Melissa Bumstead spent Thanksgiving at Children’s Hospital LA with her 7-year-old daughter, Grace, hoping it’s not her last.
Grace is waiting for a bone marrow transplant in an attempt to beat the Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia she was diagnosed with when she was 4 years old. As of Tuesday she’d been in the hospital for 26 days, on a steady drip of morphine to ease the pain.
She’s one of over 50 children battling cancer who live within 20 miles of the Santa Susana Field Lab, which some researchers say was the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history (but, absolutely in the United States). Bigger than Three Mile Island (with iodine-131 releases 80 to 100 times larger). Right up there with Fukishima and Chernobyl.
Though federal and state regulators at one point ordered cleanup to be completed by 2017, it hasn’t even begun. And where is Gov. Jerry Brown while families around the most populous city in the state deal with continuing cancer diagnoses? He’s off talking about global warming in China and creating carbon tax schemes.
The Santa Susana Field Lab, founded in 1947, is located in the mountains above the San Fernando and Simi Valleys, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles and adjacent to Calabasas and Malibu. Over the decades it was in operation, it was home to the first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States, was used for nuclear testing, and was where the space shuttle’s engines were tested. Various entities ran parts of the facility, including Atomics International, North American Aviation, Rocketdyne, Boeing, the US Air Force, and NASA.
On July 13, 1959, a nuclear reactor operated by Atomics International partially melted down, and employees were ordered to release the radioactive gases into the air to prevent an explosion. Over the next two weeks “radiation was released into the atmosphere and deposited wherever the wind blew it,” and local residents knew nothing about the poison they were breathing. Workers, who wore no safety equipment while releasing this radiation, asked if they could tell their families what happened, but were told not to in the interests of national security.
The contamination to the air, ground, and water wasn’t limited to that partial meltdown. Atomics International employees performed open burns of radioactive and toxic chemicals on site, and there was at least one “accidental” release of radioactively contaminated water onto the soil.
Studies show that residents of the area have a 20% higher invasive breast cancer rate and that people within two miles of the site have a 60% higher rate of cancer. Yet, the California Department of Toxic Substance Control recently released a draft Environmental Impact Report on the cleanup proposing guidelines 30 percent less protective than normal residential cleanup levels, according to Parents Against the Santa Susana Field Lab. The public comment period on the EIR is still open, until December 7.
Bumstead, who has been active in grassroots efforts to force a complete cleanup of the SSFL, wrote about meeting another mother from the area at CHLA whose child had brain cancer:
And instead of hurting…I felt nothing. And it makes me realize- I just can’t do this right now. I don’t have anything left to fight. I can’t be up late at night grieving that other kids are still getting cancer here, and that nothing I’ve done has been enough to stop it. I just can’t because I need to be there for my own daughter and my own family.
We have eight days before Boeing gets to walk away and leave our children to suffer. So I’m asking for help. If you have any fight in you, please help. Because I can’t. Any way you know how. Please.
Bumstead has posted a petition on Change.org and is attempting to get a million parents to sign.
On a personal note, the homes I lived in growing up were between 1.5 and 3 miles from the field lab. I remember our house shaking many times and my brother and I playing the game, “Earthquake or space shuttle?” since the engines for the space shuttle were tested “up on the hill.” My childhood best friend had to have her thyroid removed when we were 25. Her dad died of brain cancer at far too young an age, just four days after it was diagnosed. At least three other high school friends have varying issues of disability due to tumors or thyroid issues. It’s time that what happened at the Santa Susana Field Lab is brought to light, that those who bear responsibility pay, and that it’s cleaned up.
If the suffering of these children has moved you at all, please sign the petition. Thank you.
*The original has been edited to add source links and clarification.