Saturday, July 19, 2008


Santa Susana Test Facility Clean-up

The Santa Susana Test Facility is an area north-west of Los Angeles. It was formerly used by two divisions of North American Aviation, later Rockwell International, for testing rocket engines and nuclear power reactors. Several years ago, Rockwell International merged with the Boeing Corporation. As a result I find myself a Boeing retiree even though I never worked for the firm. Along with the obligation to pay the miniscule pension that I earned from Rockwell International, Boeing took over the Santa Susana Test Facility and became responsible for cleaning it up. The test area is no longer used for any scientific or engineering purpose. In fact, it's not used for anything right now. Boeing would like to sell it. Real estate developers would like to buy it and build some expensive homes in the hills with views of the entire San Fernando Valley in one direction and Simi Valley in another.

The troble is, the place is polluted with radioactive debris from the nuclear reactor experiments and with various poisonous hydrocarbon solvents and fuels from the rocket engine testing. It's not safe to live there. Some questions are, who's going to clean it up and to what standards? The nuclear reactor work was funded by the Department of Energy, formerly the Atomic Energy Commission. The rocket engine work was funded by the Air Force or Department of Defense. Another agency of interest is the Environmental Protection Agency. The State of California also has an interest in the clean-up. The State has standards of pollution levels suitable for residences and suitable for parks and wilderness area. Local residents are concerned that the pollution doesn't stay put, but migrates slowly away from the site and into their yards and, in the case of residents of the Simi Valley, into the wells that supply their drinking water.

I have attended several meetings in which neighborhood residents meet and question representatives of various federal agencies and of the Boeing Company. The representatives of the government agencies and the Boeing Company submit gamely to the haranguing and abuse from certain vocal residents or their spokespersons. They talk about plans for surveying the site for pollutants. They talk about what is or can be done to slow down the migration of some pollutants. They have not yet talked specifically about actual clean-up of the site. There is a lot of talk and almost no action. Different government agencies are debating which agency is to do the surveys and which agency's budget will be the source of funding for the surveys. Since there are at least three agencies involves, it's going to take some time for them to agree on who provides the money and who does the work. Boeing, naturally, would like to be free of the problem and has agreed to give (or sell) a large portion of the site to the State of California.

This is a problem that gives delight to those conservatives who argue that government never does anything well or efficiently and might as well be shrunk as much as the public will allow. It would give delight to a satirist. I can imagine Mark Twain or Carl Hiaasen writing a satirical novel about the Great Santa Susana Clean-up.


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