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State officials order the cleanup of toxic ‘burn pit’ at former research facility: ‘There is a clear and imminent threat’

The original owners of the field designated a 6-acre plot known as the “burn pit” to dump radioactive pollutants, chemicals, and explosives for decades.

The original owners of the field designated a 6-acre plot known as the “burn pit” to dump radioactive pollutants, chemicals, and explosives for decades.

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California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has ordered Boeing to remediate and clean up an area once used by a now-defunct rocket engine manufacturer to dump toxic chemicals and metals.

The Santa Susana Field Lab near the San Fernando Valley was Rocketdyne’s rocket engine testing site and nuclear research facility. However, Boeing bought Rocketdyne in 1996 and retained the land after reselling its Rocketdyne division in 2005. Now, Boeing is responsible for parts of the site along with NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The original owners of the field designated a 6-acre plot known as the “burn pit” to dump radioactive pollutants, chemicals, and explosives for decades, sometimes setting the waste ablaze, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.

​​“There is a clear and imminent threat to wildlife and other ecological receptors and an immediate need to conduct soil remediation, in order to prevent the potential for harmful [runoff] and migration of hazardous substances from the Site,” the DTSC said (h/t the Los Angeles Daily News). 

According to a community update from the DTSC in October, the Area 1 Burn Pit is contaminated with unnatural levels of harmful substances like cadmium, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, zinc, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, pentachlorophenol, and trichloroethene as a result of the disposal, putting the surrounding ecosystem at risk.

Per the Los Angeles Daily News, the DTSC is concerned that severe storms, high winds, and wildfires — the last of which the San Fernando Valley is particularly susceptible to — could expose the nearby wildlife and environment to the toxins. 

It’s a matter exacerbated by rising temperatures, which can lead to more extreme weather events.

“DTSC is requiring Boeing to clean up chemicals to ecological risk-based screening levels and radionuclides to background. Boeing will complete soil cleanup at the Area I Burn Pit during the sitewide cleanup, consistent with the final remedy decision,” department spokesperson Allison Wescott wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Boeing is expected to officially start the remediation process this spring.

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