In November of 2008, after years of testing, evaluation, and one emergency soil removal action, the Navy issued the final report on what to do in the area where Island High School and Woodstock Child Development Center are located. The area is designated Installation Restoration (IR) Site 30. The Navy’s conclusion, or proposed plan, was that no further action is required.
The Site Management Plan (SMP) for the proposed site of the Berkeley Lab Second Campus at Alameda Point was finalized on November 18. Prepared by the city’s longtime environmental consultant, and signed off on by the Navy and regulatory agencies, the document was prepared in order to mitigate potential risks associated with development of the 45-acre parcel near the ship docks. Its primary purpose is to provide direction to construction contractors and workers so that their digging, dewatering, and soil handling activities do not jeopardize the environment or the health of the surrounding community.
Crash Course on Cleanup
The document offers a crash course on the 20-plus years of environmental cleanup of the area, including areas that barely intersect the Site on the margins. Even if the area were never to have been polluted by Navy activities, the SMP would still be required because of a decade-old city ordinance governing digging into a subsurface layer called the Marsh Crust that contains petroleum-related pollution.
What is the Marsh Crust?
Before 1900, the areas now occupied by Alameda Point and Bayport were tidal marshlands. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, before the health effects of industrial pollution were known, two industries nearby dumped their waste into the water. One of those industries was a coal gasification plant in Oakland. The other was the Pacific
Coast Oil Refinery located at what was then the tip of Alameda, not far from Encinal High School. Much of the petroleum-related waste, classified as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), settled in the marsh. Between 1900 and 1940, these marshlands were filled with dredge material to create more land.
PAH contamination created the “marsh crust” layer at four to fifteen feet below ground surface, which is a thin layer of PAHs and oil believed to come from historical waste discharges prior to infill.
No one was concerned about this marsh crust caused by former private industrial activity until the Navy decided to close down the base.
By the time the Navy was ready to close down the base, including the area that is now Bayport and the future Alameda Landing, soil boring and groundwater testing was routine. Underground tests in the late 1990s are what led to the Remedial Action Plan and Record of Decision that were signed in 2000. (If these documents were drafted today, they would probably have the term “carbon sequestration” in them because this carbon waste is best left where it is – sequestered in the earth.)
Those two documents led to the creation of Alameda’s “permit-before-you-dig” Marsh Crust Ordinance. The city’s ordinance requires a permit only for digging projects that dig deep enough to potentially encounter the marsh crust — that is, for digging deeper than the threshold depth. The ordinance is in place so that excavated soil containing petroleum-related waste is properly handled. The Marsh Crust extends from the Bayport/Main Street area about halfway out onto the Point at 4 to 15 foot depths. A significant portion of the proposed Lab site (see maps below) does not have any Marsh Crust underneath.
Cleanup of Navy contamination at Site in final stages
Some work, including groundwater remediation, is in the final stages. And some groundwater is past the active remediation stage and now in the stage during which contaminants will be degraded by natural processes.
The land will be cleaned to commercial standards ahead of the Lab’s timeline for occupancy. If any digging, trenching or excavating encounters a treatment zone, then more stringent handling procedures and protocols would come into play.
It will be the duty of the contractors to develop a site-specific Health and Safety Plan for their workers based on the disclosures in the Site Management Plan. These health and safety plans have to be submitted to the Navy and regulatory agencies for review.
The SMP describes the protocols for handling soils from the Marsh Crust, such as dust and erosion control. The SMP includes protocols for dewatering excavated soil, handling of asbestos and lead-based paint during building demolition, and an air monitoring system. In certain areas, vapor intrusion measures will be required, which could include a vapor barrier, passive venting systems under slabs, and podium-level (partially above-ground) garages with natural venting.
Paint stripping building (Building 410) with white cleanup pipe stubs in ground. Active cleanup completed. Looking northwest.
Navy’s Environmental Investigations
The Navy began comprehensive investigations of the area being offered to the Lab starting in the late 1980s. They analyzed for metals, petroleum-related compounds, PCBs, pesticides, chemicals that evaporate, and a form of hydrocarbon called PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.) More than a dozen above ground storage tanks containing paint stripping chemicals and fuel were removed from the area. Underground fuel storage tanks from an adjacent area were excavated. Soil has been excavated. Leaked jet and diesel fuel has been removed using vapor extraction, chemical neutralizers, and bioremediation. Monitoring wells and former injection/extraction wells (evident as PVC stubs in the ground) dot the area.
