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Meet the people exposing the truth about the Santa Susana Field Laboratory

"In the Dark of the Valley" premieres Sunday, November 14th at 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC.
Image: Melissa Bumstead and the other essential forces behind the effort to clean up the area impacted by the 1959 disaster at the Santa Susana Field Lab.
Melissa Bumstead and other essential forces behind the effort to clean up the area impacted by the 1959 Santa Susana Field Lab disaster.MSNBC

The effort to cover-up the contamination caused by the 1959 nuclear disaster at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory has finally met its match: Melissa Bumstead.

The affected community has demanded a full cleanup of the area for decades, but the site's corporate and government landowners and their persuasive lobbyists have successfully stalled any hope of a cleanup — until recently.

Led by Melissa Bumstead, whose daughter was twice diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, the movement towards protecting the community has found new life. Melissa's leadership has created a wave of resistance against corporate and government interests.

Learn more about Melissa and the other essential forces and sources behind the movement:

Melissa Bumstead

“I’m not going to stop, so we’ll just have to see who has more endurance, me or them.”

Melissa has become the face of a movement. This once shy and timid mother-of-two has created a wave of resistance against corporate and government interests. But the weight of this responsibility continues to weigh on Melissa as her community views her as their fearless leader and best hope for change.

Lauren Hammersley

“The Santa Susana Field Lab is consistently in the back of my mind. In the back of my mind when I give my kids water, or give them a bath. In the back of my mind when I see a new kid diagnosed, in the back of my mind when I see another kid has passed away.”

Lauren and Melissa met at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, while both of their children, Hazel Hammersley and Grace Bumstead, became close friends while battling rare cancers. Together, Lauren and Melissa began a community movement for a cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Lab.

John Pace

“My name is John Pace and I was there at the time of the worst nuclear accident in the history of the United States.”

On July 13th, 1959, John Pace arrived to the Santa Susana Field Lab for his graveyard shift to quickly discover that the sodium reactor on site had suffered a partial meltdown. While he and his fellow employees scrambled to secure the incident, they were advised not to tell anyone what happened.

Denise Duffield

“The community needs to hear the truth and we’re the only ones that can do it.”

The associate director for Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, community advocate, and mentor to Melissa, Denise is an influential force in the fight for the SSFL cleanup. Despite her tough demeanor, each new diagnosis of illness or loss of life within the community cracks her armor.