The massive Woolsey fire had a sinister beginning. Over 200,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area had to evacuate while the fire burned over 400 structures in Malibu, Westlake Village, Oak Park and surrounding areas. But where and how the fire started was the eeriest part. The structures that burned first were part of toxic cleanup efforts of a nuclear meltdown that happened in 1959. This site is full of endocrine disrupting chemicals and nuclear contaminants. It was infamously called “Rocketdyne” in the 50’s but today it’s called the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL). Close to 60 years later, the SSFL has never been cleaned up. The reason you’ve never heard about this nuclear event is because it was covered up for 30 years by Rocketdyne, which was later acquired by the Boeing Corporation. Today, there’s controversy over cleanup and a reneging of promises at California state agencies who were tasked to clean it up. The stakes are high and neighboring residents are incredibly upset. Will California Governor Gavin Newsome step in to ensure millions around the site are protected from contamination? You would think this would be a priority considering how often this area catches fire. Keep watching. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like what the air quality is like in your city, the best air purifier on the market, & how to keep your family safe from smoke from wildfires, now join us as we bring to you some toxic news about the Woolsey fire that could impact the health of millions in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The Santa Susana Field Lab Used to Be Dangerous Work Done In a Remote Location Until the Population Grew
Before Los Angeles became the metropolis that it is today, the Santa Susana Field Lab was strategically located in a remote location that was far away from the City of Los Angeles. Decades ago, Simi Valley and surrounding areas were nothing but farmland growing citrus trees with a sparse population. “Rocketdyne” was dangerous work done far enough away from the population to be somewhat responsible in 1959. However, today there are over 150,000 people within five miles of the site. Winds from the mountain can reach Simi Valley, West Hills, Thousand Oaks, Oak Park, Moorpark, Chatsworth, & Canoga Park, so it’s significance is great when evaluating the potential environmental contaminants in an area. Then if you go ten miles from the site, you reach more than half a million people, which makes the issue even more important regarding the after effects of fire.
Over its lifetime, Area IV of Santa Susana Field Lab was home to a surprising array of dangerous machines and chemicals. According to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory Advisory Panel, the area was home to the following:
- ten reactors
- numerous “critical” facilities (a kind of low-power reactor)
- a plutonium fuel fabrication facility
- a uranium carbide fuel fabrication facility
- a “hot lab” (purportedly the largest in the country) for remotely cutting up irradiated nuclear fuel shipped in from around the country from other AEC/DOE nuclear facilities
- and a sodium burn pit, in which sodium-coated objects were burned in open-air pits
Then from 1959 to 1971, several accidents involving highly combustible materials and radioactive fires sacked the hillside. And to remedy the nuclear fallout, they simply opened the hatches and allowed it to flow out into the neighboring community below. No serious reports were ever made to state or federal agencies communicating the severity of the accidents, therefore there were no serious responses from state or federal agencies. And what that meant was the residents closeby were not made aware of the dangers. In other words, this is what we would refer to as a “coverup” in modern terms. So what happened exactly? This.
- the AE6 reactor experienced a release of fission gases in March of 1959
- the SRE experienced a power excursion and partial meltdown in July 1959
- the SNAP8ER in 1964 experienced damage to 80% of its fuel
- the SNAP8DR in 1969 experienced similar damage to a third of its fuel10
- the Hot Lab suffered a number of fires involving radioactive materials
- Another radioactive fire occurred in 1971, involving combustible primary reactor coolant (NaK) contaminated with mixed fission products.
Today dozens of toxic chemicals have been found in soil, groundwater, or surface water at the site. There’s also hormone-disrupting chemicals like perchlorate used in rocket testing in the groundwater wells surrounding Simi Valley. Cancers have been reported in the area as well as very rare pediatric cancers. The image above is a tally of pediatric cancer cases in the surrounding area. Melissa Bumstead is a local activist who’s daughter has had a rare form of pediatric cancer twice. She lives within miles of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory and has been leading the charge to cleanup. She’s been in touch with families in the area and has been able to create a database of who is suffering. She’s hoping that Governor Gavin Newsome will take a look at her charts and order a cleanup immediately.
The cleanup process has been stalled for decades for reasons only politicians can grasp, and in the meantime, there are now fires rolling through the area every season. The Department of Toxic Substances Control is basically saying “nothing to see here!” but are they correct? It seems to me that cleanup efforts of this site should be a priority now that climate change is guaranteeing we will have wildfires rolling through open spaces in Southern California frequently. To protect millions of citizens, hillside toxic zone cleanups are more about keeping the bad stuff out of the air we breathe.
It’s Unlikely Fires in the Hills of Simi Valley Will Cease Because Well…Climate Change
Governor Gavin Newsome is entering California at a very interesting time. Climate change has impacted the severity of fires. Jennifer Balch, a fire ecologist at the University of Colorado gave an interview to NPR where she stated that climate change has impacted the forests in such a way that we can expect more fires with greater severity from now on. Because the global average temperature has already risen 1-degree Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution, that means more drying. The hot air sucks the moisture out of the ground and out of the vegetation. And scientists are saying that because there are smaller snowpacks in California mountains, this would also reduce the amount of fog that rolls in and off the Pacific Ocean. Both of these situations lead to drier vegetation. And when that is combined with human carelessness and a need to live close to the mountains, we see more fires. In fact, 84 percent of wildfires in the U.S in the past two decades were started by people. Since wildfires are expected to continue and the temperature is expected to continue rising, this problem is not going to go away.
Wear a Mask Because Nuclear Contaminants Get Into The Air After Fires
An organization keeping a close watch on what is happening is Physicians for Social Responsibility. Their President, Dr. Bob Dodge, has been voicing his concern over the lack of action by state agencies like the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). “The Woolsey Fire likely released and spread radiological and chemical contamination that was in SSFL’s soil and vegetation via smoke and ash,” said Dr. Bob Dodge, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “All wildfire smoke can be hazardous to health, but if SSFL had been cleaned up long ago as DTSC [Department of Toxic Substances Control] promised, we’d at least not have to worry about exposure to dangerous radionuclides and chemicals as well.”
Will Governor Gavin Newsome do anything about this issue as he gets into office? Only time will tell, but there is definitely something toxic brewing in Simi Valley, California.
But don’t fret, Mamavation has covered what to do extensively if you are surrounded by smoke from wildfires. Click here to learn more about how to keep your family safe from wildfire smoke and air pollution. And fill out your email below if you would like a FREE copy of our eBook “The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Up Indoor Air In Your Home.”