Childhood Cancer Awareness, Rocketdyne and the Santa Susana Field Lab
“Piece of pie, right Jess Musz?”
“No, daddy! Piece of cake!”
Those were the last words I said to my dad before they wheeled me in for surgery. Diagnosed at age four with Thyroid Cancer, I would spend the next two years in and out of the hospital, fighting for my life and coming very close to dying on the operating room table.Last night, NBC4 in Los Angeles revealed shocking new evidence of the nuclear meltdown that occurred at Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Lab. A few months ago, I spent the day with Joel Grover and Matthew Glasser of NBC answering questions about my recurring battles with cancer and learning startling new details from them regarding the recklessness of the government in the hills above my home, the meltdown, and the subsequent cover up that has had such an impact on my life.
“Living near ‘the hill’ has caused many Simi Valley residents to live a life filled with chronic illness and the belief that Rocketdyne’s nuclear meltdown caused it.” -Michael Collins, T Zone, Los Angeles MagazineOn a hot July night in 1959, a government sanctioned nuclear reactor had begun to meltdown at Rocketdyne’s 2,668 acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory. The purpose of this laboratory site was to develop nuclear reactors and test rockets for the government. As a result of the meltdown, residents of Simi Valley and Chatsworth were exposed through the groundwater to approximately one million gallons of trichloroethylene (TCE) as well as 10,000 curies of radioactive iodine. John Pace, a former field lab employee, remembers opening the doors to a damaged reactor and allowing radioactive gas out into the night. The radioactive gasses registered off the charts and in order to maintain safe levels within the reactor; the employees were instructed by their bosses to vent the reactor, releasing the poisonous gasses out over the peacefully sleeping suburbs of Simi Valley, Chatsworth, and the surrounding areas. Worse still, many of these employees had families in those communities, and were still sworn to secrecy and forced to comply.
In 1997, I was involved in a class action lawsuit against Boeing North American, Raytheon Company and various other entities who had owned and operated the Santa Susana Field Lab at one time. With over 300 members in the class action and with the powerhouse team of Masry & Vititoe (sound familiar? Same law firm that made the town of Hinkley famous with a lawsuit against PG&E with Erin Brockovich) representing us; we felt confident that a successful outcome for us would follow.
We were so wrong.
On June 29, 1999, our case was barred by the statute of limitations. The court held that, based on the facts as alleged in the complaint along with newspaper articles submitted by the defendants about the Rocketdyne facilities dating back to the early 80’s, our claim should have been brought forward before 1997. Our next step was to appeal to the Supreme Court, which also denied us. I wish that the cancerous cells in my body caused by their actions had that same statute of limitations.In 2003, at the age of 23, while planning my wedding, I had a recurrence of Thyroid Cancer which resulted in another two rounds of I131 ablation (Radioactive Iodine Therapy). This treatment involved injecting me with Radioactive Iodine (the irony is not lost on me) and keeping me in complete isolation from any living person for 5 days. It was not a fun time. Finally, in 2006, I was finally cleared to start a family. My husband and I were overjoyed with the arrival of two perfectly healthy baby girls in 2007 and 2009. After enjoying their first few years, we started talking about having a third. I had always wanted a big family and my husband came from a family of three with both a brother and a sister. With two girls already, I’m pretty sure he was praying for a little boy to help balance out some of the excess estrogen which will one day dominate our house during the teenage years.
But then the bleeding started. After three months of intense bleeding and hormone therapy, my OB/GYN recommended an ablation of my uterus. The procedure was schedule for St. Patrick’s Day 2012. An ablation meant that the dream of having anymore children would be no more. We had exhausted our options and it was the only choice we had. It took me years to get over the fact that I would not have any more children.
The ablation worked for a little over two years. In September of 2014, I almost bled out on a plane coming home from Florida and had to have an emergency hysterectomy. You can read more about this post here. The end result was a diagnosis of Endometrial Stromal Sarcoma. One of the most rare forms of uterine cancer with only a handful of specialists in the world familiar with it and qualified to treat it.
Yes, I’ve battled cancer my entire life.One of the first questions my doctor, Dr. Barbara Lippe, asked my mother when we met at UCLA was, “When was your child exposed to high levels of radiation?”
“In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completed a $40 million soil test of the site and found 423 hot spots — places contaminated with high levels of man-made radiation.” – NBCLA
Do I think there is a link between Rocketdyne’s nuclear meltdown and my health history? You bet I do. And what upsets me even more, is that despite the fact that this meltdown has been proven, and that the facts state that there are in fact radioactive materials present in the area, the government has still not admitted there was any radioactive material released. Worse yet, there has never been any cleanup. Just a cover up.
The affected individuals of Simi Valley and surrounding areas are asking for Boeing and the government to accept fault and clean-up the SSFL site from radioactive contaminants. KB Homes is currently building a new community of single family homes in the Runkle Canyon area of Simi Valley. Soil and water at this site was reported contaminated and deemed unsafe for the development of homes.
In the U.S., 15,780 children under the age of 21 are diagnosed with cancer every year and approximately 1/4 of them will not survive the disease. How can we expect to leave a world behind that is safe for future generations if we don’t take the right steps to ensure their safety today? Dear Mr. Government, you’ve won. The statute of limitations has run out. You are no longer on the hook for the incalculable cost of the lives you’ve ruined. You won’t be responsible for the past, present, or future medical bills of the people poisoned by your waste. The least you can do, is admit the mistakes made by those who held your jobs before you and to help us begin to repair. Help us clean up the mess from this fallout.
My daughters are the most important people in the entire world to me. I will do anything I can to teach them to be leaders, with a voice. To stand for what is right and to lend a helping hand to humankind. The leaders of our government agencies that covered this up should be ashamed of themselves.
The scars that streak my body from countless surgeries could have all been avoided had proper measures been taken to keep the citizens of our city safe. Proper steps taken by our city, state and government officials could have kept this all from happening, or at the very least, helped to limit the fallout and mitigate the damage and destruction to the lives of the surrounding communities.
While watching the NBC4 report last night, tears streamed down my face and rage shook my body. It has not been an easy ride these 32 years since my initial diagnosis. I am blessed with a truly incredible husband, two HEALTHY daughters and a fire inside me for justice.
Please read the NBC report, share this information with your friends, family and officials. The only way to make a difference, is to unite and have our collective voice heard.
Thank you to NBC4 Los Angeles, The Simi Valley Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine and many other news outlets for always covering our story.