During the Cold War and Race to Space, thousands of civilian employees at Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) participated in projects crucial to our nation's global leadership in science and technology. Some of the projects were relevant to our nuclear defense. Under contract with the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, Department of Energy's predecessor agency) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), North American Aviation (NAA) personnel contributed to what was then considered to be cutting-edge advancements in nuclear and rocketry development. From testing rocket engines destined for the Moon to developing nuclear reactors to propel spacecraft and many other experimental projects, SSFL personnel existed in a hazardous work environment, and in proximity to unprecedented waste disposal. As a result, many NAA personnel were exposed to toxic chemicals and radiation, often without their knowledge or consent. In some cases, such exposures led to health consequences.
In 2000, Congress enacted the Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) to compensate sick workers of the nuclear complex whose jobs resulted in such exposures that led to cancer or other illnesses. Congress relied on DOE to provide accurate details about their predecessor agency's activities at facilities across the nation, which occurred over the course of 50+ years.
Perhaps sensing an opportunity to limit the agency's obligations to EEOICPA or even to downplay their role in required environmental cleanup at sites that remain unresolved, DOE has been less than forthcoming. At many sites across the country, it has become clear that EEOICPA policy was written based on incomplete or erroneous site history provided by DOE, which leaves many deserving workers ineligible for consideration and federal benefits.
At SSFL, DOE swore it and its predecessor agency, the AEC, remained strictly confined within Area IV boundaries. Area IV is a small 290-acre area on the facility's westernmost end. This assertion was enough to leave nearly 2,500 acres (Areas I, II and III) and the workers therein unaccounted for; ineligible to receive EEOICPA benefits and overlooked when it came to providing a radiological survey, which is crucial to an informed and adequate environmental cleanup.
Historical facility documents detail AEC-DOE operations, facilities, waste disposal, and personnel throughout Areas I, II and III. Fifty years of documented site history supports the inclusion of Areas I, II and III to EEOICPA and suggests that a site-wide radiological survey is necessary to rule out contamination as a result of DOE activities in those areas.
SSFL workers deserve a fair shake under EEOICPA. EEOICPA should function as Congress intended. Agencies tasked with its implementation are obligated to follow the law, and required to base decisions on the best science and most current information available. This is also true for environmental cleanup; overseeing regulatory agencies are supposed to acknowledge site history and proceed accordingly on behalf of the public.
It's time to acknowledge the real history of SSFL.
We support sharing information and working with others to correct the historical record, connect personnel with advocates, and ensure that EEOICPA functions as it was intended. Looking for answers to the part you played in our nation's nuclear history? Contact us - We might be able to help, or connect you with someone who can.