Navy’s Cleanup Drawing Scrutiny

Recent revelations of falsified cleanup data at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco have caused many people to wonder about the integrity of cleanup at Alameda Point.  Can we trust the Navy’s reports concluding that goals have been met and land is suitable for transfer to the City?

The Navy thinks we can.  “To date, the Navy found no indication of data falsification at Alameda,” said Cecily Sabedra, Navy Environmental Coordinator for Alameda Point.

But more importantly, the rigorous and extensive testing requirements of cleanup at Superfund sites suggest that the process itself is what the public should look to for reassurance.  The data review process is exactly why a couple of employees were caught handing in fake soil samples at Hunters Point.

Groundwater cleanup is a good place to look at how the process has been working at Alameda Point, considering that is where the majority of the contamination has been.  The groundwater contamination resulted from releases of jet fuel and cleaning solvent and two leaky gas stations.  This cleanup has left the base riddled with groundwater sampling wells and injection wells used for injecting cleanup solutions or extracting pollutants. Continue reading “Navy’s Cleanup Drawing Scrutiny”

Environmental cleanup meeting tonight

Presentation will feature history of radiological cleanup

The Navy will make a presentation on the status of its radiological investigation and cleanup at the next Alameda Point Restoration Advisory Board meeting, which will be held Thursday, March 22, 2018. The meeting is open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. in the second floor meeting room at 950 W. Mall Square on Alameda Point.

Multiple sites became contaminated with paint waste that contained radium-226, an element used in making aircraft dials glow in the dark.

Navy contractor scanning for radiation in Building 5 hangar. Navy photo.

Continue reading “Environmental cleanup meeting tonight”

Radium-226 paint use left widespread cleanup legacy

Work ends at Building 5 where painting began

The Navy has completed the final round of inspections and cleanup of the last traces of the radioactive metal called radium-226 in Building 5 at Alameda Point.  The aircraft hangar complex is where the Navy refurbished its planes, including repainting tiny instrument dials, switches, and markers with glow-in-the-dark paint that contained radium.

Radium is a naturally-occurring element found in miniscule amounts in soil and water posing no health risk.  Its risk comes from ingesting the element regularly, such as in industrial settings.

The procedures for handling and disposing of the paint waste during the 1950s and 1960s led to costly and seemingly interminable cleanup projects once the base closed in 1997.  This affected at least five other areas at Alameda Point. Continue reading “Radium-226 paint use left widespread cleanup legacy”

Toxic groundwater to be cleaned up using bacteria

~Lactose, veggie oil to stimulate toxic-eating bacteria

Cleanup of contaminated groundwater between Alameda Point’s Seaplane Lagoon and Main Street will begin later this year, according to the Navy.  The cleanup area is directly south of the Site A residential and commercial parcel slated for groundbreaking in a few months.  It is one of the most difficult environmental cleanup areas to remedy at Alameda Point, which is why it has taken 20 years to figure out what plan to implement.  The Navy’s contractor presented the cleanup plan at the March 9, 2017 Restoration Advisory Board meeting at Alameda Point.

A cleaning solvent called trichloroethene was used in the Navy’s industrial repair and refurbishing operations in this area.  The solvent leaked into the ground to depths of 70 feet and spread around nearly 19 acres.  Industrial activities included the Aircraft Engine Test Facility in Building 360, which is the large building next to the Main Street soccer field, along with the Engine Test Cell in Building 14, and the Ship Fitting and Engine Repair Facility in Building 162. Continue reading “Toxic groundwater to be cleaned up using bacteria”

Navy presents parkland cleanup plans

The Navy will present options on possible ways to clean up 60 acres at Alameda Point slated for a regional park on Thursday night.  The draft cleanup options for Site 32 represent the culmination of 25 years of groundwater and soil studies that began before base closure was announced.  Only five acres have been flagged for cleanup, but uncertainty about what lies beneath the pavement and structures requires a conservative approach.


The site lies in the northwest portion of the old airfield along the Oakland Estuary and features open grassland, seasonal wetlands, runway, a large concrete bunker and two buildings.  Input from the community and regulatory agencies on the cleanup plan will have a major impact on the design and use of the future park. Continue reading “Navy presents parkland cleanup plans”

Radium safety enhanced at Seaplane Lagoon

The City of Alameda became the new owner of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point on April 13, 2016. It came from the Navy with a new condition that exceeds normal protocols for dredging in San Francisco Bay.

As with all cleanup sites, the Navy, city and regulators agreed to what areas needed to be cleaned up in the Seaplane Lagoon. The cleanup plan approved in 2006 was based on testing the sediment throughout the 110-acre lagoon. The problem areas were confined to about 10 acres at the northeast and northwest corners of the lagoon where storm sewers dumped contaminants prior to 1970s environmental laws. The agreed upon plan said that there would be no restrictions on the lagoon when cleanup was done.

Dredging the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon in February 2012.
Dredging the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon in February 2012.

After cleanup was completed, two years of discussions between the Navy, state and federal regulators, and the city led to an amendment to the official cleanup decision to include a detailed management plan for any future dredging in the Seaplane Lagoon. The city led the effort to create a sediment management plan. It stipulates that all dredge sediment brought to the surface will have to be spread out six inches thick on a drying pad and scanned for radium-226 radiation at a cost borne by the city. Continue reading “Radium safety enhanced at Seaplane Lagoon”

Navy adds a wetland and grassland

The Navy’s cleanup program has not only removed toxic substances from below ground, it has dramatically improved some of the above ground environment by creating new native grassland and wetlands. January rains filled the Navy’s new seasonal wetland on the northwest shoreline corner of Alameda Point and fostered growth of newly planted native grass seed on the surrounding soil.

