The Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) is located on approximately 2,850 acres in the Simi Hills in Ventura County, California, roughly 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The SSFL facility opened in 1948 when North American Aviation (which later became NAA Rocketdyne Division, then Rockwell International, and, more recently, Boeing) began research, development and testing of rocket engines, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Air Forces. The site is divided into four Administrative Areas — Area I, II, II and IV. Most of Area I and Areas III and IV, and two "undeveloped areas" are owned and operated by the Boeing Company. The Department of Energy (DOE) leased a portion of Area IV for energy research. Area II and a small portion of Area I are owned by the U.S. Government and administered by NASA. NASA acquired Area II, consisting of 409.5 acres, from the U.S. Air Force in 1973 and a 41.7-acre parcel in Area I was acquired in 1976.
SSFL played a significant role in our country’s space program. NASA used Area II for research and testing of rocket engines and components associated with the Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs through the 1980s. All research and testing activities have ceased and NASA’s focus at SSFL has shifted to environmental cleanup, as well as demolition, and the preservation and management of the site’s unique cultural and natural resources.
NASA never conducted nuclear research or used radioactive materials at SSFL. NASA extensively reviewed historical documents and conducted surveys of all buildings and found no radiological contamination above background levels. In addition, the U.S. EPA’s 2012 radiological survey found that no radiological contamination extended into NASA areas.
Primary contaminants found on NASA’s portion of SSFL include metals, petroleum products, and solvents, which were released into the environment through the historic rocket engine testing and supporting activities, such as the production of liquid oxygen, storage of fuels, and engine assembly and cleaning. NASA has been rigorously investigating and conducting remediation activities where possible, since contamination was found in the late 1980s.
After the termination of the Space Shuttle program, NASA concluded it had no further use for SSFL and submitted a "report of excess" to the General Services Administration (GSA) regarding the property in 2009. GSA has conditionally accepted that report pending the completion of NASA’s cleanup. NASA will continue to administer the government’s portion of SSFL until the property is transferred either to another federal entity or outside the U.S. government. The final use of the NASA portion is not known at this time, but NASA expects it will ultimately be preserved as open space.
In 2007, NASA, Boeing, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) signed a Consent Order for Corrective Action that addressed the cleanup of soils and groundwater at SSFL. The 2007 Consent Order requires a risk-based cleanup of groundwater. In 2010, NASA entered into an agreement with DTSC known as the Administrative Order on Consent (AOC), which outlines specific requirements to complete the characterization and cleanup of soils on the NASA-administered areas of SSFL. The AOC requires that soils be cleaned up to Look-up Table (LUT) values, which were established by DTSC in 2013.
NASA has completed its soil investigation to understand the nature and extent of soil contamination in NASA areas at SSFL. In 2020, NASA issued a Record of Decision for soil cleanup outlining the decision to conduct a Suburban Residential Cleanup in NASA’s 451 acres at SSFL. A Suburban Residential Cleanup would be protective of public health and the environment and is consistent with risk-based standards applied by the DTSC throughout the State of California. In addition, it would remove about 90% as much contamination as the AOC cleanup, yet require 70% less soil to be excavated and transported offsite, minimizing the damage to the site’s important cultural, biological, and natural resources. NASA can begin a final comprehensive soil cleanup once the DTSC completes their California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, finalizes the Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR), and issues a decision document.
Following the completion of an extensive groundwater investigation, NASA issued a Record of Decision for groundwater in 2018 outlining the decision to remediate groundwater contamination in accordance with the 2007 Consent Order for Corrective Action. NASA is currently conducting pilot tests of various cleanup technologies and working with the DTSC in the development of groundwater cleanup plans. NASA can begin the final, comprehensive groundwater cleanup once the DTSC finalizes the PEIR and issues a decision document. In the meantime, a groundwater interim measure is in place and actively cleaning up groundwater at SSFL. The onsite groundwater extraction treatment system (GETS) treats groundwater extracted from 13 wells across the site, focused in source areas where contaminant concentrations are the highest.
NASA is taking proactive steps to address stormwater, working closely with the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and the SSFL Stormwater Expert Panel—an independent, blue ribbon panel that provides technical oversight on surface and storm water issues. NASA implements a year-round stormwater compliance and management program designed to assist Boeing’s efforts to meet National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit limits at SSFL outfalls. NASA continues to conduct sampling to ensure stormwater quality meets strict permit requirements.
