Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

Watchdog groups allege Boeing sent radioactive waste to city landfills, recycling facilities

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Watchdog groups have accused Boeing Corporation of sending radioactive waste from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Ventura County to landfills that aren’t certified to handle it – and they allege that the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control has condoned the practice.

The groups said the waste is going to city landfills in Lancaster and Azuza, and recycling plants in Simi Valley, Sun Valley, and Ventura, creating an imminent health threat for people in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The allegations, made by a coalition including Consumer Watchdog, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Committee to Bridge the Gap, and the Southern California Federation of Scientists, intensify a long-running dispute about how federal authorities and a private company are cleaning up the former testing site - and whether toxic regulators are doing enough to protect the environment and public health.

Boeing and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control issued statements saying the waste disposal was done according to the law.

NASA, the federal Department of Energy, and the Boeing Corporation share responsibility for cleanup at the 2,850-acre site, including in Area IV, a 290-acre sub-parcel where nuclear research and accidents including partial meltdowns took place. Boeing has been demolishing old buildings in Area IV, and sent demolition waste to city landfills, recycling facilities, and hazardous waste disposal sites that are not licensed to handle radioactive waste.

In a nine-page letter, they watchdog groups question whether demolition waste from the decommissioned facilities is radioactive, and if so, whether state regulators should have applied more scrutiny to how Boeing disposed of those materials.

“Boeing’s own measurements show that portions of this debris are radioactive,” the letter said. “But the debris has been sent to facilities not licensed or designed to receive such radioactive material.”

The Department of Toxic Substances Control acknowledged in its statement that “any building in Area IV… has a higher possibility of contamination by radioactive contaminants.”

But the department said the buildings demolished so far did not contain chemical contamination. As a result, the DTSC asserts, the state law requiring toxic regulators to do an environmental review for their demolition and removal does not apply, so Ventura County is responsible for deciding how the demolition waste is handled.

The groups call on the DTSC to “cease and desist” demolition at Area IV of the former Santa Susana Field Laboratory and to revoke permissions the regulators may have granted to Boeing to dispose of low-level radioactive waste. The letter sets up the possibility for legal action. The watchdog groups say they’ll seek a judicial order Tuesday halting demolition at the former field laboratory.

“The demolition and disposal activities in Area IV have a direct effect on the health of the communities surrounding the lab site, communities in the areas in which waste from the site is being disposed of, and consumers in general, who may well come into direct contact with products made from recycled radioactive materials from the site,” write the watchdog groups.

In a written statement, Boeing spokeswoman Kamara Sams said the company “continues to work cooperatively with the [DTSC] and other state and federal agencies to ensure that decommissioned material from former radiological facilities, which have been released for unrestricted use, is disposed of safely in full compliance with the law.”

The DTSC said its determination is justified by U.S. EPA radiological surveys. According to its statement, “different organizations and regulatory agencies,” including the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. EPA, and the California Department of Public Health, have reviewed, verified, and validated studies about the contamination levels of the buildings, “and releas[ed] the former radiological buildings for unrestricted use.”

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