By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Based on the results of the critical review, Lafflam said, "Rocketdyne cannot accept the study’s findings as meaningful or conclusive. The overall conclusions are misleading and generally not supported." Lafflam should be concerned about the critical reviews — several civil lawsuits have been filed against the company seeking to recover damages for exposure to the lab operations. As Lafflam previously asserted, "There are special-interest groups that have put out a rash of lies. They’ve gone forward with litigation that’s going to cost a lot of people a lot of money. And there’s no merit to it at all."
UCLA’s research team angrily countered that their science was sound. Outside the Rocketdyne presentation, Morgenstern, the study’s principal investigator, expressed outrage over the company’s attempt to discredit his study. Conferring with his colleagues, he asserted that in its focus on smoking and job categories, Rocketdyne was attempting to blow minor issues completely out of proportion.
In fact, the UCLA team said the biggest flaw in their study derived from Rocketdyne’s refusal to share its internal data. "I remember spending many frustrating months in the first years of our study, where we got together all the time at public meetings to create the ultimate search of everyone we could," said Morgenstern. "We were told, ‘Sorry but that’s it. We’re giving you everything we have.’" John Froines, co–principal investigator and a UCLA professor of toxicology, was even more blunt: "The frustrations we felt in those earlier days [was because] essentially we were told there is no way to do this."
Indeed, Rocketdyne now says it has new information related to chemical exposure at the plant, and is planning to do its own study based on this exclusive material. The plan quickly drew criticism. "It’s rather devious of Rocketdyne to withhold information from the UCLA researchers and then claim the results of the study are flawed because of the data," said Joseph Lyou from the Committee to Bridge the Gap. Rocketdyne’s motivation to control a health study was greeted with skepticism by members of the oversight panel, as noted by City College of New York professor and panel co-chair H. Jack Geiger. "Any study of the chicken coop by the foxes will have some significant barriers to overcome, even if the chickens are cooperating."
Aside from hydrazine, UCLA’s chemical report focused on the impact of asbestos in the workplace, but made no significant findings. Although asbestos exposure is widely believed to be linked to lung cancer, the UCLA researchers did not find excess lung cancers among Rocketdyne workers exposed to the chemical. The finding, however, was complicated by the fact that the team didn’t have adequate data to do a proper analysis.
Federal rules have required since 1972 that firms keep data on worker exposure to asbestos. However, Kim O’Rourke, deputy safety engineer at Rocketdyne, said that the company has records only from the mid-’80s forward on asbestos. When pressed for the location of records from 1972 into the next decade, O’Rourke seemed shaken. "I don’t know," she admitted.
In addition, the UCLA team berated company officials at the chemical-study meeting for withholding information critical to the study. For six years, the researchers have pressed the owners of Rocketdyne — first Rockwell, then Boeing — to churn out the true stats regarding its workers, but to no avail.
The critical report on Rocketdyne comes at a time when state officials are also coming under fire for their handling of inquiries into health risks stemming from the Santa Susana lab.
Last week it was revealed that the state Department of Health Services had suppressed since October 1997 findings showing that the 19 census tracts nearest the field laboratory had a spike of lung cancers 17 percent higher than expected. The document came to light when representatives of the Committee to Bridge the Gap reviewed Rocketdyne records at the Oakland offices of the DHS, which has been characterized by oversight panel co-chairman Hirsch as a "captured agency." During the review, Lyou, the environmental organization’s director, found a summary of the field cancer study — a study that was never made available to the UCLA team or other officials involved in the Rocketdyne case.
Community health concerns, in the aftermath of the UCLA chemical study, were not assuaged by documents Lyou found last week through a Public Records Act request submitted in January. In addition to the survey, Lyou said he located Internal DHS notes from November 1997 that show a cozy relationship between the department and the company.
"DHS should be ashamed of [its] behavior," said Lyou. "Rather than working to accommodate Rocketdyne, DHS should step aside and allow a truly independent oversight panel to look into whether this company has caused cancers in the community."
In 1990, DHS also failed to disclose a San Fernando Valley cancer survey that revealed elevated bladder cancers among those living closest to SSFL.
Discovery of the department’s latest obfuscation incensed Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl. "I am stunned and very angry that DHS would choose to sit on information like this after what happened in 1991. Whether or not these cancer cases are connected to the Santa Susana site, this survey should have been immediately given to the oversight panel [and] the UCLA researchers, and disclosed to the public."