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The Woolsey Fire Tore Through a Nuclear Testing Site ~ Doctors Sound Alarm on Possible Air Contamination

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory/Via Google Maps.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he Woolsey Fire ripped through the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a Cold War-era rocket testing site and nuclear research facility, alarming community members and physicians. The site in the hills between Chatsworth and Simi Valley survived a partial meltdown, in one of the worst nuclear accidents in the country’s history.

Activists claim the fire could have burned through toxins already known to have contaminated the soil and vegetation around the site, and possibly released them into the air with smoke and ash. The 2,800-acre facility is also known as Rocketdyne.

The state agency in charge of responding to toxic substance accidents issued a statement Friday at 1:30 am, claiming that the Santa Susana Field Laboratory did not pose any immediate dangers. There is no evidence that smoke from the area around the SSFL is any more dangerous than other wildfire smoke,” said the California Department of Toxic Substance Control, or DTSC.

The statement said L.A. and Ventura county fire department hazardous materials experts confirmed there is no risk.

But DTSC also implied that state inspectors also have not gone in and done full testing because the Woolsey Fire is still an active evacuation zone. “As soon as access is open we will evaluate the site, the air monitoring stations, and available data,” the state added.

The agency did not respond to calls and requests for comment on Monday. More than 91,000 acres have burned and an estimated 370 structures have been destroyed, according to the latest Cal Fire update on the Woolsey Fire.

RELATED: How to Stay Informed and Be Ready as Wildfires Burn in Southern California

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory/Via Google Maps.
The Santa Susana Field Laboratory/Via Google Maps.

[dropcap size=big]O[/dropcap]nce the earliest reports on the Woolsey Fire indicated that it began at or near the Santa Susana site, and while the extent of the damage is not fully know, a non-profit local doctors group sounded the alarm.

“Given the extent of contamination in the site’s soil and vegetation, it is indeed possible and likely that contamination from the site was spread further from the fire in smoke, dust, and ash,” said the L.A. chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The DTSC is a controversial agency. It's notorious for slowly addressing contamination concerns in the San Fernando Valley and another environmental catastrophe 30 miles south — the Exide contamination zone of East Los Angeles and Southeast Los Angeles County.

"DTSC is widely known throughout the state to let down communities, they’ve broken so many promises, this clean-up was supposed to begin in 2017, but it hasn’t," said Denise Duffield, an organizer with the PSR group, in an interview with L.A. Taco. "A lot could go wrong, toxic chemicals could go airborne and people could inhale it."

SEE NOV 13 UPDATE: 'No Radiation' at Testing Site Where Fire Started

A view of the entrance to the Rocketdyne site/Via Google Maps.
A view of the entrance to the Rocketdyne site/Via Google Maps.

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory also has a troubled history. For a week and half in 1959, radioactive emissions were intentionally released into surrounding areas to keep a nuclear explosion from happening. For decades, community members have reported high rates of cancer and chronic illnesses, many of which they blamed on the testing site.

A coalition of physicians and parents fought to have the surrounding contaminated area cleaned after documenting 50 children living with cancer within a 20-mile radius. The contaminated land has yet to be cleaned, with clean up efforts facing delay after delay over the past decade.

"People that are impacted nearby or smell smoke should use a N-95 or higher-rated face mask. A HEPA filter is always a good idea," Duffield added.

Currently, focus on the cause of the fire has turned to a substation on the Santa Susana site, and on SoCal Edison.

RELATED: Record-Breaking Settlement in Aliso Canyon Methane Leak ~ Are We Safe from ‘Routine’ Toxic Leaks?

* Story updated, 8:21 pm.

* Story updated, 4:21 pm, Nov 13, 2018: The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health tested the Santa Susana Field Laboratory and found no discernible level of radiation in the tested area. See related story.

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