Formerly known as Rocketdyne, the 2,850-acre lab sits just outside the city of Los Angeles near Simi Valley. From 1947 to 2006, it was used to test and develop rocket fuel, engines, chemical lasers and small-scale nuclear reactors. Over the years, the land and water around the lab was contaminated in myriad ways. The lab operated 10 low-power nuclear reactors, some of which had various accidents, including a partial meltdown in 1959 and a radioactive fire in 1971. According to the complaint, “Two open-air burn pits were operated at the site in which radioactive and toxic wastes were burned.”
Jeff Ruch, the director of Pacific Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), calls the Santa Susana lab “one of the most toxic places in California,” and one with a great potential for harm since it sits at a high elevation near the headwaters of the Los Angeles River, meaning that runoff from the site flows into two large watersheds.