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California Wildfire Hits Nuclear Waste Site, Authorities Accused of Cover-Up

Activists say authorities are covering-up the dangers of radioactive toxins being spread

 on 14th November 2018 @ 5.00pm
the california wildfire is tearing through a nuclear waste site and authorities are accused of covering up the threat © press
The California wildfire is tearing through a nuclear waste site and authorities are accused of covering up the threat

As the wildfires continue to ravage California, fears are mounting that the fires may have caused airborne radioactive toxins to spread after the blaze has torn through a nuclear waste site.

Activists are accusing authorities of covering-up the threat posed by the substances from a Superfund site, and believe the risks are being "downplayed" to avoid mass panic.

The fire has hit the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) in the Simi Hills, a federal Superfund site where the worst nuclear meltdown in US history occurred in 1959.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control claims there is no reason to be concerned of "any risks other than those normally present in a wildfire situation," although locals aren't so sure, pointing out that the agency has a history of dragging its feet in cleaning up toxic sites and accusing the organization of a possible cover-up.

the entire town of paradise in northern california was wiped out by the fire © press
The entire town of Paradise in Northern California was wiped out by the fire

According to RT, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles president Robert Dodge castigated the DTSC, pointing out that the site – now owned by Boeing – remains radioactive and polluted despite the agency's promise to clean it up eight years ago.

"These toxic materials are in SSFL's soil and vegetation, and when it burns and becomes airborne in smoke and ash, there is real possibility of heightened exposure for area residents." 

The DTSC reassured residents that the SSFL facilities were not affected by the fire and claimed measurements of radiation and hazardous compounds from both the site and the surrounding communities were within normal levels, posing no danger other than that normally present in the aftermath of a wildfire.

Thousands of people live within two miles of the site, which was originally developed to test rocket engines and conduct nuclear research in the 1940s.

NASA, which owns a small piece of the site, echoed the DTSC's message in a press release, stating that the fire presented no risks beyond those normally associated with wildfires although its property experienced "significant fire damage" across all three "historic districts."

firefighters are working tirelessly to tackle to wildfires © press
Firefighters are working tirelessly to tackle to wildfires

Residents' concerns about authorities possibly downplaying the risks are fueled by the DTSC's track record of broken promises, combined with the very real history of nuclear meltdown onsite.

The California state legislature commissioned an Independent Review Panel to investigate the DTSC and found in 2016 that the agency had placed communities "at risk" by "failing to perform its basic function of protecting the public and environment from industrial hazardous waste and contamination."

The DTSC was held responsible for the Exide scandal in Vernon, in which a battery recycling plant leaked toxins into surrounding communities for decades, and was criticized for its backlog of hazardous waste permits. 

Local parents have blamed contamination at the SSFL site for their children's cancers, and the Centers for Disease Control designated lab workers from the 1950s who developed cancer as part of a "special exposure cohort" eligible for compensation for their years of laboring in a radioactive environment.

While the SSFL was the site of multiple nuclear accidents, the worst took place in 1959 when a reactor vented nuclear material to avoid an explosion, ultimately releasing 459 times more radiation than the infamous Three Mile Island meltdown 20 years later.

tags: Fire | California
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