New Site 1 wetland on January 13, 2016, with San Francisco in background. Rows in soil with emerging growth were created during sowing of seeds. Navy photo.
New Site 1 wetland on January 13, 2016, with San Francisco in background. Rows in soil with emerging growth were created during sowing of seeds. Navy photo.

The 2.25-acre wetland lies within an approximately 37-acre shoreline cleanup area known as Site 1 at the confluence of the Oakland Estuary and San Francisco Bay. It is where the Navy buried its waste between 1943 and 1956. Most of the waste pits were covered by pavement in the mid-1950s when a new runway was added.

The approved plan for leaving the waste in place was completed in 2015 after 17 years of study by state and federal regulatory agencies. None of the studies showed any toxic leaching from the waste material into Bay waters after sitting below the water table for more than 50 years. Hence, the plan to further isolate the waste with a soil cover mirrors the remedy used at other underground dumps.

The Navy will be responsible in perpetuity if anything fails, just as with other Superfund cleanup sites at Alameda Point.

The Navy was required to create the new wetland as a mitigation measure for covering existing wetland with some of the soil cover. The secondary objective was to provide increased native plant and wildlife habitat along San Francisco Bay.

This mitigation requirement means that marginal wetlands that appeared by happenstance from runway drainage have now been replaced by a high quality engineered wetland. The new wetland holds a much larger volume of water and is situated to capture runoff from the soil cover. It is also engineered at a lower elevation than the wetlands it replaces, thereby increasing water retention and allowing for recharging as sea level rises. There is no waste material located below the new wetland.

After removing old pavement and sculpting the site, the wetland substrate was created using imported clean fill material and topsoil.  The soil was then amended with gypsum and potassium sulfate to facilitate growth of wetland plant species.

Learning a bitter lesson from a failed attempt in 2014 to grow native grasses by blowing seeds from a truck onto the soil at the nearby Site 2 cleanup area, the Navy used a different method at both sites. Known as drill seeding, the method involves cutting into the soil with a disc machine and simultaneously depositing seeds. It is followed up with a mulch cover.

Site 1 wetland in late 2015 after seeding and covering with green-colored hydromulch. Tree sections were added for birds to perch on. Navy photo.
Site 1 wetland in late 2015 after seeding and covering with green-colored hydromulch. Tree sections were added for birds to perch on. Navy photo.

Thirteen grass species were planted on the lower zone of the new wetland where longer-term saturation will occur. Another seven species were planted on the upper zone. The seeded area was then covered with mulch. The soil cover over the former dump received another eight species of native grass seed. The palette includes such grasses as chairmaker’s bulrush, seaside heliotrope, Baltic rush, white yarrow, and coyote brush, all of which produce flowers.

The Site 1 grassland and wetland is on land slated to be transferred to the city at no cost and to become part of a 147-acre regional park. Plans call for additional wild grassland and wetlands.

Site 1 soil cover after green-colored mulch was applied in 2015. Green coloring has since disappeared. Navy photo.
Site 1 soil cover after green-colored mulch was applied in 2015. Green coloring has since disappeared. Navy photo.

The Navy’s new wetland sits directly atop the original narrow landmass extending into the Bay that carried train cars to a ferry terminal at the site. Completed in 1859, this strip was called the Alameda Mole.

The Navy’s grassland and wetland work at Site 1 and Site 2 on the old airfield is the only ecological habitat creation, other than the placement of sand on the 9.6-acre least tern nesting site, since military operations ended in April of 1997.

Published in the Alameda Sun.

Additional photos and complete list of native grasses planted on Site 1.

Wetland with soil amendments added. Navy photo.
Wetland with soil amendments added. Navy photo.
Wetland after placing wood features and mulch. Navy photo.
Wetland after placing wood features and mulch. Navy photo.
Native grass seeds loaded into disc planter. Navy photo.
Native grass seeds loaded into disc planter. Navy photo.

Site 1 vegetation plant list 

Zone A (Wetland Mitigation Area) (lower)

  • Salicornia virginica – NC (pickleweed)
  • Juncus effuses (common bog rush)
  • Eleocharis macrostachya (pale spikerush)
  • Frankenia salina (alkali heath)
  • Schoenoplectus americanus (chairmaker’s bulrush)
  • Beckmannia syzigachne-NC (slough grass)
  • Bolboshoenus maritimus (alkali bulrush)
  • Heliotroppium curassavicum (seaside heliotrope)
  • Grindelia stricta (coastal gum plant)
  • Cressa truxillensis (spreading alkaliweed)
  • Juncus balticus (Baltic rush)
  • Hordeum depressum (dwarf barley)
  • Cyperus eragrostis (tall flatsedge)

Zone B (Wetland Mitigation Area) (upper)

  • Artemisia pycnocephala (coastal sagewort)
  • Achillea millefolium, White (white yarrow)
  • Festuca rubra Molate (creeping red fescue)
  • Elymus triticoides (beardless wild rye)
  • Hordeum brachyantherum (California meadow barley)
  • Distichlis spicata (salt grass)
  • Carexpraegracilis (clustered field sedge)

Greater WIC (Waste Isolation Cover)

  • Achillea millefolium, White (white yarrow)
  • Baccharis pilularis (coyote brush)
  • Bromus carinatus, Sonoma (California brome grass)
  • Elymus glaucus, Berkeley (blue wildrye)
  • Lupinus nanus (sky lupine)
  • Distichlis spicata (salt grass)
  • Trifolium ciliatum, Inoc (foothill clover)
  • Vulpia microstachys (small fescue)