Concerted Cleanup Effort
Considering the contamination history, the concerted cleanup effort over the past two decades, starting before the EPA became involved, has come a long way. The suitability of the site for commercial or residential uses has been, or will be, satisfied by the remediation programs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Petroleum Program. Furthermore, when discounting the fact that no groundwater would ever be used for drinking water, the site would meet the even higher unrestricted residential use standard much sooner.
Dr. Peter Russell, the city’s environmental consultant, made a presentation to the Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority on November 2, 2011, updating them on the status of cleanup at Alameda Point.
This video is an edited version with added images.
(Note: The phrase “closed site” used in the presentation does not mean off limits. It means active cleanup is finished.)
The Navy has three cleanup programs at Alameda Point: Superfund, Petroleum, and Radiological. The Petroleum Program takes care of underground concentrations of petroleum, mostly jet fuel, and is organized by corrective action areas. One such area outside Building 5 made it onto the calendar this year.
Dumping jet fuel – Building 5, the largest hangar at the Point, was a busy aircraft maintenance facility. Petroleum products like jet fuel were often disposed of down a drain, which in this case would have gone to an underground oil/water separator. A Navy contractor concluded that jet fuel detected in test wells outside of Building 5 on the south side could have leaked either from the oil/water separator, or the drain line, or both. The area has been designated Corrective Action Area 5B (CAA 5B). Continue reading “Cleaning Up Jet Fuel at Building 5”
There are various methods to clean up groundwater contaminated with solvents and petroleum products. Beneficial chemicals can be injected to neutralize the toxic chemicals. Sometimes bacteria, either those naturally present or some that have been added, can do the job. In some cases at Alameda Point the Navy inserts steel beams called electrodes into the ground that are hooked up to their own power line. They dial up the power to 1,100 amps (a household electric stove is around 40 amps), and let the heat turn the chemicals into vapor. This is the method the Navy is using in a limited application just east of the Seaplane Lagoon. Continue reading “Cleaning up a toxic groundwater plume using heat”
Up until passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, it was common practice to dispose of chemicals by dumping them down sewer and storm drain lines that drained into the nearest surface water. Many people did this in their homes.
At Alameda’s former Naval Air Station the worst legacy of this practice was in the drain lines leading out of the massive Building 5 and nearby Building 400. Building 5 is where the radioactive paint with radium-226 was used to paint aircraft dials and markers.
2009/2010 Drain Removal Action – In 2010, the Navy completed the removal and replacement
of thousands of feet of the most seriously contaminated lines leading to the Seaplane Lagoon. But questions remained for Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) members about drain lines leading north to the Oakland Estuary and also the Industrial Waste Line that was installed after passage of the Clean Water Act.
Remaining drain lines – September RAB Presentation
The RAB heard a presentation at the September meeting about the Navy’s recent examination of all the remaining drain lines using cameras and sampling equipment. The drain lines lead out of Building 5 and are part of the cleanup area known as Operating Unit-2C. Three of the storm drains and the industrial waste line were found to have areas of elevated radium, although nothing close to the levels found in the lagoon drains that were removed last year. Six alternatives for dealing with the problem, from no action to complete removal ($58 million), were presented. Two hundred ninety-seven samples were collected.
Industrial Waste Line Should Not Be Left in Place – The majority of the RAB favored the option that prescribed hydro-jet cleaning, limited excavation and disposal of storm drain lines, and complete removal of the Industrial Waste Line. Concern was raised about two alternatives that allowed the Industrial Waste Line to remain in place under West Tower Ave, the main thoroughfare between the hangars, and have so-called institutional controls. Institutional controls can have a way of being forgotten as the decades roll on, which could lead to workers being being exposed to radium during infrastructure upgrades. The forgotten lines could also lead to unexpected expenses for the city and to the posting of alarming radiation warning signs long after everyone thought the problem had been dealt with. Update – October 13 – Another reason to remove the old Industrial Waste Line: The August 8, 2011 Navy feasibility report cited in this post stated, “The industrial waste line is not considered a candidate for hydro-jetting due to the deteriorated condition of the line.” Better to remove it than have toxic residue leaking out into the water table.
