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Rocketdyne Plans Toxic-Waste Testing

November 07, 1996|MACK REED

A consultant's plan to test for possible toxic-waste contamination of water and soil at Rocketdyne's sprawling 2,700-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory will come before the public for comment at a hearing tonight.

The California Environmental Protection Agency has approved the toxic-testing plan for the field lab between Simi Valley and Northridge and will oversee the 7 p.m. public hearing at Simi Valley City Hall, 2929 Tapo Canyon Road.

Rocketdyne opened the lab in 1946 and, over the years, has tested prototypes for nearly every rocket engine used in the U.S. space program. The firm, a division of Rockwell International, also operated small nuclear reactors there from 1954 until the late 1970s.

Rocketdyne scientists and engineers used a range of toxic chemicals and metals, from jet fuel and acids to carcinogenic solvents and radioactive isotopes. Traces of toxic substances such as trichloroethylene and low-level radiation found in ground water in and around the site have been linked to Rocketdyne tests. The company has been under environmental investigation on and off since 1982.

The company pleaded guilty last spring and paid an unprecedented $6-million fine for federal toxic-waste disposal violations surrounding the deaths of two Rocketdyne physicists killed while illegally blowing up volatile chemicals to get rid of them.

The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requires that all facilities under its umbrella, including Rocketdyne, undergo extensive testing to ensure that they are not polluting the ground and water, said Craig Christman, an engineering geologist for Cal-EPA.

Rocketdyne's consultant, Ogden Environmental and Energy Services, will spend about six months taking samples with EPA inspectors looking on, Christman said. Rocketdyne then has until 2002 to clean up any waste and win final state certification that will allow it to continue operating.

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