Simi Valley, Ventura County —
The sun was barely up at a former Cold War rocket test site when crews in hard hats, neon vests and steel-toe boots collected jars of dirt as part of an extensive effort to clean up from a partial nuclear meltdown a half century ago.
Parties that inherited the toxic mess face a 2017 deadline to restore the sprawling hilltop complex on the outskirts of Los Angeles to its condition before chemical and radioactive wastes leached into the soil and groundwater.
For residents living downhill from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, it would seem like a conclusion to a protracted fight. But many remain dissatisfied that a large portion of the land won’t be cleaned to the highest standards.
Some residents who have developed leukemia, breast cancer or serious thyroid conditions blame their health problems on their proximity to Santa Susana.
UC Santa Cruz lecturer and activist Dan Hirsch said residents want Boeing to clean its portion to the highest standards.
This month, Hirsch and other environmentalists sued the state, claiming that Boeing buildings were demolished and improperly shipped to landfills that were not licensed to take radioactive waste. The state has maintained that none of the torn-down buildings posed a threat.
Even if the bulk of contaminated soil is scooped up and hauled away, the groundwater problem persists. The state estimates it would take many decades to complete that part of the cleanup.
For residents like Huff, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009, the cleanup has dragged so long that she hopes there’s no more drama.
"To be honest, sometimes I try not to think about it," she said. "It’s just depressing."