The NASA OIG has released an audit regarding NASA’s Environmental Remediation Efforts at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.
Press Release associated with release of OIG Audit
NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin today released a report questioning the Agency’s approach to its planned environmental cleanup at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in California. First opened in 1948, the 2,850 acre facility 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles was the site of nuclear energy research by the Department of Energy and rocket testing by the United States Air Force and NASA. Over the years, these activities resulted in radiological and chemical contamination to soil and groundwater at the site.
Like all Federal agencies, NASA is required to comply with laws and regulations that govern cleanup of contaminants left behind from Agency activities. Generally, responsible parties are required to conduct risk assessments to evaluate the threat that contaminants pose to human health, identify the reasonably foreseeable use of the affected property, and structure their remediation efforts based on those results.
The Boeing Company, which owns and is responsible for the cleanup of the majority of the Santa Susana site, has publicly stated that it intends to preserve its portion for use as open space parkland. This intended use would normally require remediation to a “recreational” level, but Boeing has stated that it will clean its area to a more stringent “residential” level. The NASA portion of the site is also expected to be used as parkland.
In December 2010, NASA entered into an agreement with California officials in which it pledged to clean the soil at the Santa Susana site to its original state before any rocket testing activities began, known as “background” level by 2017. This Office of Inspector General (OIG) review found that NASA has committed to an excessive and unnecessarily costly cleanup of the Santa Susana site. Specifically, the Agency agreed to clean its portion of the site to a level that exceeds the generally accepted standard necessary to protect human health in light of the expected future use of the land.
Moreover, although the precise requirements of the cleanup and therefore its ultimate cost have not been finalized, NASA estimates that remediation to “background” levels could cost more than $200 million, or more than twice the cost to clean the site to “residential” levels and more than eight times the cost to clean it to a “recreational” use standard. In addition, because cleanup to background levels may require highly invasive soil removal, there is a risk that such efforts would result in significant damage to the surrounding environment as well as to archaeological, historical, and natural resources at the site.
The OIG questioned whether NASA’s agreement to clean its portion of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory to background levels is the best use of limited NASA funds. Given NASA’s other environmental commitments and the fiscal constraints facing the Agency and the Nation, the OIG concluded that NASA can ill afford to spend tens of millions of dollars to clean up an area beyond its risk level or intended land use.
The OIG recommended that NASA reexamine its current plans for the Santa Susana cleanup and ensure that its remediation effort is conducted in the most cost-effective manner in keeping with the intended future use of the property. In its response to the report, NASA failed to indicate whether it agreed or disagreed with our recommendation and whether it would reexamine its current cleanup plans. Instead, the Agency pledged to work toward a cleanup that achieves “cost avoidance” and preserves cultural and natural resources within the requirements of their agreement with the State of California. However, the OIG cautioned that it is not clear that the Agency can achieve the most appropriate and cost effective remediation effort given the constraints of the current agreement.
The full report can be found on the OIG’s website at http://oig.nasa.gov/ under “Reading Room” or at the following link: http://oig.nasa.gov/audits/reports/FY13/IG-13-007.pdf
Please contact Renee Juhans at 202-358-1220 if you have questions.
Renee N. Juhans
NASA Office of Inspector General
The 2012 Year in Review summarizes the activities of a year of progress in the cleanup of land NASA administers in two areas of Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL). We continue to make frequent contact during the year with community members and interested stakeholders.
Our third update (FieldNOTE) about cleanup at SSFL is now available. This one highlights field surveys that help us characterize the natural habitats on the site and provides information for our Environmental Impact Statement.
To undertake some Interim Source Removal Action (ISRA) activities in the Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV) Service area in NASA-administered Area II before the onset of seasonal rains, NASA has begun excavation and removal of some surface soils. The area being excavated is the southwestern portion of the ELV-1C area.
This action is taken at the direction of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) and with the concurrence of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). Soils within this portion of the ELV-1C area have been sampled, analyzed, and compared to the ISRA cleanup goals approved by the RWQCB. Any soils with concentrations above these goals will be excavated. Additionally, waste characterization soil samples were analyzed in the ELV-1C area and, with the written approval of DTSC, these soils were screened against the Radiological Trigger Levels (RTLs) provided by EPA in December 2011. The soil sample results in the southwestern portion of the ELV-1C area yielded no radionuclide results at or above the December 2011 RTLs. The soils will be transported for disposal at the Waste Management Landfill in Lancaster, California, which accepts non-hazardous soils.
This decision reflects cooperation among NASA, DTSC and the RWQCB. The parties concluded that, because the EPA’s recommended RTLs are a more conservative screening level than the expected radiological lookup tables (to be finalized next year), and because the southwestern ELV-1C soils results are below the RTLs, NASA should begin this important ISRA work this year, in the attempt to remove approximately 600 cubic yards soil before winter rains.
NASA has received Closure Certification from the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) for three Hazardous Waste Management Units on NASA-administered property at Santa Susana Field Laboratory. The Bravo Groundwater Treatment Unit (GWTU), the Delta GWTU, and the RD-09 GWTU, including the associated pipelines between the groundwater extraction wells and the GWTUs are considered closed by DTSC under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
The previously submitted RFI reports for Groups 2, 3, 4, and 9 (which include the NASA sites at SSFL) can be found in the RFI - Soils section of the DTSC Document Library
NASA remains committed to a proposed cleanup to background that will meet the Administrative Order on Consent between DTSC and NASA.
We received comments from Senator Boxer and the Council on Environmental Quality regarding the evaluation of alternatives for the preparation of our Environmental Impact Statement. As a result, NASA has chosen to streamline its review in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and analyze only the alternatives of (a) cleanup to background and (b) the “no-action” alternative.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement can be found on the Key Documents page.
We are now providing periodic updates about our cleanup at SSFL. This one is about our Field Sampling Plans, which we have undertaken at the direction of, and in coordination with, DTSC.
This meeting will provide updates on the results of surveys and other data NASA is gathering as it prepares its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Draft EIS is expected to be provided to the public for review and comment in summer 2012. The SSFL EIS Factsheet describes the current SSFL EIS process.
The meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. From 6:00 to 6:45 NASA experts will hold informal discussions at various displays that summarize the information and approach NASA is taking to prepare its Draft EIS. From about 6:45 to 8:00 NASA experts and NASA consultants will provide an update on the EIS impact analysis and related studies followed by Questions and Answers between NASA presenters and the public.
Following the Q&A, informal discussions may take place.
The meeting will be in Chatsworth on March 27, 2012:
6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel Chatsworth
9777 Topanga Canyon Road
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Note: The hotel may only be entered when heading south on Topanga Canyon Blvd (TCB). To enter heading north, make a U-turn at Lassen St. The hotel entrance arises abruptly as you round the corner on TCB after you pass Lassen St.Large map for Radisson Hotel Chatsworth
The 2011 Year in Review summarizes the activities of a year of progress in the cleanup of 451.2 acres that NASA administers in two areas of Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL). NASA is committed to a cleanup of these areas to a level protective of public health and the environment and to ongoing outreach to and communication with the public.