How one woman’s fight is helping workers decades after Santa Susana radiation exposure via Workers’ Rights

As a secretary who worked for rocket engine maker Rocketdyne in the 1960s and 1970s, Bonnie Klea knew part of her job was to keep the federal government’s space exploration developments a secret.

But years later, when the pain in her bladder became too much, when a doctor told her the cancer she suffered from was likely due to an occupational hazard, Klea learned the government also kept secrets from her and hundreds of employees who clocked into work each day at the facility high atop the hills near the San Fernando Valley.

The battle to save her own life turned into a fight for justice for those who worked in Area IV, a portion of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory where top scientists tested rocket engines and nuclear power for decades.


She delivered the petition to the federal government in 2007, which led to a victory: In 2009 the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH granted a special designation for those assigned to the field lab’s 280-acre Area IV. The designation applied to workers who were exposed to radiation for at least 250 days, between Jan. 1, 1955, and Dec, 31, 1958. Later, the time expanded to 1965.

Last month, on its own, NIOSH agreed to widen the designation for those who worked in Area IV up until 1988.


The work left contamination in some parts of the area in soil and groundwater, specifically perchlorate and dioxin, the report said. A draft of a plan of options to clean up Area IV was recently released by the DOE and awaits public comment.

Almost 1,500 claims were filed by cancer-stricken employees of Area IV or their families to the federal Department of Labor. So far, more than $58 million has been paid out. Klea estimates the claims are higher — more than 3,800 — since NIOSH also included workers who clocked in at the Rocketdyne headquarters in Canoga Park, a second facility in the West Valley and in Downey.

Those who qualify under the new designation may be receiving letters advising them of what to do to make those claims.

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