An aging research center formerly used by NASA is polluting the Los Angeles River and the farms that draw water from it — and the government is fully aware, but doing nothing about it.
As The Guardian reports, the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) claims that the Santa Susana field laboratory located just 30 miles north of downtown LA is knowingly leaching polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), two toxic compounds that are nicknamed "forever chemicals," into the local waterway.
Now owned by Boeing and the federal government after its closure as a NASA lab in 2006, Santa Susana has been open since the 1940s and, like many facilities of its era, probably used these toxic chemicals in its everyday activities. PCBs were often used in coolant solutions and were outlawed in 1979, while PFAS, which are often used as a stain-resistant surface treatment, have only just begun being made illegal in some states.
NASA alerted the state's toxic substance agency to the presence of PFAS back in 2021, and while the department flagged the issue "for further investigation," no investigation occurred, PEER Pacific director Jeff Ruch told The Guardian.
To make matters even worse, members of California's Regional Water Quality Control Board have apparently suspected for years that the Santa Susana center is responsible for the PCBs and PFAS detected in LA River samples, per insider interviews conducted by PEER.
In a press release, the nonprofit said that the board had even undertaken an analysis that pointed to Santa Susana as the source of the pollution back in December 2022, and only announced this past month those findings.
The concept of toxic compounds that never going away leaching into a river and aquifer is bad enough, but as PEER and countless others have noted, the greatest issue with these forever chemicals is that they not only fail to break down in the environment, but also fail to break down within our bodies when ingested. In humans, PFAS specifically have been linked to major health problems ranging from cancer and liver failure to increased infant mortality and decreased vaccine efficacy in children.
In the case of PCB and PFAS-contaminated waters, which is a widespread issue that stems far beyond the LA River, it's not so simple as not eating lead paint chips or insulation foam, either — people who eat the food grown with the help of the water from the LA River aquifer may be ingesting those chemicals, too, without even knowing it.
That the Santa Susana center is still leaking these chemicals into the LA River is bad enough, but as PEER points out, Boeing and the federal government have been allowed by regulators to keep polluting the river and aquifer and are, as of now, not planning to clean up the facility anytime soon.
"California’s pollution control agencies are not just asleep at the switch," Ruch told The Guardian, "but appear to be in a coma."
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