PFAS at Santa Susana Seep Through Regulatory Cracks

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Monday, September 18, 2023
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028

PFAS at Santa Susana Seep Through Regulatory Cracks

Toxic Forever Chemicals Not Monitored in Discharge or Included in Cleanup


Washington, DC — Despite historic use of toxic PFAS chemicals at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, California’s public health agencies are not monitoring the migration of these chemicals and have no plans to clean them up, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) contamination has become a major public health concern in California, the nation, and across the globe but has been ignored at one of the nation’s most polluted sites sitting at the headwaters of the LA River, with 700,000 residents living within 10 miles of the site.

On January 6, 2021, the National Atmospheric & Space Administration transmitted to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) a “Preliminary Assessment for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Ventura County, California.” NASA, along with the Department of Energy and the Boeing Co., are the three owners of Santa Susana Field Lab. This report found “PFAS-containing materials are documented to have been located in the NASA administered areas,” which it “recommended for further investigation.”

However, that further investigation never occurred. Moreover –

    • Neither the current water permit nor the proposed renewed permit contain any limit on PFAS discharge or any requirement to monitor migration of the chemical into groundwater or surface waters. The LA Regional Water Board is slated to consider renewal of the five-year discharge permit at a hearing on September 28th;
    • The site cleanup plan DTSC hatched in secret negotiations with Boeing does not mention PFAS; and
    • This year, Boeing has proposed to begin monitoring groundwater on the site for PFAS on a voluntary basis, but its agreement with DTSC allows Boeing to allow the groundwater to remain polluted for “an indeterminate amount of time.”

“California’s pollution control agencies are not just asleep at the switch but appear to be in a coma,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting that PEER and allied groups are now in Ventura County superior court seeking to invalidate the DTSC-Boeing deal. “PFAS and every toxic chemical at Santa Susana should be subject to strict enforceable limits in any water pollution discharge permit and should be completely removed as part of any cleanup.”

PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment, meaning that many bio-accumulate in the environment – and in us. PFAS are associated with a wide range of human health risks such as cancer, hormone disruption, liver and kidney damage, developmental and reproductive harm, and immune system toxicity. The latest Health Advisory for the most widely used forms of PFAS issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finds no safe level for the most common form of these chemicals in drinking water.

“We do not know how much PFAS has already run off Santa Susana or penetrated the aquifer used to grow crops in Ventura County,” added Ruch, pointing to numerous studies detailing PFAS transport models for groundwater leaching and surface water runoff, as well as plant uptake, followed by animal or human consumption. “Santa Susana’s forever chemicals may already be in Southern California’s food chain, and they will not magically disappear.”


See the NASA report to DTSC

Examine sweetheart cleanup deal DTSC issued in partnership with Boeing

View Boeing pledge to begin PFAS groundwater monitoring

 Look at decision to leave Santa Susana groundwater unremediated

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