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Study Urged on Danger of Lab to Neighbors

Health: On heels of probe into effect on workers, Mikels calls for investigation into possible hazards posed to people living near Rocketdyne facility.


Ventura County Supervisor Judy Mikels on Tuesday called for a study to determine if hazardous materials used at Rocketdyne's Santa Susana Field Laboratory have affected the health of people living in nearby communities.

The request joins a growing chorus of community leaders intent on finding out if hazardous substances used at the lab near Simi Valley injured people in nearby communities. Those concerns gained an added sense of urgency last week when newly released health studies identified a link between contaminants at the lab and cancer deaths.

"The community has a right to know to what extent, if any, they were subjected to potentially hazardous chemicals," said Mikels, whose district includes the lab. "We have been looking for ways to fund this study and get it off the ground. Now is the time to move forward and stop playing games."

Last week, a spokesman for Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) also urged state health officials to undertake such an investigation. Kuehl will seek $150,000 in the state budget to pay for a new study.

Specifically, the lawmakers want an independent panel of experts to do the study so the results have credibility in the community. So far, state health officials have committed to studying health effects of workers at the lab, but not residents in the surrounding community.

The Santa Susana lab has tested rocket engines for spacecraft and nuclear missiles since 1948. As many as 10 small nuclear reactors, the first in the nation, were tested at the lab in the 1950s.

Last week, scientists at the UCLA School of Public Health released the findings of a six-year study that showed twice as many lung cancers in workers who handled a rocket-fuel component called hydrazine compared with workers who did not.

The study, which examined 6,107 workers, did not conclusively prove hydrazine caused the deaths, although the researchers expressed confidence some chemical or chemicals related to hydrazine or rocket refueling is to blame. Rocketdyne officials and their experts dispute those findings.

It was the second study in two years by the UCLA researchers to link hazardous substances at the lab to increased deaths. Two years ago, the scientists linked radioactive materials to increases in death among workers from several types of cancer.

Barbara Johnson, an advocate of cleanup for Rocketdyne and member of a panel that hired and oversees the UCLA team, said the worker-health studies are sufficient basis to proceed with a study of the community's health.

"The basic premise of the epidemiological study was that if it showed any problems with workers we should proceed with a study of the community. It did and we should," Johnson said.

So far, the state Department of Health Services has not decided whether to pursue a full-blown community-health study. Such an undertaking would be expensive and, according to members of the UCLA team, difficult because it is hard to determine who, if anyone, living outside the 2,668-acre lab was exposed to toxic chemicals or radiation.

Rocketdyne officials could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. Last week, however, Steve Lafflam, director of the company's health and environmental affairs division, said Rocketdyne will work with state health officials in the next 90 days to begin to assess whether anyone in the community may have been exposed to hazardous substances.

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