When an airplane is coming in for a belly landing or has an engine on fire, the only way to prevent the entire plane from becoming engulfed in flames is by dousing the runway or the plane with fire suppression foam. Navy firefighters were trained in the use of fire suppression foam near the airplane runways at Alameda Point.
Over the past two decades, there has been one bad news story after another about the foam’s toxic ingredients contaminating drinking water. These same toxic ingredients are also found in common consumer products. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as 95 percent of the population have traces of these cancer-causing, endocrine-system-disrupting chemicals in their body.
That’s partly because consumer products with the same chemical compounds, such as water repellant outdoor wear, carpets, food packaging, and even cosmetics, are still on the market. Some household brand names that pioneered the marketing of products with the harmful chemicals, like Scotchgard and Teflon, have been reformulated and claim to be safe. Environmental advocacy groups like Earthjustice are not convinced.
As the science about the human health effects has become more compelling and public awareness so great, the military is now embarking on a cleanup program at active and former military bases, including Alameda Point.
A liquid solvent that is able to dissolve other substances can run, but it can’t hide from investigators, even 20 feet below ground. A toxic cleaning solvent called trichloroethane (TCE) was used to degrease metal parts in industrial operations at the Navy’s aircraft repair facility. When this solvent leaks into soil and groundwater, as it did in Building 5 at Alameda Point, the odorless vapors can cause cancer and other ill health effects to occupants of buildings above as it evaporates.
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”
~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”
The vacated residential area known as North Housing—located between Alameda Point and Alameda Landing—has been deemed environmentally safe for transfer out of Navy hands. The approval comes after a four-year effort to clean up groundwater to drinking water standards was declared unnecessary and terminated.
The original overly cautious risk assumption in the 2007 cleanup plan—that humans might somehow ingest the salty groundwater 10 to 20 feet below the surface—is now seen as implausible. The vapor extraction system covering a six-acre area of benzene and naphthalene-contaminated groundwater was dismantled in 2014 after a new round of tests showed that there is no evidence of harmful vapors rising to the surface.
The land was originally slated for transfer to the Coast Guard. But the Coast Guard decided in 2008 that it no longer wanted the property. The Navy and the city then worked out a plan that incorporates a federal requirement for homeless accommodation and a for-profit development.
The 22.7 acres slated for auction to a private developer will be tagged with utility infrastructure costs—streets, drainage, utilities—on all of the North Housing area, except for the Housing Authority’s 13.6 acres and Habitat for Humanity’s 2.2 acres. The Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity will be responsible for bringing new utility services from the nearest street to their housing units.
Mosley Avenue will be connected between Alameda Landing and North Housing with 360 feet of new roadway.
In 2013, the Navy turned off its air pump and carbon filter vacuum cleanup system to see if it made any difference in the concentrations or movement of contaminants. It didn’t.
But before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would sign off on a permanent shutdown of the cleanup system, it wanted a new set of tests at ground level to ensure there is no risk of harmful vapors. The Navy conducted tests inside the vacant housing, in the crawl spaces, and under the parking lot and basketball courts at the former Island High School property. The negative results satisfied the EPA.
In April the Navy officially amended its original 2007 Record of Decision cleanup plan, with regulatory agency concurrence, citing new evidence. It also cited city, county, and state regulations that prohibit intrusive activities and specifically prohibit well installation in the shallow groundwater where the contamination is located. The cleanup plan amendment said that results of the evaluations of extensive data for this cleanup area “show that there is no unacceptable risk for current residential and school uses and any potential future land uses.”
The amended plan also cited new evidence that suggested the contaminants were part of what is called the Marsh Crust at around 20 feet below ground and essentially stuck there. The Marsh Crust is a layer of “hydrocarbon gunk” that Oakland Gas Light Company’s coal gasification plant discharged from about 1880 to 1910. The waste discharges went into what was then San Antonio Creek, and much of it settled on the nearby marshland where North Housing now sits.
The land was never cleaned up before being filled in for use as San Francisco Bay Aerodrome—hangars and two runways—from 1930 to 1941. The Marsh Crust extends from the Oakland Estuary to Bayport and over to central Alameda Point. A city ordinance requires a permit before digging into the Marsh Crust to ensure safe handling.
The 37-acre North Housing area lies adjacent to the new Alameda Landing residential neighborhood. The site currently contains 51 residential structures with 282 three- and four-bedroom units constructed in 1969. With the possible exception of the two acres going to Habitat for Humanity, all of the units will be demolished to make way for new construction.
The Housing Authority will build 90 units of supportive housing that will include a community center.
It is not yet determined what Habitat for Humanity will do with its parcel. The private developer area is currently zoned for 315 units of multifamily residential housing and may exceed that number if the density bonus is applied for.
The transfer of properties is expected in 2016. The auctioning of the for-profit North Housing Navy property will follow, but no firm timeline has been announced.
Edited version of article first appearing in the Alameda Sun.
The Navy has spent more than 15 years cleaning up contaminated groundwater underneath two former gas station sites at Alameda Point. They are still at it, but it’s not because the Navy is slow or lacking in commitment and expertise. It’s the nature of groundwater cleanup, which involves intermittent treatment efforts.
