of stalled progress,” said DTSC Director, Meredith Williams, in a statement. “The DTSC appreciates the attention of the Water Board and looks forward to working together to complete this cleanup.

The Water Board has always fined Boeing for polluted water discharges detected near the site. In November 2018, approximately 80% of the Santa Susana Field Lab site burned as a wildfire ripped through Woolsey Canyon, in one of the most destructive wildfires in LA County history. . Soon after, rain swept through the area and monitoring revealed dangerous levels of several pollutants, including cyanide, copper, lead, arsenic and dioxins. Boeing paid $25,750 for the high levels of TCDD, a potent carcinogen dioxin.

Boeing has entered into legal agreements, known as conservation easements, which permanently dedicate nearly 2,400 acres to natural habitat, prohibiting residential development, groundwater consumption and land use. agricultural.

The water board vote came after California Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Jared Blumenfeld and a Boeing representative implored the water board to approve a memorandum of understanding to advancing long-delayed cleanup efforts. Industrial operations of the field laboratory ceased in 2006.

“We didn’t enter into mediation with Boeing for the sake of compromise — and for the record, I’ve never been shy about taking legal action against the polluters,” Blumenfeld said.

However, it also went against hours of testimony from elected officials, environmental organizations and residents urging the council to postpone or reject the deal, which many said was insufficient because it would not monitor and would regulate only a fraction of the pollutants inherited from the site. The agreement was largely excoriated for the duration and scope of the tests. Some were concerned that Boeing was administering the tests. There are more than 300 pollutants in soil, groundwater and surface water, although water board officials said not all were at levels of concern. It is estimated that the mandatory 12 storms will occur over five years, which some have deemed insufficient.

“This repeal of water pollution restrictions amounts to an old medical adage that ‘you can’t get a fever if you don’t check the temperature,'” said Dr Robert Dodge, a family physician in the Ventura County and board member of Physicians for Social Accountability. “How is it possible to relieve those responsible of their promised cleaning obligation and of the continuous monitoring and control of the distribution of this content?”

About 700,000 people live within 10 miles of the site in Chatsworth, West Hills, Woodland Hills, Calabasas, Westlake Village and Simi Valley.

Melissa Bumstead, a West Hills resident and founder of Parents Against the Santa Susana Field Lab, says her group has independently identified 81 cases of childhood cancer within a 10-mile radius.

“We certainly don’t want toxic chemicals in our children’s water,” said Bumstead, whose daughter was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia in 2014. “We want their water to be as safe as possible. possible. Whether Boeing finds it convenient or not. Our children eat fruits and vegetables grown in water that may be polluted by the SSFL. They drink the water, bathe in it, cook and play with it. Having water safe and clean is vital to their health and quality of life. And our children’s lives are more important than Boeing policy or profit margin. We live here. I live here. This is our home. A cleaning faster but weaker does not help us”

From the first manned spaceflight to the Apollo moon landings, Boeing officials say nearly every major US space program owes its success to research and development conducted in the Santa Susana Mountains.

But community members wanted the water board to account for the cost it levied.

Ahead of the board vote, Marisa Lopez shared photos of her teenage daughter who was diagnosed with brain cancer, had to undergo surgery and endure 45 rounds of radiation therapy.

“Nobody should have to go through this,” Lopez said. “And if it can happen to our family, it can happen to yours. I am sharing my daughter’s story because I want you to understand that your decision today will impact real people like my daughter… She is not a statistic and she does not represent an acceptable risk.

Los Angeles Times

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