Southern California environment news and trends

Environmental watchdogs want to block Santa Susana debris from entering landfills

Lab Cleanup

Reed Saxon/AP

This Feb. 12, 2009 photo shows buildings at the old Rocketdyne facility, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, in the Simi Valley area near Los Angeles. )

A coalition of watchdog groups has asked a court to stop the Boeing Corporation from sending demolition debris from the closed Santa Susana Field Laboratory to recycling centers and landfills.

Boeing has been demolishing buildings at the old rocket and nuclear testing site, where a partial nuclear meltdown half a century ago caused widespread contamination.

Lawyers working for the Physicians for Social Responsibility, Committee to Bridge the Gap, Consumer Watchdog, and other groups claim debris from some of the buildings is radioactive. They say Boeing has sent that material to recycling centers and dumps across the area and have sued to stop the practice. 

The company and the Department of Toxic substances Control have agreed to stop shipping out the debris temporarily.

Boeing spokeswoman Megan Hilfer said in a written statement that the lawsuit has no merit. However, she said the company "has voluntarily delayed building demolition and disposal activities [...] through September to allow the parties time to present the legal issues to the court for orderly consideration."

Watchdog groups say that's not long enough. This week they went back to court and filed an injunction to stop disposal of the building debris until the court has decided on the merits of their lawsuit.

The groups argue that the risk to human health and the environment is immediate.

"There is significant potential for harm to the environment and to the public from the improper demolition and disposal of the plutonium fabrication facility," said Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear energy executive turned consultant, in a declaration filed with the court.  "Plutonium is one of the most toxic substances on earth. Even inhalation of small quantities of plutonium will cause lung cancer with virtually 100 percent certainty."

Boeing's Hilfer disputes that. "There is no harm to the public or threat to the environment from Boeing’s demolition and waste disposal activities," she said.

Boeing maintains it has been following state law.

Toxic regulators, accused by the watchdog groups of lax oversight, say claims the waste could harm people or the environment are false. 

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