Santa Susana Field Lab: A Summary

The Santa Susana Field Lab is one of America's worst nuclear disasters but Boeing, NASA, and the federal Department of Energy are trying to get out of their legal and moral obligations to completely clean up their mess at the site...even as local children are fighting cancer.

America's worst meltdown

In 1947 the Santa Susana Field Lab was used by Rocketdyne as a facility for their ten experimental nuclear reactors, a plutonium fuel fabrication facility, a sodium "burn pit," and a “hot lab” where they processed much of America's nuclear waste. At least four of their ten nuclear reactors suffered partial meltdowns, including the 1959 meltdown which have been the worst nuclear disaster in America's history. None of the facilities were built with containment structures, which allowed an undisclosed amount of radiation to be released onto the residents living in nearby Simi Valley and West Hills. Carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals used profusely at the site were allowed to seep into the ground. Today the site remains severely contaminated and the surrounding communities suffer above average cancer rates.

pediatric cancer cluster

In 2014 a group of parents realized that their children who were fighting cancer at Children's Hospital Los Angeles were all neighbors back at home. Their homes surrounded the Santa Susana Field Lab. They have recorded fifty children who've been diagnosed with cancer within the last three years with an online map. They began to question if the Santa Susana Field Lab's radioactive and chemical waste was giving their children cancer. 

SSFL Pediatric Cancer Cluster

In their research they found EPA and EPI reports that validated their suspicions that the areas surrounding the Santa Susana Field Lab had elevated cancer rates. A $1.6 million dollar UCLA study showed former SSFL site workers were more likely to die from cancer. In 2008 the California Breast Cancer Mapping project showed that the area has 10-20% higher invasive breast cancer rates than the rest of California. In 2007 an EPI report by Dr. Morgenstern showed a 60% higher cancer incident rate for adult residents who lived within two miles of the site at the time of the meltdown.

The cancer parents believe the Conejo/San Fernando Valleys are above the national averages for pediatric cancers. They feel strongly that the Santa Susana Field Lab has put their children, and all children in their communities, at risk for cancer and other life-long health issues.

This has motivated an entire community of parents to come together to demand a complete and safe cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Lab, as they believe this is the only way that their children will be safe from the risks of cancer for generations to come.

denial and coverup

In 2010, with the help of California Legislators and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), local activists won a legal agreement from the Department of Energy and NASA for a complete cleanup of the site. Known as an AOC (Agreement On Consent), the binding legal agreement scheduled the cleanup to be completed by the summer of 2017. Boeing refused to sign the agreement but stated that they would clean their portion of the site to comparable levels. It was a short lived victory. 

Ten years later the site remains virtually untouched. In Spring 2017, instead of meeting their cleanup deadline, the Department of Energy submitted an Environmental Impact Report proposal that would leave up to 99% of the contamination permanently on site. Their report also proposed the most outdated and dangerous cleanup methods imaginable. By Summer 2017, Boeing similarly dodged their cleanup responsibilities by donating their portion of the land to a land trust, disingenuously claiming they would "protect the environment" by using an open space/recreational cleanup standard. This deceitful move would result in leaving most, if not all, of the contamination on site and would continue to put visitors and those living within miles of the site at risk of exposure.

Boeing recently launched a PR campaign and website claiming they've made significant cleanup progress. Their commercial claims the SSFL would be a great place to bring children for field trips to learn about nature. They don't mention the nuclear and chemical contamination anywhere. They don’t mention the health risks the contamination poses to visitors, residents and especially to children. Boeing knows our children are sick and dying from cancer, but they care about profits and shareholders more.

Parents abandoned

Cancer children and their families hold a prayer vigil before a 2017 SSFL Workgroup meeting in Simi Valley.

Cancer children and their families hold a prayer vigil before a 2017 SSFL Workgroup meeting in Simi Valley.

The California Department of Toxic Substances (DTSC), who oversees the cleanup, has not enforced the daily $15,000 penalty against the polluters for having missed the 2017 deadline. They have not fought back against the polluters. Instead, they've held meetings for the public that make the cleanup sound more dangerous than leaving the contamination on site. Recently the DTSC published an Environmental Impact Report that breaks all their promises to local residents for a complete and safe cleanup, advocating instead for a cleanup nearly thirty times less protective than their own residential cleanup standards.

Instead of protecting the community, the California Department of Toxic Substances has denied the contamination is migrating off site, denied smarter and safer cleanup methods exist, and denied that the community has high cancer rates. They've abandoned the community and are protecting big companies like Boeing and NASA instead. Parents must fight powerful and wealthy corporations by themselves to protect their children from cancer.

We can't do it alone. Every day that goes by is another day our children are at risk of being exposed to nuclear and chemical contamination. Please...if you live near or far, help us. Stand shoulder to shoulder with us as neighbors and as fellow parents.

We need your help to protect our children from cancer. Please help.