Top Contra Costa Physician Blasts Campus Bay Turf War: By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday October 29, 2004

The physician charged with safeguarding the health of Contra Costa County residents issued a stinging rebuke Thursday of the bureaucratic turf battles he believes are compromising the Campus Bay toxic waste cleanup. 

County Health Director Dr. Wendel Brunner said site neighbors have “legitimate anxieties based on their previous experience with inappropriate remediation carried out without appropriate oversight,” referring to previous cleanup efforts at the site conducted two years ago. 

“The citizens of California and Contra Costa County deserve the best efforts and skills of all the California Environmental Protection Agency departments working together, and it doesn’t seem we’re getting that,” Brunner said, the day after he attended a public meeting sponsored by the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). 

The public health expert said he was particularly disturbed by the lack of representatives of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) Wednesday. 

“They were conspicuous by their absence,” he said.  

Brunner had asked the top EPA official in July to hand jurisdiction of the site to the DTSC, but he said Thursday he was less concerned with which branch of the EPA heads the oversight than by the apparent lack of cooperation between the water board and the toxics department. 

“I don’t care who leads, as long as they are working together appropriately to give the expertise we need for this problem,” Brunner said. “If not, it becomes one of my problems.” 

Brunner became actively involved in monitoring conditions at the site in July, when concerned neighbors sought his participation as the result of experiences with a larger cleanup effort at the 40-acre site two years earlier. 

“At that time there had been large numbers of truckloads moved around and mixed with limestone to neutralize the iron pyrite cinders in the soil. The neighbors told me they were concerned by the large amounts of dust blown around then,” he said. 

Brunner said he was hoping to see a cooperative effort by all the California EPA agencies, the project developer and citizens and community groups during the fall excavations at Stege Marsh in preparation for the more troublesome remediation efforts scheduled for the spring. 

“This one is easy. They’re excavating the mud, not mixing it. I was hoping that this stage could be a practice run, so everyone could learn to work together to develop more confidence for the more dusty proceedings coming in the spring,” he said. 

The marshland muck now being excavated is being stored atop previously treated polluted soil from the upland portion of the site and soil from the adjacent and equally polluted UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station. 

“The next stage promises to be even more difficult,” Brunner said, when the dried muck is mixed with limestone to neutralize the pyrite ash, raising the specter of more dust blowing around the neighborhood.  

“I still think there’s a way to go about it.” 

Brunner’s concerns led to calls to Assemblymember Loni Hancock, who is conducting a Nov. 6 legislative hearing on the project. 

The current phase of the cleanup will be followed by another and even more problematic process, Brunner said, when Cherokee Simeon Ventures submits its plans to build 1330 houses on the inland site.