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.
The borderless ecosystem – On September 1, 2011, Golden Gate University’s Center on Environmental Law published their proposal for a unified planning process and expansive view for open space at Alameda Point. The central theme of their effort is that the true potential for conservation at Alameda Point lies in thinking of the area as one contiguous ecosystem of land and water. In doing so, not only is there benefit to wildlife and the environment in general, there is also benefit to our efforts at economic development by making Alameda Point a highly desirable location with a signature identity – Flight Park.
Flight Park is their suggested name for a unified open space system that would bring to mind larger-scale landmark open space systems like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Bringing together regional, state, and federal agencies to adopt and implement conservation efforts will be far more effective in the long run than waiting for, say, the VA to appropriate money for habitat conservation (not their core mission), or the city of Alameda getting enough attention to secure millions in wetlands monies.
Moving the VA facilities – Perhaps the most controversial proposal within the Flight Park concept is moving the proposed VA facilities off of the Wildlife Refuge to a spot further east at Alameda Point. While coming late in the process for transferring land to the VA, it is not without merit. The Golden Gate Audubon Society has long opposed the sighting of VA buildings on the Wildlife Refuge as an intrusion into the habitat of the endangered California Least Tern. The Flight Park designers see the VA buildings as a visual obstruction on an otherwise wild and open bay front parcel.
There is good reason for the VA to work with the City of Alameda on moving their buildings, if not their columbarium, closer to the old “Main Gate” on the north side of Alameda Point. Services will be easier to get to for veterans, and the infrastructure to their site will be less expensive. There is still time – the VA has not spent their $17 million for this year on design, and therefore they have not requested money for the project in next year’s budget proposal.
The East Bay Regional Park District has been ready and willing to take on the management of regional park facilities at Alameda Point for over a decade. In 2009 they set aside $6.5 million for Alameda Point shoreline restoration and the Bay Trail.
Wetlands Mitigation Bank – Professor Paul Kibel, co-director of the Center on Urban and Environmental Law and leader behind the Flight Park concept, argues that there is also funding potential in the creation of a Wetlands Mitigation Bank such as has been created in many California communities to accumulate funds for creating or restoring wetlands. An experienced environmental lawyer, he has offered to assist the city in any way he can in setting up such a wetlands bank. One of our first contributions would likely come from the Navy, which will owe us some wetlands due to their coming remediation plans for the Northwest Territories. Typically, two acres of wetland must be created for each single acre removed.
In Sum – The Flight Park drawings offer an inspiring look at what could be at Alameda Point. It is a vision that merges well with recent sustainability presentations that call for diverting storm water to wetlands and marshes at Alameda Point. Urge our city council to discuss this initiative. It would build on Alameda’s reputation as a city dedicated to environmental sustainability.