Health Officials Urge Changes at Field Station, Campus Bay By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday June 24, 2005

Anxious workers at the Richmond Field Station (RFS) gathered in a conference room at the UC Berkeley facility Thursday to hear reports from state and local officials on potential health risks posed by hazardous pollutants at RFS and the Campus Bay site next door. 

Contra Costa Public Health Director Dr. Wendel Brunner and Dr. Richard Kruetzer, chief of the Environmental Health Investigations branch of the state Department of Health Services, said that while current conditions were well within acceptable occupational exposure standards, they would press for more sensitive exposure monitoring equipment at both locations. 

Brunner said the two agencies joined forces to look at the sites at the request of community members and people who work at RFS and in the businesses immediately south of Campus Bay. 

“Probably the most important potential health risk arises because the site has not been completely evaluated,” said Brunner. “The university really needs to develop a health and safety plan that can be [posted] in areas that have not been completely assessed and remediated.” 

Of particular concern was potential exposures to workers involved in digging in still-contaminated areas, he said. 

Monitoring equipment now in use is sensitive to acceptable exposure levels for workers who spend approximately 40 hours weekly at the site, but not to the lower levels that could represent potential threats to infants and others who receive longer exposures because they live near the site, he said. 

Specifically, the two agencies called for lower-than-occupational-level detection of airborne arsenic and mercury, public availability of all known information sampling data, a letter from the university to all employees promising not to retaliate against employees who raise questions about site safety and implementing the precautionary principle for all untested and unremediated areas of the sites. 

Other actions urged include: 

• Notification of local works and residents before the start of any remediation actions. 

• Fencing with warning signs of unremediated areas of East Stege Marsh and the adjoining lagoon. 

• Formulation of a health and safety plan for use during all future marsh restoration efforts in remediated areas, taking into account the possibility of chemicals migrating in from unremediated areas. 

• Training in hazardous materials handling and exposures for UC workers whose jobs may include digging and otherwise handling soils at the site. 

The officials also called for monitoring of supposedly “clean” East Bay mud imported to replace the contaminated muck excavated from Stege Marsh at both sites. 

“There’s a lot of contaminated mud around the Bay, and we don’t want contaminated mud to replace contaminated mud,” said Brunner. 

Nonetheless, said the physicians, children working to replant remediated areas of the marsh don’t face any risks of exposure to known toxins—a concern recently raised by members of Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development. 

While Brunner said the agencies were directing their primary efforts at current and future conditions at the site, many of the employees, including retirees present during the session, said they were more concerned with exposures incurred in the past and with their potential health consequences. 

Brunner acknowledged that no measurements had been collected during some of the previous cleanup efforts, including large-scale operations that led up to the creation of a 350,000-cubic-yard capped waste pile at Campus Bay, and said that monitors that were in place were geared to the higher, occupational exposures. 

Barbara Cook of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control said she was satisfied that monitoring was adequate during cleanup efforts at Campus Bay over the past year. “They were set...to protect the community,” she said, adding, “we have to go back and talk about this.” 

DHS physician Marilyn Underwood said Thursday morning that a subsequent review of DTSC monitoring revealed that arsenic levels were detected at levels very close to what her department wanted, and were considered adequate. 

Responding to employee concerns about the potential synergistic effects of contaminants on the site Brunner acknowledged that little is known about how the interaction of two chemicals might produce a greater adverse effect than expected from their additive impacts—a phenomenon well known in pharmacology. Underwood said that her department considered only additive impacts. 

The physicians likewise couldn’t offer reassuring answers to workers who asked what tests might detect prior exposures. 

Lichterman offered one possible source of help, employee health complaint logs held by a former RFS employee who called her after a Daily Planet story previewing Thursday’s meeting. 

She also presented officials with photographs of an unknown purple fluid oozing up from a site near Field Station Building 484, along with samples of the liquid.  

UC senior editor and UPTE union Occupational Health and Safety Officer Joan Lichterman seconded the call for a non-retaliation letter, reminding UC officials that “you said we would get a letter...to date, nothing has happened.” 

“I imagine it will be coming soon,” said Teresa McLemore of the university’s Employee Relations Department. 

Other UC officials on hand for the afternoon included Environmental Health and Safety specialists Karl Hans and Anna Moore, Scott Shackleton and assistant Dean of the College of Engineering (which has jurisdiction over most of the site). 

Four other DHS officers wer also in attendance. 

The two agencies will continue to work together with the goal of preparing a final report and recommendations. A meeting in November with all the various agencies involved in the two sites is expected to make a major advance on the goal. 


CAG Meeting  

The Community Advisory Group appointed to assist the state Department of Toxic Substances Control in formulating final cleanup plans for Campus Bay will meet June 30 to discuss whether to include RFS in their purview. The Daily Planet incorrectly reported that the meet would occur after Thursday’s meeting. 

The meeting, open to the public, will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Bermuda Room of the Richmond Convention Center, 403 Civic Center Plaza near the corner of Nevin and 25th streets.›