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Parents of children with cancer push state to clean up Santa Susana Field Lab

A group of parents, physicians and other local residents handed copies of petitions with more than 17,000 signatures to state officials on Thursday, demanding tougher cleanup standards at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

The petition, initiated on Change.org by West Hills resident Melissa Bumstead, was delivered to officials at California Sen. Henry Stern’s field office in Calabasas and to officials with the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, at the Chatsworth facility.

Bumstead was unable to hand the print-out version of the petition in person Thursday, but said online that she launched the petition to raise awareness about rare pediatric cancers she and other parents say are linked to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a 2,900-acre site nestled between Simi Valley and Chatsworth. The land was developed in the 1940s to test rocket engines and conduct nuclear research. In 1989, the Department of Energy released a report admitting that a partial meltdown of a sodium reactor had occurred in 1959 in Area IV of the land.

Bumstead said her daughter, Grace, was diagnosed with a rare leukemia when she was 4 years old. The girl was declared cancer-free in 2016, but recently relapsed.

“My daughter is one of the 50 children with cancer who live within 20 miles of the Santa Susana Field Lab, one of the worst nuclear meltdowns in America,” she wrote on the Change.org site, which now has 24,600 signatures. “The SSFL remains contaminated with dangerous radionuclides and carcinogenic chemicals that can cause harm to human health after a single, short-term exposure.”

The petition also calls on Gov. Jerry Brown to press the DTSC harder to regulate the clean-up of the site.

In 2007, the DTSC signed a consent order, setting a 2017 deadline for Boeing, the federal Department of Energy and NASA to complete cleanup at the field lab. The Department of Energy and NASA signed an additional agreement in 2010 to clean their small portions of the land to the highest environmental standards.

Most of the land is now owned by the Boeing Company. Although Boeing didn’t cause the original contamination, the DTSC had said they would hold the company responsible for cleaning up their portion of the land to strict, environmental standards, local residents remain skeptical.

A draft environmental clean-up plan was released in September by the DTSC which outlines on how contaminated water and soil can be removed from the area, including how many truckloads of soil would be hauled and the route those trucks would take to dump the soil.

Some residents opposed to the draft plan say the DTSC didn’t present more options on how soil can be removed, so that trucks would not go through neighborhoods.

Others became concerned earlier this year after Boeing released a letter on Aug. 22 to shareholders, saying they have changed the clean-up standard from “suburban residential” to “recreational.”

“The revised proposed cleanup will be based on recreational land use scenarios, and not a ‘residential’ cleanup as we originally volunteered,” according to the Boeing letter.

Several local leaders objected to Boeing’s plans.

“Boeing’s attempt to reduce the level of clean-up to a much weaker standard will leave some of these toxicants in place, risking people’s health long into the future,” according to the letters, signed by Los Angeles County supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Kathryn Barger and Los Angeles Councilman Mitch Englander and Ventura County Supervisors Linda Parks and John Zaragoza.

RELATED STORY: How one woman’s fight is helping workers decades after Santa Susana radiation exposure

Documented chemicals that have seeped into water and fruit trees affected the health of parents of the children who now have cancer, said Dr. Jimmy Hara, who serves on the board of directors of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles-Los Angeles, the group that organized Thursday’s petition deliveries,

Hara, a professor of Family Medicine at the Charles Drew University College of Medicine and at the Clinical Family Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, held a map Thursday outside the DTSC office. The graphic displayed the cluster of rare cancer cases in the Simi Valley and San Fernando Valley communities around the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

Results released in 1997 of a study conducted at UCLA found that of the 4,600 workers who were monitored for radiation between 1950 and 1993, about 30 percent were due to cancer as the underlying cause.

“The DTSC is a state agency” Hara said. “It is to supposed to work for the public safety. What I’m asking is the DTSC to do its job.”

Russ Edmondson, a DTSC spokesman, said his agency has followed the protocols outlined in clean-up agreements for the Santa Susana Field Lab. He also said public comment on the draft clean-up plan will be accepted until Dec. 7th.

A final clean-up plan will be available at the end of 2018 or beginning of 2019, Edmondson added.

In response to receiving the petition, Stern acknowledged the community’s fear, and agreed the DTSC didn’t release a sufficiently thorough plan.

“From detailed soil analyses to innovative transportation solutions for hauling off toxic soils, the Department has yet to analyze the technical facts on the ground enough for me (or the public) to form a final opinion on exactly what the final cleanup plan should be,” Stern said in a written response. “While I’m no scientist, it doesn’t take an expert to know that this document is not going to rebuild the trust that has been eroded over the years.”

Meanwhile, Boeing officials said they continue to be committed to their clean-up plan.

“We know some local residents remain concerned and we want to assure them the public is safe,” Boeing spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite said in a written statement. “We remain committed to performing a cleanup that is fully protective of human health and the environment, consistent with the land’s future use as open space habitat. We believe this cleanup is in the best interest of our neighbors by avoiding the impacts of removing soil that doesn’t need to be removed.”

source: dailynews

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