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Climate and Environment

Settlement Sets Plan For Boeing To Clean Up Toxic Soil At Santa Susana Field Lab

A black and white image of a large reactor being lowered into place among a lot of machinery.
Fission housing is lowered into position at the Sodium Reactor Experiment site on May 10, 1956 at the Santa Susana Field Lab.
(Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library archive)
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California's Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday a settlement to kick start the long-delayed cleanup at the Santa Susana Field Lab — the former nuclear reactor and rocket engine testing facility near Simi Valley.

There was a partial nuclear meltdown at the 2,850-acre site in 1959, and much of it burned during the Woolsey Fire in 2018.

CalEPA said the cleanup plan "establishes strict ... protocols and timelines for The Boeing Company," which now owns most of the site.

"Boeing will clean up radionuclides in soil to 'background,' which means it will clean up the soil to levels that would exist locally without industrial activity," the agency said. The company will also "remediate chemical contamination" to a stringent standard that "would ensure that it would be safe for people to live onsite and consume homegrown produce from a backyard garden."

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Following the soil cleanup, Boeing must ensure that stormwater runoff from areas it's responsible for is not polluted. The settlement requires cleanup work on the Area I Burn Pit to begin as soon as next spring.

Boeing's cleanup costs "are expected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including cleanup costs that have already been expended," CalEPA said.

Jared Blumenfeld, the state's secretary for environmental protection, said it's been frustrating to see the lack of progress across generations.

"Think about this site — one of the most toxic sites in the West, definitely one of the most toxic sites in California," he said. "When you go out there, there's still remnants from the Cold War industrial complex that was built out there, and the cleanup has needed to happen."

In a statement, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, "for decades, there have been too many disputes and not enough cleanup," adding that Monday's agreement "holds Boeing to account."

The company said in a statement it backs the framework, "as it provides a clear, accelerated path forward for ... [the] cleanup"... and it "protects ... environmental and cultural resources at the site."

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