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EPA tests contamination in Santa Susana mtns

May 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new study is underway to answer questions about a long-running health controversy in Simi Valley. The controversy is over the former Rocketdyne Laboratory in the Santa Susana mountains. The EPA will be using a $38 million grant to look for contamination. The EPA will study one of the most controversial and, depending on who you talk to, most contaminated pieces of real estate in southern California. It's called Area IV of Boeing's Santa Susana field lab.

Boeing and the Department of Energy, which oversees the lab, have tried for years to convince the public that any contamination has been cleaned up. But many residents of the area don't believe them. John Luker of West Hills says he helped find a pile of asbestos from the lab dumped in Sage Ranch Park.

"They kept repeating that nothing was going offsite into the general community and we proved them wrong. Now because of that, it was obvious there was about 30 years of just blatant lying," said Luker.

Even with his doubts, Luker and other critics praise the EPA for undertaking the new study.

"Time for talking's over. We need to do something and I'm so happy that things are starting to go," said Joanne Yuanek-Garb, West Hills neighborhood council.

Area IV was the hub of the lab's nuclear research. From the early 50s until the late 80s, 10 small reactors operated here and an accident in one of them in 1959 contaminated scientists working at the lab and a portion of Area IV. The new study is designed to show how much soil and water might still be contaminated.

"We're going to be doing our radiation scanning of the ground surface here and we've got some equipment behind me that is part of that and then we'll be doing soil sampling after that and we've got some water sampling to do," said Gregg Dempsey, Senior EPA Assistant.

The EPA will use high-tech detection devices to probe the ground and subsurface water and several low-tech mules to carry some of the equipment. Sarah and Katie have appeared in movies and the Rose parade and apparently have the perfect temperament to do the job.

"They seem to be pretty good. As long as you have the confidence and don't get excited operating them they will feed off of your lack of excitement and just say, 'Oh we got a job to do,'" said Robert Lappin, mule handler.

Once the study is completed in about a year and a half the cleanup will begin if sufficient contamination is found. The Department of Energy's representative, Thomas Johnson, told Eyewitness News however that he doesn't think they'll find very much.


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