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State Officials Order Radiation Tests for Campus Bay Site By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday March 10, 2006

State officials have ordered extensive new tests at Richmond’s Campus Bay, looking for radiation, dioxin, asbestos, hexavalent chromium, cyanide, methyl mercury and other hazardous substances. 

The edicts were included in a 23-page document that raises new questions about the waterfront site in south Richmond where plans for a major residential development atop a hazardous waste dump have been placed on hold. 

The letters were triggered by a review of documents and recent meetings with the developers and the hazardous waste cleanup consultants hired by the site’s previous owners to design and conduct the environmental remediation of the site which held an 86-acre chemical manufacturing complex for 100 years, ending in 1997. 

The testing was ordered by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which was given jurisdiction over polluted sites along the Richmond shoreline after protests by local environmentalists and a vote by the Richmond City Council. 

Meanwhile, site development partner Cherokee Investment Partners, a venture capital fund based in Raleigh, NC, that specializes in projects on rehabilitated toxic sites, has taken a new and highly conciliatory stance towards project critics, as revealed at a Monday morning meeting in the Richmond Public Library. 

Cherokee has teamed with Simeon Properties, a development firm based in San Francisco, in Cherokee-Simeon Ventures (CSV), a limited liability corporation. In early 2004, the consortium announced plans for a 1,300-unit housing project on the site atop a buried mound of hazardous waste. 

Retention of hazardous waste on the site was permitted under a plan developed by the consultants and approved by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, an agency that has since been relieved of its role as primary regulator of the site. 

The developer originally planned to fill the site with a corporate research park, but switched to housing after the collapse of the market for dotcom stocks cooled the Northern California office park market. Housing plans included installation of fans beneath the buildings to prevent the buildup of any noxious compounds emitted from the soil below. 

That project has been on hold, along with any other development on the site pending the review by DTSC. 

Monday’s meeting was a sit-down attended by Steven J. Levitas, a Raleigh, NC, attorney who represents Cherokee, Doug Mosteller, the firm’s project manager for the site, and members of the Community Advisory Group (CAG) which is advising DTSC on the cleanup. 

Levitas concluded the meeting on an unusually conciliatory note, considering the somewhat tempestuous relationship between the firm and some of the CAG members in the past. “If I have done anything offensive to date, I apologize. The reason I am here is that I was feeling that much could be improved in terms of dialogue. 

“We really appreciate it,” said Peter Weiner, the San Francisco attorney who has been representing Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development (BAARD)—in which CAG member Sherry Padgett is the most prominent member. 

Levitas told CAG members “I really hope that if there are any problems and concerns you will call Doug or me or Dwight Stenseth,” who is Cherokee’s Managing Director. 

Throughout the meeting, the corporate representatives were noticeably cordial toward Padgett, whom Mosteller had accused in a Feb. 13 e-mail to DTSC officials of “[c]ontinued, unfounded accusations that waste state agency time, money, [CQ] and resources.” 

Padgett—perhaps the leading figure in the fight to change regulatory authority at the site—said she was glad the company had come, but she said many questions remain, including the idea of conducting tests before there was full knowledge of where all the potential pollution sites had been identified and located from historical data. 


CAG suspicions 

Padgett has been stricken with a series of rare cancers which she believes may have resulted from exposures sustained since she has been working as Chief Financial Officer of Kray Cabling, a business located next to the site. 

Levitas said Cherokee “hoped to prove to you” that the firm would approach the site in line with its “very strong commitment” to environmentally responsible community service. 

“Our major concern with the whole site is public health, the health of the community. Both for people who work at the Zeneca site and the Richmond Field Station and who have lived here, both now and then—and what is there, what has been done there and what will be done there,” replied CAG member and retired toxicologist Jean Rabovsky. 

CAG members who attended Monday’s gathering brought plenty of skepticism to the table. 

One is Gayle McLaughlin, the Richmond City Council member who sponsored the resolution calling for jurisdictional change. On Sunday, she had announced her candidacy for mayor—citing in part her concerns about developments on toxic sites. 

Two CAG members who work for UC Berkeley were also on hand—Richmond Field Station employee David Kim and Joan Lichterman, who represents six employee unions. The DTSC has exerted control over cleanup efforts at the field station over the university’s objections. 

Kim and fellow CAG member Joe Robinson are residents of Marina Bay, a nearby subdivision built on another site with residual toxins remaining in the soil resulting from the presence of a former shipyard on the site. 

Marina Bay home buyers must sign deeds forbidding them to eat fruits and vegetables grown in their yards. A similar covenant was planned for buyers at the now-stalled Campus Bay housing project. 

Three other CAG members at the table—CAG Chair Whitney Dotson and his sister, Ethel, and Pauline Reed—grew up in Seaport, a complex of apartment buildings erected next to the site in 1944 and demolished 12 years later to make room for Interstate 80 and the collection of buildings that now house what their present occupants—Padgett being one—describe as the “downwind businesses.” 

African Americans, the Reeds and the Dotsons lived with their families in racially segregated buildings. Others were white-only. 

Whitney Dotson is a long-time environmental activist, and his sister suffers from cancer which she believes is linked to growing up next to a chemical manufacturing complex. 


New investigators  

The February DTSC document, a series of letters addressed to Mosteller, raises serious questions about the adequacy of cleanup work done at the site conducted by LFR-Levine Fricke, an Emeryville-based firm. 

