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”

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.

site-32-map-with-notations

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”

Environmental cleanup update – November 2014

Navy environmental cleanup operations at Alameda Point ran the gamut during the summer and fall of 2014.

Operations included using bacteria to clean up groundwater, grinding radium out of a building floor, digging up lead-contaminated soil, constructing a metal shoreline waste barrier, digging up shoreline waste, preparing to install a 30-acre soil cover, constructing a new shoreline wetland, checking drain lines for contamination with cameras, and demolishing a several-acre temporary concrete drying pad near the old Control Tower.

Aerial view of Site 1 cleanup area at northwest tip of Alameda Point, showing newly installed waste isolation barrier along Bay shoreline, piles of contaminated soil in horseshoe shaped area that were excavated from watery pit on right, and stockpiled soil on old runway to be used for soil cover.  A wetland area will be constructed on clear strip on left along Oakland Estuary.  Navy photo.
Aerial view of Site 1 cleanup area at northwest tip of Alameda Point, showing newly installed waste isolation barrier along Bay shoreline, piles of contaminated soil in horseshoe shaped area that were excavated from watery pit on right, and stockpiled soil on old runway to be used for soil cover. A wetland area will be constructed on clear strip on left along Oakland Estuary. Navy photo.

Continue reading “Environmental cleanup update – November 2014”

Shoreline contamination barrier under construction at NW tip of Alameda Point

The Navy began embedding a steel barrier along several hundred feet of the western shoreline of Alameda Point during the week of August 18. The purpose of the barrier is to contain contaminated ash and burn waste material that was bulldozed into the Bay some 60 years ago and is now overlain with silt. The area is where the Navy burned various waste materials.

Three of the waste isolation cells under construction at northwestern tip of Alameda Point.  A total of 15  cells, each one separated by a wall behind the face of the barrier, will be constructed here.
Three of the waste isolation cells under construction at northwestern tip of Alameda Point. A total of 15 cells, each one separated by a wall behind the face of the barrier, will be constructed here.

The containment system is called a waste isolation barrier. It consists of 35-foot-long interlocking steel pilings that are hammered into the ground with a hydraulic vibrator suspended from a crane cable. Perpendicular steel walls behind the barrier add stability. The final elevation of the top of the waste isolation barrier will be approximately 10 feet above mean sea level.

A worker guides one of the galvanized steel pilings into place as crane operator maneuvers.
A worker guides one of the galvanized steel pilings into place as crane operator maneuvers.

Tests around the area were conducted in 2010, 2011, and 2012 to determine if any of the chemicals in the burn residue were entering San Francisco Bay.  None were found to be entering the Bay.  Nevertheless, the Burn Area’s proximity to the Bay requires that the contaminated waste either be removed or permanently isolated. Removing all of the waste from under the shoreline would have cost $40 million. The containment system costs $13 million.

Piling being slowly driven into the ground by a hydraulically operated vibratory hammer.
Piling being slowly driven into the ground by a hydraulically operated vibratory hammer.

The construction of the shoreline waste barrier is part of a larger Navy cleanup project on the adjacent 37 acres, called Site 1, which was once used as an underground waste disposal area. Much of the area is now covered by runway pavement that will remain in place. The entire 37 acres right up to the steel barrier will be covered with three feet of clean soil and seeded with native vegetation. A small wetland area will also be created along the shoreline.

Site 1 cleanup project with crane.  Oakland Estuary in the foreground and San Francisco in the background.
Site 1 cleanup project with crane. Oakland Estuary in the foreground and San Francisco in the background.

When completed early next year, the area will be suitable for passive recreational use, including the Bay Trail.

The work can be observed from the Oakland side of the estuary at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park right next to the cranes.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

Background information can be found in this post from April 2013.

More photos and a diagram below 

Waste isolation barrier, looking east

Interlocking pilings closeup

Waste isolation barrier will have 12 more cells to the right when completed.
Waste isolation barrier will have 12 more cells to the right when completed.
Diagram of shoreline waste isolation barrier at northwestern tip of Alameda Point.  Navy diagram.
Diagram of shoreline waste isolation barrier at northwestern tip of Alameda Point. Navy diagram.

