Five environmental groups are alleging that NASA could be about to break the commitments it made in a 2010 agreement to clean up all the detectable contamination at its former Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) rocket testing site in the Simi Hills of California.
They claim that NASA may be laying the groundwork for a breach by falsely claiming that commenters on its draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on the cleanup were evenly divided on whether NASA should live up to its obligations in the cleanup agreements. When pressed by environmental groups to provide actual data to backup such a claim, they say NASA refused, and one of the groups, Consumer Watchdog, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, obtaining all submitted comments.
Teens Against Toxins reviewed all the comments and tabulated them. The result: over 3000 people submitted comments. 98% called on NASA to comply with the 2010 legal cleanup agreement.
"It's not rocket science," said Davis Gortner, of Teens Against Toxins. "More than 3000 people wrote in supporting living up to the cleanup agreement, and about 70 were opposed. That's not 'evenly divided,' that's more than forty-to-one in favor of the promised full cleanup."
Consumer Advocate Liza Tucker said that NASA appeared to be laying the groundwork to renege on the Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) it signed with the State of California in 2010 promising to clean up the NASA portion of the site to "background" - the level of naturally occurring materials in the environment before any contamination took place.
Last September, NASA Associate Administrator Richard Keegan testified before Congress that NASA remained committed to the AOC. In response to a question by Congresswoman Julia Brownley, who represents communities near Santa Susana Field Lab and serves on NASA's oversight committee, Keegan said, "NASA is committed to fulfilling our obligations under the AOC."
In response to a follow-up question from Congresswoman Brownley, Keegan reiterated, "We are committed to the agreement under the AOC."
At a meeting of the Santa Susana Field Lab Work Group on February 5, NASA SSFL project manager Peter Zorba indicated that the NASA Final EIS on the cleanup would be issued this month.
"Should NASA decide to renege on the AOC and renegotiate the cleanup standard in the agreement, a direct threat to public health will remain at a site that has suffered numerous toxic spills, including half a million gallons of the carcinogenic solvent TCE," said Tucker. "Thousands of people will protest such a decision."
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