To escape the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, many have moved out of the City to discover toxic secrets within tap water that is rarely disclosed in their real estate contract. Secrets of a partial nuclear meltdown were covered up from 1959 to 1979. Citizens of Simi Valley didn’t find out until 1989, over 30 years later. Simi Valley is an example of what happens when corporate greed mixes with political complacency, & paternalistic dismissiveness to the detriment of the health of children and families. You’ve trusted Mamavation to cover issues like how much hormone-disrupting chemicals are costing your family in healthcare expenses, which chemicals endocrinologists are blaming for the obesity epidemic, & how toxic are your tampons, now join us as we bring to you the partial nuclear meltdown in the United States you never knew about.
Just north of Los Angeles is a sleepy suburb called Simi Valley, population 125,000. I’ve lived here for about 15 years. Entering the city from the 118 freeway you’ll go past “the valley” and see huge unique rock formations surrounding a breathtaking entry into another valley laid out with small California bungalows that were developed in the 60s and 70s. Off to the right, you’re greeted by a happy face burned into a field right off the freeway as a way to welcome you to our friendly city. Overall it’s a quiet and safe neighborhood. Simi Valley is most famous for its open spaces, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and the Rodney King trial in 1992. Its citizens comprise of off-duty LAPD officers & firemen, teachers & nurses, pharmaceutical representatives from Amgen, and additional blue collar workers. In terms of real estate, it’s more affordable than most homes in the City of Los Angeles, the schools have higher test scores, and its crime rate is very low compared to other cities it’s size. It sounds like a dream come true until you learn it’s toxic secret. We don’t really like to discuss this with outsiders. Perhaps it’s because we don’t want to tank the real estate market or scare jobs away, but it has to be said. There was a partial nuclear meltdown in the hills to the east at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in 1959 and it’s rocked the community ever since.
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The Rocketdyne Partial Nuclear Meltdown of 1959
To the hills east of Simi Valley is an experimental nuclear energy and rocket testing facility called the Santa Susana Field Lab where a partial nuclear meltdown happened in 1959. The former rocket testing facility released thousands of radioactive isotopes and other toxic chemicals that then blanketed the area, poisoned the ground and seeped into the groundwater. Today the property is now tri-owned by the Boeing Corporation, NASA and the Federal Department of Energy.
Even though this event happened about 70 years ago, there are still health impacts that remain today without a complete cleanup. Rare pediatric cancers have clustered in Simi Valley, including children dying from a very rare form of neuroblastoma. Only 600-800 cases of this rare form of cancer happen in the country, and yet several are coming from Simi Valley, California.
An independent advisory panel concluded the meltdown released more than 458 times the amount of radioactivity released by the Three Mile Island accident. And because of lack of containment, it was released into the surrounding environment of Simi Valley, Canoga Park, West Hills, and Chatsworth. And according to a study done by the University of Michigan, residents living within 2 miles of the laboratory are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with certain cancers compared with other residents. One of those cancer victims was Hazel, a 7-year-old girl who died of neuroblastoma in March of 2018. Bailey is the name of a two-year-old that died of neuroblastoma in 2015 and another girl died at age 4 in 2014.
My first introduction to Rocketdyne was a town hall meeting organized by Erin Brockovich around 2011. At the time, I was a representative for local California Assemblyman Tony Strickland and Simi Valley was not only my home but a city I was responsible for covering. Some of the issues I oversaw in my time with the assembly were small businesses concerns, water, and environmental issues. But this was my first time I had ever heard of Rocketdyne. Even though at that point I had lived in Simi Valley for about a year, I had only been working for this particular politician for about six months. That day I sat next to a city councilman who I knew well and he said to me “Oh boy! Erin Brockovich is here stirring everyone up. This is ridiculous!” As he was saying these words, I looked up to see moms who were concerned about their children speaking and were basically being dismissed by local representatives that were supposed to serve them. This moment etched itself into my brain forever because it was a clear example of how women are dismissed as “hysterical” when they clearly were the only ones willing to protect the city.
You can click here to join over 270,000 people demanding the Santa Susana Field Laboratory clean up their toxic mess so fewer children get cancer. I’d recommend you do that because this mess needs some national attention.
What is Perchlorate & What are the Dangers
Perchlorate is both a naturally occurring and synthetic chemical anion that is commonly used as an oxidizer in rocket propellants, fireworks, airbag in vehicles, munitions, signal flares, and fertilizers. Perchlorate is a classified hormone-disrupting chemical linked to thyroid conditions and cancers. It has the ability to disrupt the normal function of the thyroid gland in both children and adults. And it can also interfere with the human body’s ability to absorb iodine into the thyroid gland which is a critical element in the production of thyroid hormones. Perchlorate is ubiquitous because it’s also showing up in the food supply in things like leafy greens. It’s estimated that contamination with fertilizers and water feeds into the plant and trace amounts are digested every day. And since we are already exposed by our eating, it’s VERY important to make sure it’s not also showing up in the water you drink every day.