The DTSC, which took over jurisdiction early last year after California Assemblymember Loni Hancock joined with the environmentalists and McLaughlin’s resolution passed, is well-staffed with scientific experts, and has also brought in the state Department of Health Services to provide more medical expertise. 

LFR-Levine Fricke’s work was conducted under the oversight of the water board, a state agency which didn’t have a toxicologist on its staff during the cleanup. (A toxicologist is a scientist trained in identifying hazardous substances and evaluating their risks to humans.) 

While Mosteller said the company had gathered a large amount of information about the site, the developers are bringing in new consultants to conduct their own tests on the site. 

Erler & Kalinowski Inc. (EKI) is an environmental consulting firm with offices in Burlingame, Los Angeles and Denver . Their site examination will include both an area-wide grid search as well as concentrated tests at known or suspected toxics hot spots. 

“Some of us have the impression that when the previous (restoration) work was done on the site, a whole lot of stuff was smooshed around and may not longer be in the places where it was reported,” Weiner said. “Because of that we would like to see a pretty broad sampling plan.” 

Mosteller said that detection of contaminants at any testing site would result in more tests in a tighter grid in the surrounding area. 

CAG member and retired toxicologist Jean Rabovsky asked the developers to conduct a more detailed historical investigation, including records searches and interviews with former employees, to determine the locations of other, still unreported chemical facilities that may have been located on the property. She also asked that health data be collected about former workers and residents. 

“The documents to date have overlooked a whole lot of stuff,” said Padgett. “We only learned about the battery plant after DTSC became the lead agency.” 

“We want to be careful,” said Levitas. “We don’t want to say something publicly about what someone may or may not have done in the past.” 

“I have no faith in LFR,” said CAG member Eric Blum, a business owner whose firm is located near the site. 

“He’s not the only one,” said CAG member Joe Robinson. Fellow member Steven Linsley agreed. 


DTSC concerns 

The waste intentionally buried on site—consisting largely of burned iron pyrite (fool’s gold) cinders—had accumulated during the century the site housed a massive chemical manufacturing complex, which included extensive production of sulfuric acid derived from the pyrite. 

Rather than truck the 350,000 cubic yards of debris to a hazardous waste dump, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board approved its burial at the site. 

The DTSC letters, written in late February, are critical of the work and documents prepared by LFR-Levine Fricke for failing to provide adequate information about the location of chemical sites and waste storage areas, failure to use appropriate testing standards and failure to provide adequate data on current site conditions. 

It was LFR Levine-Fricke which proposed the waste burial on site, saving an estimated $80 million of the $100 million AstraZeneca had budgeted for the cleanup. 

That cleanup was designed to restore the site to conditions suitable for commercial and industrial use, but not to levels judged suitable for housing. 

One of the most emotionally charged concerns involves the possibility of radioactive contaminants at the site from a source not mentioned previously by the developer (see sidebar).  

There’s no question that the site abounds in carcinogens—substances known to cause cancer—and other hazardous compounds and metals, and there’s no question that many remain in the soil and water. At one site adjacent to the Richmond Field Station, recent tests have discovered carcinogenic PCBs in the soil at 120 times the permissible level, Mosteller said. 

The principal questions are three:  

• Just where—and what—are the other toxins? And,  

• Are they safely contained? 

The short answer to both questions seems to be: Nobody knows. 

“There is super phosphate area we have recently discovered,” said Mosteller, referring to a fertilizer plant that used radioactive ore in a process that yielded both fertilizer and a waste slag that concentrated some of the radioactive elements for which the DTSC has ordered new tests. 

“We have always known there were high concentrations of TCE and PCE in the groundwater,” he said, referring to two chemicals, members of a class known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are both suspected carcinogens. 

The site also includes hot spots laced with some of the pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. At the locations where PCBs—polychlorinated biphenyls—have been found at the site, the DTSC is also questioning whether the target reduction goal of one part per million, a standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is adequate to protect human health. 


Tests ordered 

Tests ordered 

The DTSC has ordered new tests to determine if the site contains everything from dioxin to cyanide, asbestos, methyl mecury, hexavalent chromium and groundwater radioactivity.  

The agency has also ordered tests at areas of the site that contained chemical and industrial drainage lines, and at the site of a 50,000 gallon sump which has apparently never been tested for contaminants.  

The report also asks why the LFR Levine-Fricke report on the site initially raised, then dropped the issue that pollutants from the site could potentially reach humans through the consumption of marine organisms from the shoreline marsh and the Bay and why the firm’s water board-approved cleanup didn’t require the cleanup of pyrite cinder deposits less than two feet deep. The cinders turn water acidic and are the source of various metal contaminants. 

It also asked why more tests weren’t conducted near a site where the soil was found to contain high levels of lead—7 milligrams per kilogram. 

Klein found particular fault with the cleanup firm’s reports on current site conditions, which she said make it difficult “to correlate current condition sample data with former process areas and remedial actions.” She also faulted “a plethora of naming conventions” for the same sites that make it difficult to interpret the data. 

“The current conditions report for Lot 3 (the largest portion of the site) indicate that significantly elevated concentrations remain in the soil for numerous inorganic chemicals of concern over much of the area, including arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium. There are elevated levels of many VOCs in soil gas, including benzene, tetrachloroethylene [PCE], trichlorethylene [TCE] and vinyl chloride. Shallow groundwater is also similarly contaminated with VOCs.” Klein wrote.