Five cleanup Answers

We've answered five of the most common Q&A questions with our most honest answers. We have researched and interviewed scientists, epidemiologists, advocates, elected officials, and health related professionals to try to bring you the most truthful, unbiased, and comprehensive answers.

1. Is the cleanup more dangerous than leaving the waste where it is?

There are many who would want you to think so. The Department of Energy, NASA, Boeing and the CA Department of Toxic Substances Control have worked hard to keep residents afraid of the cleanup.

They've engaged in greenwashing PR campaigns, given money in the form of grants to astro-turfers instead of legitimate grass-roots groups (astro-turfers are paid to look like they’re regular community members) to advocate on their behalf, and held long public meetings full of scare tactics to keep residents from demanding a full cleanup.

If the cleanup is conducted with state of the art technology and stringent methods and follows federal, state, and local ordinances for dust and soil migration, the cleanup will be significantly safer than leaving the contamination on site.

Possible methods better than those proposed by the DTSC:

  • A dome or controlled ventilation tent, as used in temporary medical centers, to ensure extracted contaminants aren’t airborne.

  • Use of water sprayers to mitigate dust.

  • A conveyor belt or tunnel system transporting safely packaged waste to nearby rail lines could reduce the amount of trucks to nearly zero.

  • Using new (and proven effective) methods such as growing sunflowers, moss and other vegetation that can naturally remove hard metals.

  • If trucks are needed; thoroughly washing the underside of the trucks with sprayers before they leave the property.

  • If trucks are needed; using available utility roads instead of streets near homes, as currently proposed.

2. Is the SSFL really causing Cancer?

54 families were mapped living within 15 miles of the SSFL from 2011-2017. With our self-reported, imputed data, this puts our community above the national average for several pediatric cancers.

54 families were mapped living within 15 miles of the SSFL from 2011-2017. With our self-reported, imputed data, this puts our community above the national average for several pediatric cancers.

Yes.

We worked with a statistician and our imputed data shows that our community is above the national average for pediatric cancers. The area was noted to have a 10-20% higher invasive breast cancer rate than most of California, and many of the women with breast cancer in our community are under age fifty, which is uncommon.

A 2007 University of Michigan EPI Study definitively proved that residents who lived within two miles of the site had a 60% higher cancer rate. Additionally, 1,500 former SSFL workers were diagnosed with cancer and a UCLA study showed that workers exposed to radiation and chemicals at the site had higher cancer related mortality rates.

3. What if a truck-full of radioactive waste crashes on my front lawn during the cleanup?

Again, this is about scaring us into fearing the cleanup so the polluters don't have to pay to clean up their mess.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has cunningly proposed the most outdated and dangerous cleanup methods imaginable in efforts to dissuade us from demanding enforcement of the cleanup commitments they agreed to in 2010. They’ve suggested that for every dot of radiation on the site, they'll be required to dispose of an acre of land. That's absurd. There's no requirement for that. With modern equipment and techniques, they could scan for radiation, precisely extract contaminated soil, and then re-check for radiation. If it's clean they could move on, having only removed the contaminated soil.

The DOE’s proposed outdated cleanup methods claim it will take thousands of trucks to move massive amounts of soil. But if they use more modern methods...there's not nearly as much soil to move, which is what we all want. Modern contamination removal methods avoid "moonscaping” and are significantly safer. Also, the cleanup agreement is already structured so that endangered species and protected oak trees would not be harmed, so don’t let them convince you that the cleanup is dangerous for the environment.

The DOE also proposed that these thousands of trucks would have to drive nearly 60 miles, on densely populated streets, to the nearest train station. There are at least three service roads that can be used that have few, if any, homes nearby. These service roads are near a usable train track. The only reason the DOE has proposed using residential streets was to scare residents into rejecting the cleanup all together. What's worse, is that the CA Department of Toxic Substances has held many public meetings that reiterated the dangers of the DOE's proposals, instead of demanding safer options. Residents deserve the safest and smartest cleanup, and we won't settle for less.

4. if you stir up the dust won't we all get sick?

What dust? You mean all the dust Boeing and the Department of Energy (DOE) keep talking about if they use the clumsiest operators and the most outdated cleanup methods? The Department of Toxic Substances Control keep talking as if only the laziest and sloppiest workers will be hired. If NASA, the DOE and Boeing are the world-class companies they claim to be, it seems they should be able to hire competent and qualified workers. Federal, state and local ordinances will direct the cleanup with the intent to keep dust minimal. If covered conveyor belts were used to load contaminated dirt directly into trucks or trains, there would be virtually no dust. Trucks that leave the site have requirements to wash their tires and undercarriage before leaving the site. All these requirements exist to protect residents from harm. Cleanups are meant to make the situation better, not worse.

5. What kind of contamination is at the ssfl?

Dr. Robert Dodge, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, presents on the health impacts of contaminants that have been found at the SSFL.

A 2012 EPA report found that the SSFL is contaminated with dangerous radionuclides such as cesium-137, strontium-90, plutonium-239 and tritium.

  • Plutonium-239 has a 24,000 year half-life. It enters the bloodstream via the lungs, then moves throughout the body and into the bones, liver, and other organs. It generally stays in those places for decades, subjecting surrounding organs and tissues to a continual bombardment of alpha radiation and greatly increasing the risk of cancer, especially lung cancer, liver cancer and bone sarcoma.

  • Cesium-137 is water soluble and can absorbed into the body like calcium is and stored in bones and soft tissue, causing years of health issues because of continual exposure to high-energy gamma radiation.

  • Strontium-90 is water soluble and can quickly enter the bloodstream if touched or inhaled. Strontium-90 acts very much like calcium, and in children it may create the hard bone mineral itself, thus being stored in the bones for many years. The bone, the bone marrow, and nearby soft tissues may be damaged by radiation released over time.

  • Tritium is radioactive water that must have specific tests to find- standard alpha and beta rays tests can’t show if it is present. It can not penetrate through the skin, but if inhaled or ingested, it can cause cell damage, with potential for subsequent cancer formation.

SSFL is also contaminated with highly toxic chemicals such as perchlorate, dioxins, PCBs, heavy metals, and volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds. 

Trichloroethylene (TCE), a known carcinogen, has seeped into the Chatsworth aquifer. TCE is so dangerous that permissible levels in water are 5 parts per billion; 500,000 gallons of TCE are estimated to be polluting the Chatsworth aquifer.  For this reason residents have an imported water supply and they are discouraged from drinking well water.

The radioactive and chemical waste at the Santa Susana Field Lab can cause harm to human health after a single, short-term exposure.