And as the rule with hormone-disrupting chemicals, it can be extremely dangerous at teeny tiny levels equivalent of a drop in an Olympic sized swimming pool to pregnant women and children. California sets the limits of perchlorate at 6 parts per billion inside water. (Nationally the number is much higher.) However, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) within the California Environmental Protection Agency proposed a health guideline in 2011 to lower that level to 1 part per billion stating the current levels do not protect pregnant women and children. This recommendation is still working it’s way into the law and is considered what is referred to as a “health guideline.” And that means, water districts can be within the legal limits and not be protecting most of it’s citizens, particularly the women and children.
I interviewed Dr. Tom Zoeller from the University of Massachusets who specializes in Perchlorate and its impact on our thyroid for this story. Part of what I was trying to explore is if 6 parts per billion were adequate in protecting women and children. Spoiler Alert: it’s not. According to Zoeller who quotes from the World Health Organization, women are becoming deficient in iodine in the United States and it’s impacting their thyroid. Iodine is what protects our thyroids from such attacks like what you would experience from perchlorate and if we are deficient in it, 6 parts per billion would not be adequate enough to protect women or children. It would need to be closer to 1 parts per billion. He also reminded me that there is a difference between the legal requirement a water district would need to uphold and a “health protective” standard that they are supposed to strive for. California recognizes this and that is why they are trying to change the standard to 1 parts per billion.
According to documents from the Golden State Water Company that services the central part of Simi Valley, Perchlorate has been found in the blending wells at levels between 1.4 and 4.6 parts per billion. Meaning technically they are abiding by the law, however, they are not sufficiently protecting pregnant women and children within the district. In 1965 the Golden State Water Company received permission from the State of California to start adding groundwater from the contaminated wells in Simi Valley. Back then no one had any idea the partial nuclear meltdown that had happened. It wasn’t until 1979 that students from UCLA hot on the investigative trial exposed Rocketdyne to federal agencies. And the public didn’t hear about it until 1989. So from 1965 to today, Golden State Water Company has been delivering citizens water with perchlorate. In 1989 when they found out the water had been contaminated, did the California Department of Toxic Substances rescind that permission to use groundwater? No. And long story short no one uttered a word until 2018 when the City of Simi Valley wanted to start adding groundwater to another water district inside the city to save money. That’s when citizens discovered that Golden State Water Company has been doing this since 1965. Technically they had it buried in their website this entire time, but how many people regularly go through their water district website to browse through their water quality? You’re a bit busy making awesome, right? So basically, close to a third of the city had already been consuming it! This realization sent shockwaves around the city.
Melissa Bumpstead, a mother whose child has a very rare form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia and who runs Parents vs. SSFL, says “Golden State Water Company is aware that Simi is only miles from one of America’s worst nuclear meltdowns, the Santa Susana Field Lab. They’ve allowed levels of perchlorate above the California health goal, they’ve only tested for radioactive Tritium twice in the last 12 years, they dilute carcinogenic TCE to meet the maximum contamination limits, but still claim that they’re providing high-quality drinking water. They aren’t protecting the people of Simi Valley if they’re not willing to be proactive to learn all the facts, do all the right tests, and do them rigorously, and be fully transparent. And right now they’re not willing to do that, and that puts the people of Simi at risk.”
According to independent reports, during the years 2008 through 2014, there have been a total of 216 exceedances from these outfalls at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. An exceedance is a release offsite above limits set in the NPDES permit. In other words, 216 times in the last few years, contaminants have migrated from SSFL in surface water at levels above those specified in the site’s pollution discharge permit contamination. Several radioactive, hormone-disrupting and carcinogenic chemicals may have migrated into Simi Groundwater including the following:
- Manganese exceeded the daily permit limit 20 times.
- Lead has had 27 exceedances.
- Dioxins detected at up to 500 times the permit limit.
- Perchlorate on-site at levels such as 670 parts per billion and 180 parts per billion. Importantly, there were also concentrations detected in monitoring wells in Simi Valley like 19.28 and 15.2 parts per billion.
- A study by Dr. Ali Tabidian, Professor of Hydrogeology at Cal State Northridge, concluded that the contamination of wells in Simi Valley with perchlorate was likely the result of perchlorate contamination that migrated from SSFL.