In July, the Navy’s contractor returned to the old gas station and car wash site on West Pacific Avenue at Main Street and to the old commissary gas station site at West Tower Avenue and Main Street across from Bayport. It’s the third visit to these sites to eliminate petroleum hydrocarbon contamination in groundwater, in addition to earlier removal of underground tanks, fuel lines, and soil. The contaminants are located from 2 to 16 feet below ground surface.
The goal is to bring the property up to the public health and environmental standards required for the future commercial and residential uses previously determined by the city.
“When groundwater contamination is involved, such as at the two former gas stations, cleanups often involve multiple phases, each building upon earlier accomplishments,” said Dr. Peter Russell, who has been reviewing Navy cleanup plans and preparing cleanup-related documents on behalf of, and at the direction of, the city since 1997. “As long as all imminent health and environmental risks are eliminated early on, often the most cost-effective approach to complete remediation is incremental,” explained Russell. “In contrast, a massive initial remedial effort that is sure to achieve all remedial goals in one pass would likely involve over-sizing the treatment system, which is more disruptive and expensive than a phased approach.”
During previous cleanup visits, the Navy used a vapor extraction system to remove the bulk of the petroleum contamination. The process involves pumping air into numerous pipes, called wells, which extend into the water-saturated zone where the contamination is. The air pressure creates vapor that is part air, part water and part petroleum. The vapor is then sucked out through another set of wells, and the petroleum vapors are captured in drums of granulated charcoal, while the water is shunted off to a separate container.
The method of blowing bubbles in mud and sucking out the air sounds unsophisticated, but it works. After running the system in 2013 and 2014 at the West Pacific Avenue gas station site, for example, the level of one contaminant, benzene, went from around 1,000 micrograms per liter down to 58, bringing the contamination low enough to allow indigenous bacteria to finish the job.
The Navy returned to these sites in July and, in this phase, they came to help natural bacteria finish up the job. Allowing bacteria to clean up petro chemicals through natural digestion is called bioremediation. To be effective and not take a century to eliminate the problem, the bulk of the chemicals need to first be reduced to concentrations that do not overwhelm the bacteria.
At both gas station sites the Navy used a special product designed to foster growth of natural bacteria in the ground, which includes a form of time-release peroxide that turns into oxygen over a period of 12 months. An oxygen environment is necessary for the bacteria to digest petroleum. The bacteria utilize the hydrocarbons (hydrogen and carbon) in the petroleum chemicals as part of their metabolic processes and convert them into carbon dioxide, water, and microbial cell mass. Water samples will be taken at three, six, and nine months after the July injections to evaluate effectiveness.
“The Navy’s gas station remedial program is comparable to the private sector gas station cleanup program,” said Yemia Hashimoto, Engineering Geologist with the San Francisco Bay Water Board. “The cleanup requirements are similar and the required timelines for project completion are similar.” The Water Board is a California state agency and is the lead regulatory agency overseeing the Navy’s petroleum cleanup program.
The other type of groundwater contamination encountered at Alameda Point comes from a chlorinated solvent used in cleaning aircraft parts. Unlike lighter-than-water petroleum products, chlorinated solvents can sink through the upper water zone to a depth of 30 feet or more and complicate cleanup. But solvent cleanup still relies on a phased cleanup approach, often employing bacteria in the final phase.
A Navy contractor will be cleaning up groundwater in part of the Town Center area next to the Seaplane Lagoon by injecting a solution of cheese whey, emulsified vegetable oil and water into nearly 200 wells that go down between 30 and 40 feet. The whey and vegetable oil will cause natural bacteria to flourish that will feed on the toxic trichloroethene (TCE) solvent causing it to break down.
According to the Navy, this type of food-stimulated bacterial bioremediation is common. The cheese whey is similar to the powdered whey products found in grocery stores. It will be delivered to the site already diluted in water. A hose will be connected to a fire hydrant and hooked to a metering device that will mix the whey and oil solution with municipal water as it is pumped into the wellheads.
The work is expected to begin in 2015, with periodic visits and testing until 2020. The first year of operation the contractor will make two visits of 35 days each. During each of these work periods they will inject 246,000 gallons of whey, oil, and water solution into the ground, allowing gravity to disperse the liquid.
The goal of the cleanup is to minimize the potential for hazardous vapors entering buildings, and chemicals migrating into the Seaplane Lagoon. TCE is an industrial solvent used to degrease metal parts. It was heavily used at aircraft and ship engine repair facilities on the site. A leak from a rail car is believed to be one of the major sources of the plume.
The 33-acre cleanup area is immediately to the south of the Navy jet on West Atlantic Avenue at the east entry to Alameda Point near Main Street. It is within the 150 acres of the Town Center that the city is seeking to develop in the near future. In April, the city council sent out requests seeking qualified developers interested in residential and commercial projects. The cheese and veggie oil cleanup area will not be transferred to the city until at least 2020 when cleanup has been certified to have met its goals.
Cleanup of fuel in groundwater ended about four years ago at an old fuel distribution point on the north side of the jet monument.
Below is an audio and image presentation from the Alameda Point Restoration Advisory Board meeting on May 8, 2014.