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Crews Rush To Clean Up Former California Nuke Lab

By ALICIA CHANG

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) â¿¿ The sun was barely up at a former Cold War rocket test site when crews in hard hats, neon vests and steel-toe boots collected jars of dirt as part of a massive effort to clean up from a partial nuclear meltdown a half century ago.

Parties that inherited the toxic mess face a 2017 deadline to restore the sprawling hilltop complex on the outskirts of Los Angeles to its condition before chemical and radioactive wastes leached into the soil and groundwater.

For residents living downhill from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, it would seem like a conclusion to a protracted fight. But many remain dissatisfied that a large portion of the land won't be cleaned to the highest standards.

"I don't care how long it takes, I just want it cleaned," said 62-year-old Holly Huff, whose family moved into the area a month before the 1959 nuclear accident.

The road to decontamination has been long and costly, as winding as the two-lane path to the lab entrance 30 miles northwest of downtown LA. Decades in the works, the cleanup has been complicated by the web of owners and responsible parties at the nearly 2,900-acre site.

Environmentalists and homeowners three years ago cheered when the U.S. Energy Department and NASA agreed to clean their parcels to background levels â¿¿ the most stringent standard â¿¿ essentially returning the land to its natural state.

But Boeing Co., which owns the lion's share, opted to follow cleanup rules drawn up in a 2007 pact requiring the site to be scrubbed to a lesser standard.

Despite the lower bar, Boeing said it's complying with cleanup expectations typical of Superfund sites. The defense contractor wants to transform its tainted section into a park and says it's doing more than necessary to meet that goal.

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