- Golden State Water Wells had 7 hits of perchlorate between 2006 through 2010. A hit means that it was above the detection level which is 4 micograms per liter, 5.2 ug/L in January 2010
- Tritium has been found offsite
- 500,000 gallons of TCE dumped at SSFL and assumed to be in groundwater throughout Simi
Why Would a Private Water Company Use Ground Water Contaminated with Perchlorate & Other Radioactive Chemicals?
This as something that obviously concerned me. So I met with the Golden State Water Company to see how they were able to include groundwater that was contaminated with Perchlorate from the Rocketdyne plant. They told me permission was granted to them in 1965 and they were within the maximum amounts proposed by the State of California. As long as they are in those legal limits, why change?
Um, well because precaution would be warranted in this situation. But I digress.
When I asked them how much money they were saving by using contaminated groundwater, they told me “several hundred thousand.” Hmm, that’s interesting. Golden State Water Company just initiated a rate reduction of 1.5%. I would gladly give my $2 back to have safer water. Call me crazy.
Let’s not forget what happened in Flint Michigan–felonies and thousands of sick children. Making decisions for the sake of saving a buck can cost you your freedom AND the lives and future opportunities of children.
American States Water Company is the parent of Golden State Water Company and American States Utility Services, Inc. It provides water service to 255,000 residents within 76 different communities inside California. It’s a company that has been around for about 85 years servicing the state. But it’s a private company and there is very little someone can do if they don’t want to drink water with perchlorate in it. The City of Simi Valley would have to act to help its citizens in this situation. What could Simi Valley do? They could start applying pressure to the company immediately and threaten to get rid of this water company via eminent domain or public bond if they didn’t stop using groundwater. Several other cities have already done this to Golden State.
But this private water company is used to citizens being upset with them about the quality of their water and price hikes. Having a private company deliver your water can be a problem when abuse of power is happening. Here are some of the things I found within 10 minutes of a search. In 2013, the residents of Ojai just north of Simi Valley passed a bond measure to kick them out of their city for abusive rate hikes. Then Claremont, California launched eminent domain proceedings to get rid of them for abusive rate hikes. And in 2015 citizens in Gardena protested after their water turned black and the Golden State Water Company said it was still safe to drink. And this year when the Environmental Working Group came out with their safe Tap Water Database report, 38 Golden State water districts were found with chemicals above the health guidelines set forth by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Simi Valley was only one of them. And finally, they are also rated B- by the Better Business Bureau for several complaints logged about them within the past few years. And last quarter their company was running in the red. Could it be possible they are blind to serving the district because they are worried so much about money? Again, I’d gladly give them my $2 bucks back for safer water.
You can click here and join thousands of other people telling the Golden State Water Company they should STOP using toxic groundwater immediately!
Recommendations For Families Living In Water Districts Ignoring the Health Guidelines
There are several things you can do if you are concerned about the water you are drinking, cooking with and bathing with. Our Scientific Advisor Dr. Tanya Altmann, who is also the spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends being very careful when dosing children with iodine. Please make sure if you are wanting to start an iodine regimen, check with your doctor first. There are tests they can run to find out how much you need. Mamavation then recommends:
- Look into getting a good quality water filtration system, such as Environmental Water Systems. Reverse Osmosis systems can get rid of most, not all, but most of the chemicals problematic in water.
- Have your water tested for pollutants that are a common problem in your area. One lab that does this well is AGQ USA right in Oxnard.
- Pick up some iodine supplements if you don’t use table salt. But please talk to your doctor first. Assuming you have done that these are for adults: Now Foods, Pure Encapsulations
- WARNING–Iodine for children: PLEASE BE CAREFUL HERE. Overdosing on Iodine has symptoms as well. Please see your doctor first before starting any supplement regimen, especially with children. And let them know if you are using table salt because it already has iodine inside.
- Sometimes “detoxing” is marketing, however, infrared sauna use has strong studies to back up its effectiveness in detoxing persistent chemicals like PCBs, and other types of hormone-disrupting chemicals like glyphosate, bisphenols, and phthalates. Sweat happens naturally to expel things from your body that don’t belong there.
- Perspective: Focusing on things you CAN control like protecting your family from dangerous air quality inside and outside your home. Toxic exposure is cumulative, so anything you can do to reduce the overall exposure of your family is important.
- For more information on how to protect your family from dangerous chemicals pick up a copy of Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!). I’ll help you walk through your home and kick the three-headed monsters to the curb.
Private Companies Vs. Local Control–Which Scenario Is Best For Your Family?
There’s a trend in California of cities kicking Golden State Water Company to the curb and that begs the question–what is best for your family? A private water company OR a public utility serving your water? Does having a private water company put your family in more danger than a public utility? And is there any recourse that citizens have to affect change after something happens like too much perchlorate in the water or the water itself turning black? These are all great questions that we’ve been pondering here at Mamavation. And we’d love your input on this matter!