Science At Its Best

By The Fairewinds Crew

Science is at its best when it involves colleagues from many disciplines, community members who are the most impacted, follows rigorous protocols and conducts a thorough scientific analysis in an open and transparent process.   

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Our friends at the Ecological Options Network (EON) recently released a short video in which Denise Duffield of Physicians for Social Responsibility in LA (PSR-LA) brilliantly describes the spread of radiation from the Santa Susanna Field Lab (SSFL) near Los Angeles and Malibu.

Fairewinds highly recommends that you watch the PSR-LA SSFL video produced by Jim Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan of EON. In order to really understand the magnitude of this issue.  However, before you watch, let us give you a brief update on what is happening with the SSFL volunteer citizen science sampling program and also give you a brief background of the history of the who/what/when/where, why, and how that is the Santa Susanna Field Lab.

To begin with almost 5-weeks have passed since our last major post about the community volunteer citizen-science sampling project near the site of the first atomic reactor meltdown in the United States at the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) test site in California. As we said then, “good scientific analysis begins with great sample collection. We are thrilled by the response from individual citizens and volunteer sample collection teams working in communities near the SSFL all the way to Malibu Beach.

 All of us working in this program say thank you again all for your incredible efforts during these times of community stress and personal loss to work on this program co-sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles (PSR-LA) and Fairewinds Energy Education.

Fairewinds Energy Education is honored by the amazing response we have had from people hoping to have their home, yard, local community, and favorite hiking trails sampled. We and our scientific colleagues, like Dr. Marco Kaltofen and others, would not be able to do this work if Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles (PSR-LA) had not approached us and begun this long program with us. Good science takes time.

Back in the 1950’s, LA was still a small town and President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program created numerous experimental test reactors throughout the United States. The government built a complex of nuclear reactors, called the Santa Susanna Field Lab only 40-miles outside LA, never imagining that LA would grow so much and that suburban sprawl would gradually encroach into what was once considered a more remote landscape. During the decades following its construction, this SSFL complex of experimental reactors had several meltdowns and other unmonitored releases of toxic radiation. Equally disturbing, the government covered up these meltdowns for decades!

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Since the inception of Atoms for Peace, the government and its contractors have been covering up the pieces of the failed Atoms for Peace program. The SSFL site has been designated as a superfund site, and decontaminating the SSFL has proven a difficult and slow process. As Fairewinds Energy has learned in its radioactive analysis of meltdowns and radioactive releases that have occurred around the world, there are considerable challenges to removing radioactivity from any landscape.

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Additionally, Boeing, who now owns a majority of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site, has not attempted to push forward with this complicated and costly cleanup. More recently, the Trump Administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) has put forth a proposal to walk away from its cleanup obligations at the contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) causing The Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA, Southern California Federation of Scientists, Committee to Bridge the Gap, and the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition to file formal letters of objection to the Trump Administration’s Department of Energy (DOE). See the January 28, 2019 PSR-LA press release and details here: FEDS PROPOSES TO LEAVE 98% OF SSFL CONTAMINATION NOT CLEANED UP on the PSR-LA website.

Last October, the communities surrounding the SSFL property were subjected to the smoke, flames, dust, and fallout caused by the Woolsey Fire. That fire began adjacent or on the SSFL site and spread out over the contaminated countryside. Vegetation in close proximity to the SSFL would have had high levels of toxic and possibly radioactive materials stored within them due to nutrient uptake through plant roots. As the vegetation surrounding the Santa Susana Lab burned, it would have released these toxic particulates into the air to be dispersed at the whims of the breeze – literally ‘blowing in the wind’. Numerous individuals and organizations have expressed concern that the previous radioactive releases from the SSFL site may have spread further due to the Woolsey Fire. 

Fairewinds Energy Education has begun the task of sampling potentially contaminated dust left behind from the Woolsey Fire in communities as far away from the SSFL site as 50 miles. We encourage anyone in the greater LA / Malibu / Santa Susanna area to read Fairewinds sampling protocols. Please contact us at the Fairewinds Energy Education office if you wish to participate in this volunteer community citizen science program and/or you would also like to donate funds to help underwrite the in-depth five-stage testing program. Results will be made public when the analyses are complete, which will take approximately five to six months.

Honestly, no matter what you have heard on the news or read in print, no one really knows whether the radioactive residue from the 1959 meltdown migrated from the SSFL site during the Woolsey Fire or not. Various branches of the federal government and the state of California have claimed that this area of the Simi Valley very near LA is entirely clean and that no radioactivity has ever migrated offsite. Those of us involved in this project certainly hope this is true, and we also know that the only way to accurately make that assessment is to do the necessary real science.

Only real scientific analysis will accurately make this assessment. To date, potentially contaminated samples have been processed at a remarkable rate and now the real lab work has begun.  We have received more than 300 samples from a myriad of areas throughout Southern California. Sampling is ongoing, and it is important to continue these efforts so that the families living in the vicinity of the SSFL radioactively contaminated superfund site know whether the air they breathe, the food they eat, and the water they drink is safe for them to live with their children and/or grandchildren in those surrounding communities and homes.