Long Sought Win For The Community

07/11/2008 Result: EPA Stands Up; DOE Backs Down on Radiation Survey.

After disclosures by CBG that DOE had altered critical numbers in a key table related to the cleanup of the contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory, EPA insisted that it take the lead on an independent radiation survey, and after years of resisting, DOE has finally agreed. See below for CBG disclosure, EPA letter, DOE response, and NRDC-CBG letter.

For years, the community surrounding the contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory had been promised that US EPA would conduct a comprehensive, independent radiation survey to locate the contamination that needed to be cleaned up. The Department of Energy could not be trusted to find pollution it had created and had a conflict of interest in that it would have to pay to clean up any contamination located. Twenty years ago, EPA had found that DOE had been washing off the radioactivity off vegetation samples before monitoring them, and driving off the volatile radioactivity by heating to high temperature. More recently it was found that DOE was filtering out the radioactivity from groundwater samples before monitoring them. So an independent survey was necessary.

Congress appropriated up to $13 million for a comprehensive survey and directed EPA and DOE to enter into an Inter-Agency Agreement for a joint survey performed pursuant to EPA’s Superfund guidance. DOE defied the Congress and its repeated commitments to the legislators and the community. It insisted that it, DOE, do the onsite survey, with EPA relegated to looking over the paperwork. And DOE nonetheless went ahead and spent nearly all of the $13 million appropriation on matters unrelated to the survey, making the survey impossible.

As part of its “GAP Analysis” that would form the basis for DOE’s own survey, DOE claimed to be using EPA’s Preliminary Remediation Goals for the rural residential/agricultural land use scenario and EPA’s default inputs, as required by state law SB990. However, Bridge the Gap discovered that DOE had altered the EPA table, using values instead that were 100-1000 times higher (more lax) than the primary EPA cleanup goals. We exposed this in a couple of dramatic public meetings, and the disclosure appears to have helped get EPA to stand up and say “No” to DOE. To everyone’s surprise, DOE the next day backed down and agreed to let EPA alone do the survey.

There are a number of problems still ahead — one has to get Congress to appropriate new money for the survey, now that DOE has diverted the existing appropriation to other matters; that new language has to be airtight, so DOE can’t evade it like it did last year’s language; the survey has to cover the whole site, not just Area IV as DOE wishes; and EPA’s Gregg Dempsey, long promised by EPA to do the survey, indeed needs to direct it. But all told, this is a tremendous victory.

Related Documents [.pdf format]

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