Water Board Still in Dark About Santa Susana Discharges

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Wednesday, October 18, 2023
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028 

Water Board Still in Dark About Santa Susana Discharges

Staff Withholding Documents on PCB Poisoning of LA River on Eve of Vote


Oakland, CA —Tomorrow the state Regional Water Quality Control Board will vote on renewing a multi-year water pollution permit to the Boeing Co. for the toxic Santa Susana Field Laboratory site without knowing the consequences of its past permits, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Board has admitted that its prior permits did not properly account for decades of discharges of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) compounds, highly potent carcinogens, from the site but is still withholding internal analyses of the issue.

Santa Susana sits at the headwaters of the Los Angeles River. Fifty miles away at its mouth, the L.A. River has levels of PCBs 100 times the health limit. No person of any age can safely eat a single fish caught there. During decades of rocket testing and other military research at Santa Susana PCBs were often used and no other source for that quantity of PCBs has been identified.

While the water pollution permit for Santa Susana prohibits any discharge of PCBs, the current permit lacks appropriate detection methods. In recognition of that failing, the Board staff has proposed tightening PCB detection methodology by using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency method “1668c.” But in a response to comments, the Board staff admits this method “can be used to analyze samples, but the results cannot be used to evaluate compliance…. the results can only be used for information purposes.”

In addition, years of analytic work on this issue by Board staff has been buried by its management. One staff member asked PEER to submit a formal public records request for documents on PCB analyses since 2015. More than 10 months after PEER’s December 2, 2022 public record request, the Water Board has still not released any documents of direct relevance.

Lawrence Yee, the Board Chair for most of this period, until June 2022, told PEER he had never heard of the issue. Nor have the current Board members been briefed on this issue, either.

“Toxic chemicals seeping out of Santa Susana do not disappear once they have left the site,” remarked Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is already suing the Board and California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control for their approval of a clean-up agreement allowing Boeing to leave more than 90% of toxic wastes onsite at Santa Susana. “This Board exhibits zero curiosity about how its actions have profoundly damaged Southern California’s environment.”

The Board’s current and prior permits also ignored the migration of toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals) widely used at Santa Susana. The Board is now proposing that any new permit monitor PFAS releases but does not prohibit them. The Board is also not monitoring groundwater under the site that has been absorbing an alphabet soup of pollutants for decades.

“This is supposed to be a ‘Water Quality Control Board’ but at Santa Susana pollution is utterly out of control,” added Ruch, noting that 700,000 people live within 10 miles of the site.


Look at PCB pollution of LA River

View tomorrow’s Water Board agenda with no PCB briefing

See Santa Susana PFAS pollution problem

Examine botched Santa Susana clean-up deal

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