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LBNL Plans For Cleanup Challenged At Hearing By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday May 31, 2005

Praised by citizen activists in Richmond, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) got a less than friendly reception Thursday night in Berkeley. 

While activists in Richmond fought a hard battle to get the DTSC to take charge of cleanup e fforts at Campus Bay and UC Berkeley’s Bayside Research Campus, also known as the Field Station, their Berkeley counterparts are unhappy with the agency’s handling of cleanup efforts at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). 

The gathering at t he North Berkeley Senior Center was held to answer questions and take public testimony on the latest round of LBNL cleanup efforts, which center on four areas of soil contamination and 11 areas of groundwater pollution. 

Chaired by DTSC Public Participation Specialist Nathan Schumacher, the initial part of the meeting focused on specific cleanup plans and featured a panel that included representatives from the agency, the lab, the San Francisco Water Quality Control Board and Nabil Al-Hadithy, Berkeley’s hazardous materials supervisor. 

Al-Hadithy presented a letter from City Manager Phil Kamlarz, written after the City Council voted Tuesday to urge that cleanup efforts target the highest possible remediation standards. 

Site investigations by the DTSC be gan in 1991, followed by a 1993 permit that requires LBNL to investigate and clean up all historical releases of pollutants on the site. The full site investigation was completed in November 1993, and a formal risk assessment was issue two years later. Th ursday’s hearing focused on the proposed remedies approved by the DTSC. 

Most of the contaminants are industrial solvents and chlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. 

But many of those who came to offer questions and testimony were worried about radioactive conta mination, specifically the presence in groundwater of tritium, a manmade isotope of hydrogen first isolated by UCB’s Nobel-winning physicist Luis Alvarez. 

Unfortunately, cleanup of radioactive waste isn’t the province of DTSC but of the U.S. Department o f Energy, which has ultimate jurisdiction over the lab. 

“I believe your assessment of risk is inaccurate if all the radioactive exposure is left out,” declared Pamela Shivola of the Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste. 

Dr. Mohinder Sandhu, chief of DTSC’s Standardized Permits & Corrective Action Branch, acknowledged, “We don’t know what is happening with tritium” contamination. 

The element has a half-life of 10 years, meaning that after a decade only half the radiation remains in a given sample, and half of that remains after another decade, and so on. 

“The source of the tritium has been eliminated,” said Iraj Javandel, LBNL’s site restoration program manager. “The facility closed four or five years ago, and contamination is reduced to five percent of w hat it was. We have about 55 (monitoring) wells in the area, and only one has tritium at levels above the state drinking water standard, and that’s now on the boundary.” 

LA Wood, a member of Berkeley’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission, and fel low Commissioner Leuren Moret charged that radioactive monitoring wasn’t sufficient. 

Several speakers also charged that wells for monitoring for chemical and radioactive pollution should be extended throughout the site, and not just in relations to known releases. 

Cleanup plans call for a variety of remediation efforts based on the nature of contamination and the characteristics of individual sites. Methods include hauling contamination to toxic waste containment sites, purification of soil solvents in water by chemical oxidation, soil flushing, degradation by native or introduced bacteria, evaporation, pumping and treating of groundwater, monitored natural attenuation. 

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington asked why DTSC couldn’t create a Community Adv isory Group (CAG) for the LBNL cleanup. 

A similar panel composed of citizens and business and community leaders was formed after DTSC took control of Campus Bay from the water board in Richmond. 

Worthington suggested a similar panel at Tuesday’s council meeting, only to be voted down by the majority. Others echoed his call Thursday, a move strenuously opposed by DTSC and the university. 

Members of the public have until June 8 to offer comments to the DTSC. 

For more information on the cleanup, see the DTSC’s website at