The Woolsey fire, raging through Los Angeles and Ventura Counties of the US state of California, since November 8, has burned down acres of land and homes and even melted vehicles in the region. One of the largest fires in LA county's history, it has now reportedly also burned down a large part of the former Santa Susana Field Lab, raising concerns over the spread of toxic and radioactive substances.
The area, now owned by Boeing, was once home to a nuclear reactor and several rocket tests were also conducted there, due to which activists believe that the site still has a lot of radioactive waste and other toxic elements, reported Quartz.
Thousands of people live near the 2,800 acres of land in the Simi Hills and it is now believed that the fire could have released these toxic substance into the air, which may impact the residents of the region.
"We know what substances are on the site and how hazardous they are. We're talking about incredibly dangerous radionuclides and toxic chemicals such a trichloroethylene, perchlorate, dioxins and heavy metals," Robert Dodge, a physician and the president of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, said in a statement. "These toxic materials are in SSFL's soil and vegetation, and when it burns and becomes airborne in smoke and ash, there is real possibility of heightened exposure for area residents."
Those living in the area also fear that the impact of the radioactive substances could gradually surface and have alleged that the California Department of Toxic Substances Control is not taking the issue seriously and even covering up the potential danger.
However, the agency has insisted that the land has been investigated thoroughly and that there is no such danger.
"Our scientists and toxicologists have reviewed information about the fire's location and do not believe the fire has caused any releases of hazardous materials that would pose a risk to people exposed to the smoke," the department said in a statement.
A small part of the site is also owned by NASA, which too has said that the area poses no risks to those living nearby. In a press release, it stated that even though the site witnessed "significant fire damage," it presented no dangers except the ones that are usually associated with wildfires.
Santa Susana Meltdown
This is not the first time that the Santa Susana Field Lab has hit headlines over concerns of it being riddled with toxic substances. In July 1959, one of the 10 nuclear reactors on the site is known to have suffered a partial meltdown.
Workers had reportedly tried to repair it, but opened the reactor's door when they weren't able to carry out the repairs. This, in turn, had released a large amount of radiation into the air, which is then said to have spread to nearby areas such as the Simi Valley, Chatsworth and Canoga Park.
Quelling fears, the Atomic Energy Commission then stated that there was a minor "fuel element failure" and that there had been "no release of radioactive materials" into the environment.
Just this year, a 7-year-old girl living in the Simi Valley died of neuroblastoma, after which residents of the area urged officials to clean up the site.
The Woolsey fire in California has charred about 130,000 acres of land and is 35 percent contained. About 9,000 firefighters have been pressed into action and the death toll had been pegged at about 50.