NASA has made significant progress over the past decade to prepare for final cleanup activities, including the completion of soil and groundwater investigations, performing surveys of natural and cultural resources, completing the required environmental review processes, and conducting demolition of obsolete structures. NASA can begin comprehensive soil and groundwater cleanup activities once the DTSC finalizes their PEIR and issues a decision document. NASA will continue to work with the DTSC to achieve our shared goal of implementing a cleanup at SSFL is that is based in science and protective of public health and the environment.
In 2020, NASA made the decision to retain the two remaining Alfa Test Stands and the associated control house at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. The remaining structures in the Bravo and Coca Test Areas will be dismantled in accordance with NASA’s 2014 Programmatic Agreement (PA). NASA is committed to protecting the cultural and historical resources at the SSFL in accordance with the agreement. NASA consulted with the signatories of the PA during the decision-making process. NASA’s decision comes in response to a 2019 NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit report that recommended NASA decide on whether to retain or demolish the test stands before beginning soil remediation activities. NASA’s top priority at SSFL is to achieve a cleanup of the site that is based in good science, is technically achievable and, above all, protects the surrounding community and natural environment.
NASA understands public concerns about truck traffic to and from the SSFL site and has plans in place to stagger traffic flow during demolition activities. During high-volume traffic hours between 7-9 a.m. and 4-5 p.m., truck departures will be staggered at a minimum of 15-minute intervals. Outside of those times the interval between truck departures could be as low as five minutes, if necessary. During demolition activities, work crews are operating under a work plan that includes dust control and other safety measures, including requiring that all trucks be covered and undergo inspection before leaving the site. Overall, based on previous experience with ISRA and other activities, NASA expects to send off no more than 35 trucks per day during demolition.
Demolition contractors are required to follow an approved Dust Control Plan to reduce the potential for dust to travel offsite. Some of the dust control measures include enclosing material in barriers, applying water at a sufficient quantity and frequency to prevent wind-driven dust, and not performing loading during high winds or storms. Hydroseeding after work is completed also reduces dust and soil erosion and promotes revegetation. Regular air monitoring is performed via air monitors stationed throughout the worksite. If dust were to reach a certain level in the area, the monitor would sound an alarm to notify workers and demolition activities would be discontinued until levels are reduced.
Any hazardous materials or waste from demolition is handled in compliance with the applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations, including licensing, training of personnel, accumulation limits and times, prevention and response to spills and releases, and reporting and record keeping. Any waste material deemed to be hazardous waste will be loaded directly into secure bins and placed on trucks or trailers for transport to an approved offsite waste facility. All trucks must be covered and undergo inspection before leaving the site, regardless of contents.
NASA’s highest priority at SSFL is to protect public health. The best scientific evidence, drawn from years of investigative work on NASA-administered property at SSFL indicates that the areas with the highest concentrations of chemicals are limited to groundwater and soil located within the site boundaries. The California DTSC has conducted an extensive review of environmental data related to SSFL—including measurements of air, soil, groundwater, surface water, and drinking water—as well as 13 health studies and concluded that there is no offsite contamination from SSFL that would pose a threat to human health or the environment, as documented in their Summary of Health Studies related to the Santa Susana Field Lab (Rocketdyne) site.
The DTSC and a team of federal, state, and local agencies evaluated impacts of the Woolsey Fire on conditions at the SSFL site and in communities around the site using data from field inspections, physical samples, and air monitoring data from existing monitoring stations on the SSFL site and in nearby communities. They found no hazardous materials from SSFL in surrounding communities following the Woolsey fire. You can review their findings summarized in the DTSC Final Summary Report on the Woolsey Fire. In addition, the California Department of Public Health, Cal EPA, the U.S. EPA, along with numerous other federal, state, and local agencies have reviewed the data and determined the fire did not present any risks other than those normally present in a wildfire situation.
NASA prioritizes communicating with the public about the ongoing environmental investigations and cleanup at SSFL. One of the primary methods NASA uses to keep the community informed is its NASA SSFL Communications E-List. E-List subscribers receive real-time updates about NASA cleanup activities at SSFL. Updates include notifications about project events and updates to the NASA SSFL website, including news and the posting of new documents. Subscribe now and stay connected.
NASA personnel occasionally host community tours of the SSFL site. For the safety of the public and for workers, tours of NASA areas are limited due to ongoing field activities. For more information, please contact Lori Manes with NASA SSFL Community Outreach at (818) 806-8834 or email@example.com.
NASA personnel are involved in meetings with members of the community, regulators, elected officials, and with Boeing and DOE about the SSFL site. NASA attends these meetings, sometimes as presenter, and at other times to listen and to answer questions. NASA attends meetings of environmental, community and other interest groups when possible. For more information please contact Lori Manes with NASA SSFL Community Outreach at (818) 806-8834 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.