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Where is the former Santa Susana Field Lab?
The 2,850-acre site straddles remote hills at the border of Los Angeles and Ventura counties between Chatsworth and Simi Valley, about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
What's special about the site?
Santa Susana is located within a vital habitat linkage that connects the inland Sierra Madre Mountains to the Santa Monica Mountains to the Pacific Coast. It was occupied by Native Americans, who left artifacts and pictographs; a portion of the site is included in the National Register of Historic Places. Santa Susana was the proving ground for rocket engines that launched America into space and helped win the Cold War. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics identifies it as a historic aerospace site. It is a unique part of the cultural, environmental and technological fabric of California and the United States.
What does it look like today?
Santa Susana is a vast hilltop natural area dominated by sandstone cliffs and featuring oak woodlands, scrub and meadows, with valley and mountain vistas. Deer, bobcats, coyotes, cougars and raptors roam wild. A handful of decommissioned rocket engine test stands dot the landscape. Nearly 90% of Boeing and DOE buildings have been removed as operational activity was phased out between 1988 and 2006. As cleanup progresses, environmental and community groups and colleges increasingly use the land for environmental research, restoration and recreation. Boeing, NASA and the DOE host frequent bus tours and guided hikes to share the site's historical significance and cleanup progress.
Who owns it?
Boeing owns the majority of the property, which is divided into four administrative areas. Boeing acquired 2,398 acres in 1996 when it purchased Rockwell's aerospace and defense unit. The Department of Energy leases 90 acres of Boeing's land, and the U.S. government owns 452 acres, administered by NASA.
Where did the contamination come from?
After World War II, space exploration and protecting the United States during the Cold War were national priorities. Santa Susana was at the center of these efforts. As a result of high-technology testing and research, chemicals were used and often disposed of on-site, seeping into the soil, stormwater and groundwater.
What was the site used for?
Energy research experiments, including leading-edge nuclear, solar and sodium technology development, and rocket engine testing occurred at the site.
What's being done to clean it up?
Boeing is conducting interim cleanup measures while building the scientific basis for comprehensive cleanup pending final regulatory approval. Site-wide, environmental engineers have removed or treated enough soil to fill about 5,000 dump trucks; tested 50,000 samples of soil, groundwater and bedrock; drilled 400 test and extraction wells; and dismantled 400 structures. In addition, Boeing has
- Installed a state-of-the-art groundwater treatment system to control the spread of contaminants.
- Built stormwater containment and filtration systems to meet water quality standards.
- Replanted 900 acres with native plants.
What is the timeline for cleanup?
In 2007, Boeing, NASA and the DOE signed a comprehensive cleanup agreement (consent order) with the DTSC. Boeing has committed to a cleanup safe enough for suburban residential development at the site – more protective than cleanup required for its future use as open space. Boeing continues to meet all of its obligations to implement the consent order. Soil cleanup is scheduled to be completed by 2017. Here are key steps in the process:
- Completing field investigation and risk assessment reports.
- Drafting the cleanup plan.
- Developing a site-wide environmental impact report.
- Approval of the cleanup plan by DTSC, including public input.
- Beginning long-term groundwater cleanup and monitoring.
- Starting soil cleanup.
- Completing soil cleanup.
What happens after cleanup?
Boeing plans to preserve its land as open space. Cleanup is managed to protect natural features and ecosystems while expanding community, academic and environmental group access to the site. The site is ideally suited for open space and wildlife habitat.
Is Santa Susana safe?
Yes. Numerous health studies have determined the site does not pose a risk to workers or the community. All aerospace and energy operations have ceased, and the site is safe to visit. Access is controlled, and visitors are briefed on safety, environmental contamination and natural hazards. Contaminated areas are limited in extent, and chemical and radiological concentrations are not hazardous to visitors. Limited off-site chemical contamination exists in groundwater northeast of the site entrance, but it is more than 100 feet deep and does not pose a risk to the community because people are not exposed to it.
Is the site radioactive?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently completed a $42 million radiation survey of Area IV, the parcel of land that the DOE is responsible for cleaning up. The survey found that low levels of residual contamination from past nuclear energy research affects approximately 40 acres in Area IV. Measurements show that the radiation levels are often lower than naturally occurring levels measured in nearby off-site locations. To read the EPA's study, visit http://1.usa.gov/13XFe6C.
Is the site suitable for a park?
Yes. Santa Susana – with its sandstone cliffs, oak woodlands, meadows, hills and streams – comprises a rare and vital wildlife corridor in Southern California. As open space, it would be a magnet for birders, equestrians, mountain bikers, rock climbers, day hikers or picnickers. The site has a unique history of Native American use and aerospace technological triumphs. Moreover, contaminated sites are frequently restored and returned to public use; the U.S. EPA estimates that about one in four contaminated sites nationwide are converted to ball fields, picnic sites, open space and hiking trails.
To advance this goal, Boeing partners with established organizations that share the open space vision. In addition, leading universities are engaged in environmental research at Santa Susana. And the National Park Service is studying the possibility of including the site in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area as part of its Rim of the Valley study.
Will the cleanup be enough?
Cal-EPA experts, in court testimony taken under oath, say the 2007 consent order is protective of human health and the environment. Boeing is in compliance with the consent order and is committed to a comprehensive and highly protective cleanup.