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Santa Susana Field Laboratory facility. (Photo by Steve Osman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Maternal Instinct Protecting Our Children's Lives—An MSNBC Premiere Documentary

All are encouraged to view this film with those you love and then act to stop putting corporate greed ahead of human health and demand the cleanup of the site now.

Robert Dodge

Our country's landscape is dotted with toxic Superfund sites that impact the health and wellbeing of the lives of surrounding communities every day. These sites result from the disregard, neglect, malfeasance, capture and abuse by government agencies and corporations while under their stewardship. If and when these sites are cleaned up, it is only through the dogged efforts of local activists who make it happen. 

The beauty of Southern California is not immune. Few know of Ventura County's nuclear secret at the Santa Susana Field Lab with its devastating health effects on local communities. The contamination there will at long last get the national spotlight it so deserves when MSNBC presents a documentary about the site "In the Dark of the Valley" at 7 PM Pacific time Sunday, November 14. This award winning first film production of filmmakers, Nicolas Mihm and Brandon and Derek Smith, brings a human face and the personal stories of local moms, Melissa and Lauren, and their children, Grace and Hazel, as well as so many other parents whose children have suffered life-threatening cancers attributable to the radionuclide and chemical agents that have long been released to the surrounding communities from the Santa Susana Field Lab that sits above their homes.

The film's promo notes, "In the Dark of the Valley follows a group of Southern California mothers who discover that the nearby Santa Susana Field Laboratory is one of the most radioactive and chemically contaminated sites in the world—and neglect from the property owners may have exposed the community to decades worth of cancer-causing hazardous waste." This is one of the most important stories for all of our community to be aware of.

The story begins in the 1940s when the field lab was established as a remote facility for rocket engine and nuclear reactor testing. Situated in the hills above Simi Valley and the west San Fernando Valley it was 25 miles from downtown LA yet close enough to the local university scientists. Since that time as the Southern California population has grown the population has expanded to 500,000 people who live within 10 miles. The site included 10 non-contained nuclear reactors as well as nuclear fabrication facilities for plutonium and uranium fuel fabrication. In addition a "hot lab" was on site where highly radioactive fuel from around the US nuclear complex was shipped for decommissioning. In addition there were tens of thousands of rocket engine tests conducted on site. This resulted in the area becoming a veritable "Who's Who" of toxic chemicals that remain on site to this day.

There were numerous accidents on site over the years including a 1959 partial meltdown of the Sodium Research Experiment nuclear reactor that went on to release radiation into the surrounding areas for weeks thereafter highly contaminating the site. Some reports place estimates of radioactive release up to 459 times that of the infamous Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania. That radioactive contamination continues to this day. Ultimately four of the 10 nuclear reactors had significant accidents.

The known risks to the surrounding community in terms of offsite migration of radionuclides and toxic chemicals during winter rains and fires has been well documented. The contents of the highly contaminated soils is taken up by the vegetation that grows. When fires or heavy rains occur, these agents migrate off site to the communities below. Notably the latest scientific study released this past month has confirmed significant contamination of radionuclides up to 10 miles (the extent of testing) from the site following the Woolsey fire which started on the site in 2018.

Medical, scientific, media outlets and local communities have spent 42 years trying to bring awareness to the health risks presented by the site. Yet bad corporate citizens, currently Boeing, in cahoots with captured state regulatory and national agencies, DTSC, DOE and NASA have failed to meet their legally binding 2010 Agreements on Consent to stop the spread of toxins and radionuclides and have the site fully cleaned up to background by 2017. Incredulously, no cleanup effort has begun to date. Additionally, many highly contaminated structures have been illegally blown up and hauled off to non-regulated dump sites out of state further putting those communities at risk.

Throughout all this time, the health of the community and in particular our most vulnerable, children, have remained the ultimate canaries in the coal mine confirming the continued risk. 

Failure to clean up the site remains a grievous infraction against environmental justice and flies in the face of the newly adopted United Nations Humans Rights Council Resolution 48/13 declaring, "The human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment."

All are encouraged to view this film with those you love and then act to stop putting corporate greed ahead of human health and demand the cleanup of the site now. This we owe to those children, their families and the greater community at large both past, present and future.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert Dodge

Robert Dodge

Robert Dodge, a frequent Common Dreams contributor, writes as a family physician practicing in Ventura, California. He is the Co-Chair of the Security Committee of National Physicians for Social Responsibility and also serves as the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

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