Health Study to be Conducted in Neighborhoods Near the Santa Susana Field Lab

Santa Susana Field Lab

The Department of Toxic Substances Control is close to releasing an environmental impact report on how to clean up the Santa Susana Field Lab, a remote, 2,900-acre site nestled between Simi Valley and Chatsworth that was developed in the 1940s and used to test rocket engines and conduct nuclear research. Boeing Co. now owns a majority of the land.

The Santa Susana Field Lab occupies more than 2,800 acres in the rocky terrain of the Simi Hills at the intersection of Simi Valley and the West San Fernando Valley. It sits atop the Simi Hills overlooking Simi Valley to the north, Chatsworth, West Hills and Canoga Park to the east, Woodland Hills and Thousand Oaks to the south, and Moorpark to the west.

An agency within the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accepted a petition by Woodland Hills resident Abe Weitzberg to conduct the study. It’s unclear when the study will take place, but the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry already conducted similar research years ago. In that report, released in 2009, researchers found some areas of concern but no “conclusive answers regarding whether members of the community surrounding the SSFL site experienced adverse health effects from potential exposure to chemicals and radionuclides released from the SSFL.”

Another state study found higher rates of some cancers among Santa Susana Field Lab workers. That study also found that from 1988 through 1995, the incidence rate was more than 60 percent greater among residents living within 2 miles of the field lab than among residents living within 5 miles for thyroid, upper digestive tract, bladder, and blood and lymph tissue cancers.

Weitzberg, an independent consultant who once worked on nuclear reactors at Santa Susana, said he petitioned the CDC more than a year ago to answer once and for all if the area poses a public health risk.

Groups and residents that have fought for a high standard of cleanup at the site for 30 years said they are concerned that the health study will undermine their efforts.

In a letter sent to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, nearly 20 residents urged her and others to dismiss the study because it was proposed under false pretenses.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry “is supposed to respond to genuine community petitions concerned about potential toxic exposures and act to assure the public is protected — not to refute previous health findings and cleanup agreements that are already in place, at the request of an ally of the polluter,” the letter said. “We urge you to intervene immediately to prevent ATSDR from harming our community.”