Judge sides with Boeing in rocket site cleanup

AP News
Posted: Apr 27, 2011 7:37 PM
Judge sides with Boeing in rocket site cleanup

A federal judge has ruled that a state law that laid out stringent cleanup standards at a contaminated rocket engine test site outside of Los Angeles was unconstitutional.

The ruling this week was a victory for the site's current owner Boeing Co., which claimed that it was being unfairly singled out and that the cleanup rules were unreasonable.

The state law, passed in 2007, required that the 2,850-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory be cleaned up to standards above Superfund requirements. Santa Susana was the site of rocket engine tests for decades and housed up to 10 nuclear reactors, including one that had a partial meltdown in 1959.

Contamination at the lab has been a source of long-running controversy as the metropolitan Los Angeles region expanded and pressed closer to the site.

The state law treated Boeing and the Santa Susana site "far less favorably than it treats other contaminated sites and potentially responsible parties," U.S. District Judge John Walter wrote in a ruling released Tuesday.

The state Environmental Protection Agency vowed to appeal. Environmental Protection Secretary Linda Adams said Wednesday the agency will work to "compel Boeing to clean up the site to the highest environmental standards for the benefit of the entire community."

The Energy Department carried out nuclear research at the site 25 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles from the 1950s through 1998. In 1959, one reactor's coolant channels became blocked, causing fuel rods to overheat and partially melt. There was also an open-air pit where workers burned radioactive and chemical waste.

In a statement, Boeing said it was pleased that the court agreed that "the cleanup of Santa Susana should not be treated differently from the cleanup of other sites in California." The aerospace company said it intends to follow cleanup standards for residential neighborhoods.

The deadline for ridding the site of chemical and radioactive pollution is 2017.