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Skate park halted due to contamination

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet Staff
Saturday November 25, 2000

Work has halted on the skateboard park near Fifth and Harrison streets following a Friday morning emergency meeting among city officials and skate park enthusiasts. 

Last week, the carcinogen chromium 6 was found in ground water seeping up into the deepest bowls carved out in the skate park’s construction phase. The City Council authorized $100,000 to pump the water out of the skate bowls and into tanks and to hire an independent toxicologist. 

But Friday, city officials decided to change course somewhat and discontinue pumping out the contaminated water. 

Chromium 6 or hexavalent chrome is an odorless chemical whose uses include hardening steel and making paint pigments. The known carcinogen is dangerous when ingested, city officials said, noting, however, that it does not enter the drinking water supply.  

The source of the skatepark contamination is thought to be a years-old “plume” – ground water with the contaminant – originating at Western Roto Engravers Color Tech at 1225 Sixth Street.  

Lisa Caronna, director of the Parks and Waterfront Department and Nabil Al Hadithy, division head for toxics, met on the skateboard site Friday morning with skatepark enthusiasts to contemplate next steps. 

Filling tanks with contaminated water and hauling them away at $14,000 each is not practical, they decided Friday, so the department is trying another tack.  

“We will turn off the pumps so the ground water can rise in the (two deepest) bowls,” Al Hadithy said. These bowls will be filled with gravel. 

The gravel allows the bowls to maintain their shape and at the same time acts as a deterrent for animals and children who might be attracted to the hole. 

If a child’s ball goes over the fence into the gravel pit, for example, it will disappear behind the gravel, so that a child will not attempt to go after it, Al Hadithy said, noting also that there will be a security guard posted at the site at all times. 

The three shallower bowls will be filled with concrete, so that they maintain their shape, while the city is deciding the skatepark’s future, Al Hadithy continued.  

After filling the bowls with concrete and allowing the water to rise in them, the chrome 6 must be filtered out of the water. The city has hired two different firms to explore ways of doing that. 

The 6.4 acre site at Fifth and Harrison streets, that includes a soccer field, was purchased from UC Berkeley last year for $2.8 million. The city tested the groundwater but did not find contaminants at that time.  

“The preliminary testing did not go to the lower threshold,” Caronna said Friday. 

Asked why the city could not build the skateboard higher, above the groundwater level, Al Hadithy said the plan was to make the park completely visible to Berkeley Police Department officials who can ride by and see what is happening there at a glance. Were the park built higher, the skaters would be less visible, he said. 

At this point, it is not known who will foot the bill for cleaning up the property – the city, the company thought responsible for the contamination, or the university which sold the property to the city. The question could end up in the courts. 

What the skateboarders want to know is when their park will be ready for them. 

The toxicologist should be putting out a comprehensive statement next week after which city officials may have a better idea of what the future holds. 

“The goal is to complete a skatepark,” Caronna said, adding that the city will take a conservative and safe approach. 

Asked if she believes the park will be built, Caronna answered, “I do – in some form.”