Payout Ends 8-Year Field Lab Battle
By Gregory W. Griggs, Times Staff Writer
January 12, 2006
Boeing Co. has agreed to pay $30 million to settle a lawsuit brought by neighbors of its Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Ventura County, ending an eight-year legal battle over the effect on public health from radioactive and chemical contamination at the lab.
Terms of the settlement were reached in September but were not immediately disclosed. They included a confidentiality agreement between Boeing and the remaining 133 plaintiffs in the case.
“All I can say is we are satisfied and our clients are satisfied,” said Barry Cappello, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Boeing spokesman Inger Hodgson declined to comment.
Initially about 300 individual lawsuits were filed against Boeing and the lab’s former owner, Rockwell International Corp.
The plaintiffs argued that pollutants from dozens of years of nuclear and rocket engine testing at the hilltop lab were responsible for a wide range of cancers, auto-immune disorders and tumors afflicting nearby residents.
A major contention in the lawsuits was that a partial nuclear meltdown at the lab in 1959 released more radiation than originally estimated. The accident was not widely publicized until 20 years later.
The company maintained for years that the meltdown posed no danger to its workers or the public.
But disclosure in 1989 of lingering low-level contamination from past nuclear projects sparked a furor and led Rockwell’s Rocketdyne division to halt nuclear research there the next year. Cleanup operations continue.
Scientists hired by the plaintiffs reviewed more than 8 million pages of company documents and concluded that the damaged reactor released up to 260 times more radiation than was released from a similar accident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island in 1979, according to court documents.
Experts also found links between chemicals used in rocket tests and nuclear research and numerous illnesses of people living in Simi Valley and the neighboring western San Fernando Valley, according to the documents.
Individual payouts were based on a formula that considered specific illnesses, a person’s age, economic loss and other factors, according to one plaintiff. For example, a plaintiff diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in his mid-30s, will receive $650,0000, while $5,000 will go to the grandson of someone who died of a brain tumor.