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Environment & Science

State discounted tests showing contamination at Simi Valley home development

NBC4 investigative reporter Joel Grover at
NBC4 investigative reporter Joel Grover at "The Woodlands," KB Homes' new housing development in Simi Valley, adjacent the Santa Susanna Nuclear Test Lab.
John Rabe

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Would you spend at least $700,000 for a beautiful new home in a canyon in Simi Valley? Sounds reasonable, right? 

Here's the lead of the latest installment of L.A.'s Nuclear Secret, the investigative series by KPCC's media partner, NBC4,:

Families are flocking to get a look at brand new model homes in a beautiful canyon west of Los Angeles. What some buyers might not realize is that the development, called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands, is right next to one of the most contaminated sites in California — the former Santa Susana Field Lab.

The site at Runkle Canyon is being developed by KB Homes, and would eventually feature 450 homes that start around $700,000, surrounded by nature. And, according to several studies, elevated levels of contamination.

One study, done by Foster Wheeler Environmental consultants, took 58 soil samples from different areas in Runkle Canyon. All 58 samples showed elevated levels of radiation, between two and 165 times higher than what the United States EPA says is normal for that area. "You can't just throw out those samples and pick the lowest ones," said former Energy Department advisor Robert Alvarez, who also looked at the data.

In approving development at the site, a state agency — the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) — disregarded those results in favor of other tests that showed no elevated risk.

KB Homes responded to NBC4's report by saying, in part: "Under no circumstances would we have ever built on this land if it posed potential health issues for our homeowners and neighbors." It also said KNBC was irresponsible for doing the story.

Listen to the audio for my conversation with NBC4's Joel Grover at The Woodlands for much more on the story ... including how the DTSC recently botched its job at a housing development in Riverside that turned out to have high levels of PCBs.

Says Grover, "The DTSC has time and again said certain pieces of land in California are safe for people to live on, only to find out later that those pieces of land are very contaminated."