In 1996, Boeing acquired the site when it bought Rockwell International Corp., which had merged with North American Aviation decades earlier. By the time the lab closed, it had left a noxious legacy.

Since the 1980s, NASA has spent about $100 million on cleanup and estimated it would cost another $250 million to $300 million to fully restore its section. The Energy Department has spent about $90 million in the past decade. Boeing declined to disclose its costs.

Some residents who have developed leukemia, breast cancer or serious thyroid conditions blame their health problems on their proximity to Santa Susana.

University of California, Santa Cruz lecturer and activist Dan Hirsch said residents want Boeing to clean its portion to the highest standards.

"This is not like trying to get to the moon," he said. "It's shovel work."

Earlier this month, Hirsch and other environmentalists sued the state, claiming that Boeing buildings were demolished and improperly shipped to landfills that were not licensed to take radioactive waste. The state has maintained that none of the torn-down buildings posed a threat.

Even if the bulk of contaminated soil is scooped up and hauled away, the groundwater problem persists. The state estimates it would take many decades to complete that part of the cleanup.

For residents like Huff, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009, the cleanup has dragged so long that she hopes there's no more drama.

"To be honest, sometimes I try not to think about it," she said. "It's just depressing."

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Follow Alicia Chang at: http://twitter.com/SciWriAlicia

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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