The cost to clean up the remaining contamination at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory resulting from the disposal of rocket-related chemicals in the 1940s and 1950s stands at $56.1 million, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The agency found that the “environmental liabilities” at JPL had decreased by about $24 million, or 30%, between 2014 and 2019 as steady progress continued.
Over the same timeframe, NASA’s overall environmental cleanup costs, related to contamination at 14 sites across the country, grew by 61 percent to $1.9 billion, according to the GAO. A large portion of the increase has been the result of higher-than-anticipated costs for cleanup at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory near Simi Valley.
JPL, according to the report, was described by NASA officials as “the agency’s highest-priority center because contaminated groundwater migrated off-site to local drinking water sources.”
Groundwater cleanup has been ongoing at JPL for both the city of Pasadena and the Lincoln Avenue Water District.
“In addition, Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been funding facilities to treat drinking water for these two water districts since the early 1990s,” the report stated. “According to NASA officials, Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a mature restoration program, and cleanup requirements have not changed in recent years, which has allowed for the center’s continued progress toward reducing its unfunded environmental liabilities.”
The contamination includes chemicals such as perchlorate, trichloroethylene and carbon tetrachloride, officials said.
“[JPL] workers disposed of various chemicals — such as solvents, solid and liquid rocket propellants, cooling tower chemicals, and analytical laboratory chemicals — in unlined pits, a common practice during the 1940s and 1950s, according to NASA documentation,” the GAO report said.
The GAO’s Environmental Liabilities report can be found online at gao.gov/assets/720/711829.pdf.