2017-05-18 / Community

DTSC says Jewish institute safe from field lab toxins

By Melissa Simon


ALL CLEAR—Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley has served Ventura County’s Jewish population for over 70 years. It lies just north of the Santa Susana Field Lab (see map at right), a former government rocket engine and nuclear energy test site that once suffered a meltdown. 
Courtesy of American Jewish University ALL CLEAR—Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley has served Ventura County’s Jewish population for over 70 years. It lies just north of the Santa Susana Field Lab (see map at right), a former government rocket engine and nuclear energy test site that once suffered a meltdown. Courtesy of American Jewish University Contamination from the Santa Susana Field Lab does not pose a health risk to users of the neighboring Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, according to a report released this month by the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The institute, a 2,800-acre center for Jewish learning founded in 1941 that includes Camp Alonim for kids and teens, is north of the field lab, where a partial nuclear meltdown occurred in 1959.

Prompted by lingering questions of potential health risks at the institute, the DTSC recently reviewed about 25 years’ worth of environmental data gathered from Brandeis and released a report May 2 saying the campus is safe.

“Based on . . . our review of the available data and sampling efforts from the past 25 years, DTSC has determined that the levels of chemicals and radionuclides found on the campus do not indicate a threat,” DTSC spokesperson Mohsen Nazemi said during a May 11 media conference call.

But many are skeptical of the report’s findings.

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory Work Group, a committee made up of representatives from the community, academic institutions, and public health advocacy and nuclear policy organizations, called the report “deeply troubling.”

“DTSC’s memo is not a scientific document but rather a supersized word salad filled with extraordinary misrepresentations of the existing data,” work group members said in a May 11 statement provided to the Acorn.

Off-site migration

Built in 1947, SSFL aided in the development of advanced rocket systems and weapons by conducting nuclear experiments.

Cleanup efforts have been underway at the 2,850-acre field lab for the past decade.

While the field lab is no longer active, some people are concerned that contamination left from decades of nuclear testing has migrated to the Brandeis-Bardin campus—an assertion the DTSC rejects in its May 2 report.

Denise Duffield, an activist and member of the SSFL Work Group, said the DTSC left out independent studies, like one conducted in 2006 by UCLA’s Yoram Cohen and University of Michigan’s Hal Morgenstern, that indicate contamination has migrated off the site.

“By excluding recent reports that show contamination at Brandeis and misrepresenting existing data, DTSC has made it appear that Brandeis-Bardin, located directly below one of the most contaminated sites in California, has not been impacted by SSFL. And that is false,” Duffield told the Acorn.

Rabbi Jay Strear, senior vice president of the American Jewish University, which has owned the institute since 2007, said the “body of data conclusively states . . . that Brandeis-Bardin is safe.”

‘No hazardous concerns’

During the May 11 conference call, Nazemi was asked whether Camp Alonim kids—the camp has been operating since 1953—had always been safe from contamination, even when the partial nuclear meltdown occurred at the field lab in 1959.

The DTSC spokesperson declined to comment “on what may have happened 25 years ago or 50 years ago.” He said only that past testing showed “no hazardous concerns.”

In the 1990s, Brandeis-Bardin sued Rocketdyne, owner of SSFL at the time, after studies revealed several contaminants had migrated to the campus. The lawsuit was settled for $3 million before going to trial.

Nazemi said Boeing bought the part of Brandeis with the highest contamination in 1997, and Strear said the 180 acres Boeing acquired were not part of Brandeis when the American Jewish University took over in 2007, adding that the EPA had concluded the campus was safe before the settlement.

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