Originally Published by The Los Angeles Daily News
Written By OLGA GRIGORYANTS
When the deadly Woolsey Fire broke out at the Santa Susana Field Lab site last month, state officials assured residents that no high-level toxins or radiation were present at the site, known for decades of nuclear and rocket-engine testing in the hills above the San Fernando and Simi valleys.
But those statements have been met with skepticism by residents and activists. Now, they are rolling out their own study that will look into potential contamination from the site during the fire.
“The agencies have failed us,” said Denise Duffield, associate director for Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group that advocates for policies and practices that improve public health. “They are putting out information that is scientifically impossible. If you can tell people that there is no risk, you should give us the measurements, methodology and equipment used.”
The Santa Susana Field Lab was developed in after in the 1940s and in 1959 it became the site of the partial nuclear meltdown that left the area laced with radioactive and chemical contamination and known cancer-causing toxins.
Officials with the Department of Toxic Substances Control, known as DTSC, which oversees the Santa Susana Field Lab cleanup, could not be reached for comment. But in the days following the Woolsey Fire, officials at the agency said personnel was able to enter the site and assess damage caused by the blaze.
“We confirmed that the SSFL facilities that previously handled radioactive and hazardous materials were not affected by the fire,” the officials said in a statement. “Over the weekend our multi-agency team took measurements of radiation and hazardous compounds, both on the site and in the surrounding community. The results from this initial round of testing showed no radiation levels above background levels, and no elevated levels of hazardous compounds other than those normally present after a wildfire.”
Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry executive and chief engineer at South Carolina-based nonprofit Fairewinds Energy Education, which will conduct the independent study, said that it’s “reasonable to expect” that the fire released radiation left in the soil after the 1959 nuclear meltdown into the air.
“When state officials tell people not to worry and that nobody is at risk, it’s not science, it’s wishful thinking,” he said.
He added that samples will be collected from within 100 miles of the Santa Susana field by volunteers who are willing to send a teaspoonful of dust or dirt in a Ziplock bag.
The U.S. Department of Energy and NASA signed an agreement in 2010, saying they would clean up their portions of the site by 2017. The cleanup has not started yet, though NASA announced last week that it was ready to begin cleanup of contaminated groundwater from the shuttered Cold War-era rocket engine and nuclear research facility.
The lack of cleanup has mobilized the community near the contaminated 2,900-acre site.
About 490,000 people signed a petition on Change.org, started by West Hills resident Melissa Bumstead, whose daughter Grace has twice survived leukemia. She is one of about 50 cancer-stricken children who live within a 20-mile radius.
Maggie Gundersen, the founder of Fairewinds, said she began receiving calls from environmental organizations and residents who live near the site right after the Woolsey Fire began on Nov. 8. So far, more than 100 samples of dust and soil have been shipped to her office and forwarded to a laboratory for measurements.
The five-stage study will look into dust and soil samples collected from the site, homes and communities near the Santa Susana Field, take from four to five months and cost about $100,000, according to Gundersen.
“There is a tremendous amount of the radioactive waste in the community,” Maggie Gundersen said. “Many people are concerned, and they have the right to be concerned.
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