Residents in the suburbs north of Los Angeles have been fighting for decades to identify and clean up toxic and radioactive materials at the former Santa Susana Field Lab. But that’s not very long compared to how much time it might take to clean up resulting contaminated groundwater.
The Ventura County Star reported last week that state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) cleanup manager Mark Malinowski told a group of 100 nearby residents that soil decontamination might be done by 2017, but groundwater would take “a lot longer . . . decades, possibly centuries to complete.”
Residents near the 2,850-acre site and environmentalists have been highly critical of the cleanup’s slow pace. Lest they get too cocky about the 2017 cleanup target, Malinowski reportedly offered the disclaimer, “It’s a very aggressive schedule to get to 2017, and many things have to happen correctly in order to get there.”
The former Rocketdyne test facility, on the border between Simi Valley and the San Fernando Valley, was the site of a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959 that released radioactive material into the atmosphere. The incident wasn’t publicly known until UCLA student Michael Rose stumbled on it in 1979 while sorting through an archive.
In 1989, a routine survey by the U.S. Department of Energy found radioactive and chemical pollution at Santa Susana and DTSC got involved, becoming the lead agency responsible for overseeing the cleanup.
In 2002, the department identified the toxic chemical perchlorate in local groundwater and the next year linked it to Santa Susana. An estimated 800,000 gallons of the known-carcinogen Trichloroethylene (TCE) were used to clean engine parts there before and after the firing of 30,000 rocket engines. This ultimately leached into the groundwater, spreading out into several plumes, as well as impacted several areas of surface waters. TCE was detected in 355 of 425 monitoring wells sampled at the site.
Boeing currently owns most of the site and NASA manages the rest for the federal government.
A full assessment of the lab, including groundwater, is still incomplete.