Boeing has made significant progress with cleanup and restoration, and is moving toward the company’s goal of preserving Santa Susana as open space.
Remediation and Restoration
The former Santa Susana Field Laboratory is a 2,850-acre site with a rich history. Virtually every major U.S. space program, from the first manned Mercury flights to the Apollo moon landings and Space Shuttle fleet, owes part of its success to Santa Susana. It was also the site of energy research and development for the U.S. government, including leading-edge nuclear, solar and sodium technology.
Since acquiring its portion of the site in 1996, Boeing has made significant progress with cleanup and restoration, and is moving toward the company’s goal of preserving Santa Susana as open space. The transformation of Santa Susana from field laboratory to open space is well underway, with native plants and animals reclaiming most of the previously developed areas of the property.
The modern world has been substantially shaped by technological breakthroughs at the former Santa Susana Field Laboratory. A rocket engine testing and energy research site used for federal government programs, Santa Susana was where thousands of workers tested rocket engines used to defend the country, land on the moon, and launch satellites for GPS and cell phones. It was also a test site for advanced energy research programs. After more than 50 years of operation, nuclear research ended in 1988 and rocket engine testing ceased in 2006.
The former Santa Susana Field Laboratory was a key proving ground for rocket engines that propelled Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle astronauts into orbit, as well as a test site for commercialized nuclear and alternative energy research. These past operations, which occupied approximately one-fifth of the sprawling 2,850-acre site, have left residual chemical contamination in soil and groundwater.
Boeing and the other responsible parties, with oversight by regional and state environmental regulatory agencies, are conducting a thorough investigation in preparation for a comprehensive cleanup of the Santa Susana site. Over the years, numerous interim cleanup activities have addressed contamination in soil, groundwater and stormwater, furthering the progress toward restoration and preservation of this unique and valuable ecosystem.
The restoration of the Santa Susana landscape is well underway, with native plants and animals reclaiming much of the 2,850 acres in less than a decade since the Field Laboratory closed. By the nature of the U.S. government work done there, the site was isolated from the growth and change of Southern California for more than half of a century. This allowed Santa Susana to remain one of the most intact and vast natural areas amidst the urbanization of this immensely populated area.
Santa Susana continues to be a site of historic significance, with towering rocket engine test stands on NASA land and Native American artifacts throughout the property. Boeing’s cleanup will protect the site’s vast natural and cultural features, and the company plans to preserve Santa Susana as open space for the benefit of people and wildlife. Boeing works with a variety of educational and environmental organizations on research to promote new and innovative approaches to remediation and restoration, along with enhancing knowledge of the site’s ecology.
Join the thousands of people who visit Santa Susana each year to watch red-tailed hawks soar and walk by towering rocket engine test stands that took human beings into the vast frontier of outer space. The site is a rare combination of natural beauty and historic significance for both Space Age endeavors and Native American culture.
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 EPA Radiological Characterization Study Results.
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, 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.
Stormwater at Santa Susana is regulated under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit issued by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. Under the current permit, several outfall locations require routine monitoring for various constituents. Boeing provides this library of technical documents about the site-wide stormwater management program as a public service on behalf of the Regional Board.