Traces of radioactive contamination remain at Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Simi Valley

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. State and federal officials announced in Sept. 2010, to remove all radioactive contamination from a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959 at this rocket testing site just outside Los Angeles.

Lingering radioactive contamination exists at a former rocket test lab outside Simi Valley that was the site of a partial nuclear meltdown, federal environmental regulators said.

The Environmental Protection Agency launched a $42 million study to investigate radioactive pollution at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

Technicians collected 3,735 soil samples from a corner of the 2,850-acre hilltop lab where most of the testing was done. Of those, they found about 10 percent contained radioactive concentrations exceeding background levels, the agency said Wednesday.

Most of the contaminated soil was found in places like the materials handling facility that were previously cleaned, but it looked like "isolated spots were missed," said Mary Aycock, an EPA Superfund remedial project manager.

The pollution occurred in restricted areas of the lab and environmental officials said there was no immediate threat to the community because the site is secure.

The EPA presented its findings at a public meeting in Simi Valley, home of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. It expects to issue a final report by the end of the month.

The Energy Department conducted nuclear research at the site from the 1950s through 1998. It was the site of 10 reactors, one of which had a partial meltdown, and an open-air pit where workers burned radioactive and chemical waste.

The EPA deals with Superfund sites around the United States and many former Energy Department facilities in the West are more contaminated than Santa Susana, said Michael Montgomery, assistant director of EPA's Superfund division.

The Energy Department, NASA and Boeing Co. are responsible for a cleanup that is being overseen by the state. The deadline for ridding the site of chemical and radioactive pollution is 2017.

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