RAB co-chair Dale Smith said it was premature to vote on alternatives. The regulatory agencies still have to review the report.
Nuclear Fallout Residue Also Surveyed – The Navy’s contractor also gathered data on the presence of Cesium-137 and Strontium-90. The presence of these two radioactive isotopes in drain lines was expected due to worldwide data showing that nuclear weapons testing and nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl have caused widespread dispersal. There are also records indicating that some observation planes that flew through nuclear fallout during nuclear weapons testing were dismantled and decontaminated at Alameda Point as part of the weapons testing studies.
The main reason for concentrations in drain lines at Alameda Point is because of all the concrete pavement that sends high volumes of water runoff into drains. The levels of Cesium and Strontium concentrations in the investigative samples were within the range that could be expected from worldwide fallout of nuclear weapons testing.
Updated October 12, 2011, in response to inquiry from reader – Below is a map and nine pages of test results for Storm Drain Line G, which partly runs along Pan Am Way. Also indicated is the Main Trunk of this storm drain, which runs from Building 5 on the left of the map to the Seaplane Lagoon on the lower part. The three horizontal storm drain lines shown below the Main Trunk are called laterals. Only the Main Trunk portion is singled out for remediation work.
The likely alternative that will be chosen will not be complete removal. Instead, it will (hopefully) be limited removal and replacement in the few areas that show elevated readings for radium. One alternative is to not do anything, but rather leave the lines in place with “Institutional Controls,” which means a big hassle if anyone ever wants to do infrastructure work.
The remediation goal for radium 226 is nothing greater than 1.56 pico curies per liter. It’s based on a background level of 0.56 that would be randomly found in Alameda. This background standard was established by agreement between the Navy and US EPA in prior years. The remediation goal set by the Navy is nothing in excess of 1.0 above background, or 1.56. The Navy’s “1-above-background” standard is more stringent than the norm for US EPA.
In looking at the readings in the boxes and on the test result tables, there are only a few locations where radium was found to be a problem. “MH” in the box means it is manhole that was tested. “CB” is a catch basin. One reason for the low readings could be because in 2009/10 when the most seriously contaminated lines – F and FF – were being replaced due to radium contamination, the Navy had Storm Drain Line G power flushed to clean it out. The contaminated water was properly disposed of.
Another possible reason for the low radium readings is that the point from which it leaves Building 5 (where the radium paint was once used) could have been the least used for disposing of radium paint waste. This would correspond with the actual results of testing before and after the recent dredging operation on the northeast corner of the Seaplane Lagoon where line G ends. Other than a few solid objects containing radium, none of the dredged material from the northeast corner required disposal at a nuclear waste facility. The upcoming dredging of the northwest corner, however, will likely yield elevated radium in dredged sediment.
The Navy’s top cleanup person for Alameda Point, Derek Robinson, began the September 2011 Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting by asking members to consider cutting back on the frequency of its monthly meetings. He cited budget pressure. The meetings cost the Navy $10,000 per meeting. The purpose of the RAB is to review, comment, and makes suggestions to the Navy and regulatory agencies regarding cleanup of toxic substances at Alameda Point, and also to serve as a vehicle for the Navy to communicate with the community.
Three longtime RAB members said they were open to the idea of meeting reductions. One cited the small number of areas left for review. Two suggested that conference calls in lieu of meeting in person would be acceptable as an alternative. The RAB’s community co-chair Dale Smith, however, opposed any meeting reductions until work phase planning is completed on the remaining cleanup areas. She said there is still too much going on.
The guidelines for establishing local environmental cleanup advisory groups were established in 1994. Details on the number of members and meeting frequency were left to the local areas. The Alameda Point RAB adopted a new set of rules on May 7, 2009, which stated that meetings would be monthly, and that schedule changes must be placed on the agenda and passed by a majority vote of RAB Community members, the Navy, City representatives, and the Regulators. The rules were signed by the Navy, the community co-chair, and three regulators.