As negotiations continue between two state agencies over the cleanup and supervision of Richmond’s heavily polluted Campus Bay, new questions have arisen about an adjoining UC Berkeley-owned site.
The Daily Planet has learned UC Berkeley officials rejected a 1995 proposal from the state’s strictest toxics regulator to join in a voluntary cleanup of the Richmond Field Station, then turned for a deal to the weaker regulator—the same one now in the process of surrendering its lead role at Campus Bay.
In doing so, UC officials rejected the oversight of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), an agency staffed with scientific experts and an agenda that includes heavy public involvement in cleanup formulation plans, and signed on with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), an agency that offers little chance for public participation and minimal expertise.
Meanwhile, the planned transfer of the adjacent Campus Bay property from the water board to the stronger and stricter DTSC is taking longer than expected while lawyers from both agencies negotiate a handover agreement.
While UC’s Richmond Field Station and Campus Bay are separately owned, both sites were part of the former Stouffer Metals complex, and the Richmond Field Station also housed a blasting cap factory, which produced mercury contamination.
According to DTSC records, Hazardous Substances Scientist Remedios V. Sunga sent a letter to Kevin J. Hufferd, senior planner for UC Berkeley’s Physical and Environmental Planning office, on Oct. 20, 1995, inviting the school to sign on with the agency’s Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP).
“[B]ased on my evaluation of the DTSC files, removal actions should be conducted to eliminate possible exposure pathways at this site for the protection of public health and the environment,” Sunga wrote. “DTSC provides guidance and oversight of the site investigations and cleanup activities through our (VCP) which is a cooperative effort between DTSC and interested parties.”
Three days later, DTSC testing disclosed high levels of mercury, arsenic and lead in Field Station soil samples and very high levels of arsenic in sediments from the portion of Stege Marsh adjoining the site.
The university did not respond to the cleanup offer, said Angela Blanchette, DTSC spokesperson.
Hufferd said he forward the letter to UC Environmental Health and Safety specialist Karl Hans, who was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Under current California law, anyone who owns a polluted site chooses the regulator which will set remediation standards and oversee the site cleanup.
Developers can opt either for the water board, which has minimal scientific staffing—not even a toxicologist for the last two years—and little opportunity to public input, or the much stricter DTSC, which has several toxicologists on staff as well as a broad array of other scientific expertise and mandatory requirements to involve the public in all stages of cleanup operations, from planning on through completion.
In subsequent water board-supervised cleanup operations, contaminated soil from the field station was trucked next door to Campus Bay, a privately owned site then earmarked for the building of a biotech research park.
At least 350,000 cubic yards of polluted soil and industrial waste, most iron pyrite cinders, was buried beneath a crushed paper and concrete cap at Campus Bay.
Two biotech buildings were erected at the site, but after the biotech market tanked in the post-9/11 recession, the developer announced new plans calling for the construction of a 1,330-unit housing project.
The Campus Bay site had been under the regulatory control of the water board until a Nov. 6 legislative hearing exposed serious flaws in the system.
Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-East Bay) and Select Committee on Environmental Justice Chair Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando Valley) heard testimony that the RWQCB had no toxicologist on its staff and was not required to take public input in creating toxic waste cleanup plans.
Initially, California Environmental Protection Agency officials said they anticipated the handover of the upland portion of the Campus Bay site would occur by the end of last week, but legal negotiations were still underway this week.
Meanwhile, the water board allowed excavation of the marsh to resume Wednesday, after they had been halted Nov. 8, the day EPA External Affairs Rick Brausch met with officials of both agencies to force an agreement on the handover.
“I’m in shock,” said Sherry Padgett, a leading member of Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development, the citizen’s group which led the public and legal fight for a change in administration at the site.
The cleanup, conducted by LFR Levine Fricke, an Emeryville firm once headed by James D. Levine, the would-be developer further north in Richmond at Point Molate, includes monitoring for eight metals and two volatile organic compounds.
Marsh samples tested in 1997-98 revealed the presence of 125 separate potentially hazardous compounds, including 19 metals and 40 or more volatile organic compounds, Padgett said.
In addition, the records of hazardous wastes underneath the cap include only those from the Campus Bay site, and not those from UC material later buried at the same location, she said.
“It’s a new nightmare under that cap, and at no point have they tested for everything that’s there,” she said.
To make a temporary home for the 25,000 yards of marsh muck now being excavated, the cleanup firm uncapped a portion of the buried waste and built a barrier out of the waste to contain the new muck.
“We have no idea what’s coming our way,” Padgett said. “The exposure standards for each toxin are based on exposure to that substance alone, and not in combination with other materials. There’s no information that tells us about the possible effects of combined exposures.”
Health risks are more than an abstract concern to Padgett who has worked long hours at the offices of Kray Cabling just to the south of Campus Bay. She has developed two rare forms of cancer and undergone multiple surgeries. Her physicians have told her she had no genetic predispositions to the ailments and said they were probably caused by environmental exposures.
She’s also worried that under present testing standards, dust samples are only tested for the windiest day of each week. “That’s based on the assumption that all the dust is the same. It doesn’t account for pockets of concentration, which were clearly evident from the earlier tests,” she said.
The results aren’t available until two-and-half weeks after the samples were collected.
DTSC officials are meeting with Padgett and other concerned citizens at 10 a.m. Friday (Nov. 19) in the Kray Cabling offices at 1344 S. 49th St., which can be reached by turning west at the Interstate 580 Bayview Avenue exit, then turning west at the first stop sign (Seaport Avenue) followed by a right turn at 49th Street.
The meeting is open to the public.
Hancock and Montanez are working on new legislation, which they plan to introduce in January, which would clarify the role of the regional water boards and DTSC in toxic cleanup operations, said Michael Mendez, a consultant to the Select Committee on Environmental Justice.
“We’re researching for the legislature and we will be working with stakeholders” in formulating proposed laws, he said.?