The erosion of environmental protections should come as no surprise under the new administration of a president who promised to ax two regulations for every new one, and a Republican-led Congress that has proved to be “pro-business” despite costs to the environment. And with former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has sued the Environmental Protection Agency 13 times, now at the helm of the EPA, it’s a little unnerving to contemplate not only how our environment will fare but how we will all get through this with the least amount of suffering.

As for California and Ventura County, residents have had a fairly sturdy sense of security that our environmental worries will not be overlooked and that we will be safe here. But there are a couple of new developments that have caused some distress about the future:

  1. U.S. Department of Energy in January released four proposals for cleaning up the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site in Simi Valley; they vary from restoring it to its original state before the lab was there to doing nothing. These proposals came as a surprise to environmental advocates and physicians alike, who seemed to be under the impression that a total cleanup had been agreed upon. The worst of which, he U.S. Department of Energy says that option 1, cleaning to background, entails cleaning up 933,000 cubic yards, but on page 29 of the draft environmental impact statement, the DOE admits the total soil contaminated is 1,413,000 cubic yards. Option 1 would then leave about half a million cubic yards of contaminated soil in place, which is not cleaning to background. To see the proposals, go to www.ssflareaiveis.com.
  2. Local environmental advocacy groups and residents have raised their concerns that state regulators did not meet a federal EPA deadline on Feb. 15 to shut down illegal oil industry injection wells that pose a threat to groundwater supplies in aquifers and may be in violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act. In Ventura County, there are three aquifers of concern: one in an agricultural area near Oxnard, another in the Los Padres National Forest near the Sespe Condor Sanctuary and one near Lake Piru. To read the ongoing dialogue between the EPA, California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board, go to tinyurl.com/zysz26e.

Some people may feel that these issues are being blown out of proportion, that the contamination and threat of it aren’t something to be so alarmed about. With regard to Santa Susana Field Laboratory, they might wish to consider that Ventura County ranked 13th highest compared to other California counties for breast cancer rates per 100,000 from 2009 to 2013. Also, in Ventura County, cancer is the No. 1 leading cause of death and, according to the to the Public Health Institute’s 2012 California Breast Cancer Mapping Project, the second most common type of cancer is invasive breast cancer and the rate is 10 percent to 20 percent higher among women in east Ventura County and western Los Angeles County than in other parts of California. Further, case in point, several friends of the paper who also lived in the area have either been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer or died of it or complications of it in the last 10 years.

As it pertains to the oil industry, chemicals in wastewater being injected into wells have contained benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals. And while oil industry experts are quick to defend by claiming compliance with regulations and that California has some of the strictest regulations in the country, we can’t help but be concerned that the EPA and the Trump administration will somehow loosen the enforcement and legitimacy of regulations.

In this time of great uncertainty, we wonder about how much undue suffering there will be in the name of cost-effective remediation measures and amplifying oil exploration and growth. The only recourse we have now is to apply heavy pressure on the public agencies, nonprofit organizations and elected officials to keep us safe, lest the America First plan leave more people on chemo and 6 feet underground.

(This was updated March 1 to include the discrepancy of cleaning to background.)