LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — For the last two years, Melissa Bumstead of West Hills has been documenting the locations of children diagnosed with rare cancers.
She’s found many of the cases cluster around the old Santa Susana field laboratory in Simi Valley.
“Every time I add a child to that map, it’s like having my daughter diagnosed again,” she said.
Bumstead’s daughter, Grace, was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of leukemia in 2014. The West Hills mother of two has since then been focusing her energies on documenting cases of other rare cancers near the Santa Susana field laboratory, which was the site of a 1959 partial nuclear meltdown.
The site has yet to be fully cleaned up.
“I am deeply troubled by the DOE breaking its promise to clean up the site,” said Daniel Hirsch, director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at UC Santa Cruz.
Hirsch says not doing a full clean-up violates an agreement the DOE signed with the federal government in 2010.
“There have been federally funded studies that indicate the rate of cancer is more than 60 percent higher closer to the site than further away,” Hirsch said.
“I’ve had to come out of my denial that, to a small degree, I made a decision to live here and maybe my daughter’s cancer is a result of that,” she said.
Councilman Mitchell Englander grew up in West Hills and lost his mother to cancer.
“We lived in the footprint of the field labs,” Englander said.
Englander Wednesday was among the city council members that voted to approve a resolution asking the U.S. Department of Energy to do a full cleanup of the site. Currently, the department is weighing alternatives that could leave a preponderance of the pollutants on the site.
“I know people are living in fear, but living in illness, and this needs to be cleaned up to restore it to what it once was,” Englander said.
A DOE spokesperson says an extensive EPA study found the contaminants do not migrate off the site. But Simi Valley resident Maggie Compton isn’t convinced. Her son Ryan was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia after they moved to Simi Valley, just down the hill from the lab. Compton says she didn’t know about the meltdown until after they moved in.
“I think about it every day,” she said. “I try to eliminate the toxins as much as I can, but the fact is we live in Simi. We bought our house.”
Jennifer Harris used to live in Oak Park and moved to Thousand Oaks to get farther away. She has three kids.
“If you could see it, if you could see the toxins, it would be a huge issue,” Harris said. “But because you can’t see it, it goes untalked about.”
A group of families who live near the site held a meeting and vigil Wednesday night in an attempt to bring attention to the issue.
“We feel very strongly that there may be a pediatric cancer cluster surrounding the site that may be linked to the toxins,” Bumstead said.
“The Department of Energy hasn’t even bothered to put tarps down to cover the contamination. We get Santa Ana winds that come through so strong.”
Bumstead is thankful Grace has been cancer-free for a year, but she says the concerns aren’t over.
“I cannot live knowing there’s more children being exposed and I can’t stand by and watch more children get diagnosed.”
The DOE is taking public comment on the proposed cleanup plans through April 13.