(IMAGE: Aerial footage from local television station KTLA shows flames surrounding rocket test stands at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL). November 8, 2018.)
The Woolsey Fire in California is currently burning northwest of Los Angeles. While most news outlets that we can find aren’t sure exactly where the Woolsey Fire started and aren’t sure if it was caused by natural means or human activity, our source reports the fire began on the property of the contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), a former nuclear and rocket engine testing site. The site, one of the most contaminated in the nation, has long been promised a clean-up by both state and federal governments. And now, it might be too late.
“A statement released by the California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) said that its staff, ‘do not believe the fire has caused any releases of hazardous materials that would pose a risk to people exposed to the smoke.’ The statement failed to assuage community concerns given DTSC’s longtime pattern of misinformation about SSFL’s contamination and its repeated broken promises to clean it up.
‘We can’t trust anything that DTSC says,’ said West Hills resident Melissa Bumstead, whose young daughter has twice survived leukemia that she blames on SSFL and who has mapped 50 other cases of rare pediatric cancers near the site. Bumstead organized a group called ‘Parents vs. SSFL’ and launched a Change.org petition demanding full cleanup of SSFL that has been signed by over 410,000 people. ‘DTSC repeatedly minimizes risk from SSFL and has broken every promise it ever made about the SSFL cleanup. Communities throughout the state have also been failed by DTSC. The public has no confidence in this troubled agency,’ said Bumstead.”1
For a long time, residents in the neighboring town- many whose children have cancer- have been promised a clean-up due to the well doctumented nuclear and chemical contaminantes but so far, nothing has happened. And now that the fire has raged through the area, there are reasonable concers that people will be exposed to toxic dust, smoke, ash and soil; years of nuclear reactor accidents (including a famous partial meltdown), thousands of rocket engine tests, and what time has proved to be sloppy environmental practices, have left the site utterly polluted with widespread radioactive and chemical contamination.
“Government-funded studies indicate increased cancers for offsite populations associated with proximity to the site, and that contamination migrates offsite over EPA levels of concern. In 2010, DTSC signed agreements with the Department of Energy and NASA that committed them to clean up all detectable contamination in their operational areas by 2017. DTSC also in 2010 committed to require Boeing, which owns most of the site, to cleanup to comparable standards. But the cleanup has not yet begun, and DTSC is currently considering proposals that will leave much, if not all, of SSFL’s contamination on site permanently.”2
(This is the only person we could find talking about this fire- which will have detrimental impacts on both the environmental and human health.)
For the people of California and the nation, this is important news that should be being discussed. Please share this story.
President of Physicians for Social Responsibility- LA (the largest chapter of the national organization Physicians for Social Responsibility and who have worked for the full cleanup of SSFL for over 30 years) Dr. Robert Dodge, said, “We know what substances are on the site and how hazardous they are. We’re talking about incredibly dangerous radionuclides and toxic chemicals such as trichloroethylene, perchlorate, dioxins and heavy metals. These toxic materials are in SSFL’s soil and vegetation, and when it burns and becomes airborne in smoke and ash, there is real possibility of heightened exposure for area residents.”3
If you are in the area, please make sure to take protective measures: stay indoors whenever possible and wear a protective face mask if you have to go outside.
Community members are organizing a campaign on social media to demand that DTSC release a public statement revealing the potential risks of exposure to SSFL contamination related to the fire. (We will keep you up to date on that.)
Our hearts go out to these families. We hope that everyone is able to stay relativly safe. Also, we stand in solidarity with Parents vs. SSFL, a grassroots group of concerned parents and residents who demand compliance with cleanup agreements signed in 2010 that require a full cleanup of all radioactive and chemical contamination at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, in the hopes that the government will do what is right and clean up this dangerous mess.