Site 1 waste isolation barrier under construction

Environmental cleanup reaches milestones as work continues

The Seaplane Lagoon’s north side will be looking like its old self in a few months. The Navy has begun dismantling the waterproof concrete-walled containment system that was used for three years for dewatering and testing of soil dredged from the Seaplane Lagoon, marking a major cleanup milestone. Prior to that dredging work, much of the lagoon’s north frontage served as a staging area for replacement of storm drain lines contaminated with radium-226.

Construction of a new and improved soil cover over a waste disposal site concluded this spring, marking another milestone. The 110-acre site on the southwest corner of Alameda Point took 10 years of haggling about potential environmental impacts before a cleanup plan was adopted in 2010. Work began in early 2013. The dome-shaped soil cover required 500,000 cubic yards of barged-in soil to complete.

North Pond of West Wetland on southwest corner of Alameda Point.  Pond is connected to San Francisco Bay via a new culvert near upper left of pond.  Landfill soil cover is partially visible on far side of pond and will be seeded with flowering native grasses later this year.
North Pond of West Wetland on southwest corner of Alameda Point. Pond is connected to San Francisco Bay via a new culvert near upper left of pond. Landfill soil cover is partially visible on far side of pond and will be seeded with flowering native grasses later this year.

At the far northwestern corner of the Point, work is about to begin on another long studied and analyzed waste disposal site. In a few months, the Navy will be installing an interlocking steel retaining wall along 200 yards of the Bay shoreline to contain contaminated burned waste material that was bulldozed into the Bay more than a half century ago. Water dye tests showed no toxics are leaching into the Bay, but members of the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) questioned whether the barrier would withstand a catastrophic earthquake. Partially covered by runway pavement, the entire 30-acre site will receive a three-foot soil cover. The work is expected to be completed in 2015. The area will be available for passive recreational use such as hiking trails when the city receives the land.

Northwest tip of Alameda Point where Site 1 is located.  Waste burning area is here.  Trees have been removed.  Port of Oakland is in background.
Northwest tip of Alameda Point where Site 1 is located. Waste burning area is here. Trees have been removed. Metal retaining wall will go here.  Port of Oakland is in background.

One of the longest-running and most problematic cleanup sites is at the old Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF), also known as Building 5, covering nearly one million square feet. Radium paint used for aircraft dial painting, and chemicals associated with engine repair work led to contamination that is still being remediated. The entire floor area will be scanned again for radiation in 2015, following up on at least three prior scanning surveys of walls, ceilings, pipes, and ducts. The year 2015 will also see the Navy returning to the site for a final round of groundwater cleanup treatments targeting contamination remaining after an intensive cleanup effort a decade ago.

Building 5, also known as Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF), where additional radium-226 and groundwater cleanup is planned.  At the corner of West Tower Avenue and Monarch Street.
Building 5, also known as Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF), where additional radium-226 and groundwater cleanup is planned. At the corner of West Tower Avenue and Monarch Street.

Next door to the Bladium Sports Club on West Tower Avenue, another previously treated groundwater cleanup site will be treated again. Workers have already begun boring holes in the pavement for a network of hoses that will be used for introducing contaminant-eating bacteria into groundwater along with a bacteria food source.

On Saturday, July 12, the Navy’s annual cleanup site tour visited four of the cleanup areas. The most impressive stop was the 110-acre landfill site mentioned above. For the first time in over 15 years, members of the public were allowed to walk around and enjoy the magnificent views from the embankment that is closer to San Francisco than to city hall. The fencing is all gone, and with it the radiological warning signs. The Navy replaced an aging metal culvert that connects the site’s North Pond to San Francisco Bay with a concrete culvert.

New culvert being installed connecting San Francisco Bay, which is to the right, and North Pond of the West Wetland at Alameda Point.  Navy photo taken 5/22/14.
New culvert being installed connecting San Francisco Bay, which is to the right, and North Pond of the West Wetland at Alameda Point. Navy photo taken 5/22/14.
New culvert being installed.  North Pond of West Wetland at Alameda Point in foreground, San Francisco Bay in background.  Navy photo.
New culvert being installed. North Pond of West Wetland at Alameda Point in foreground, San Francisco Bay in background. Navy photo.

Tour participants were able to see the area’s expanded wetland with a new tiny island. Caspian Terns started nesting on the island a few months ago, another type of milestone. “The last time Caspian Terns were seen in that area nesting was in 1999 when only one nest was detected,” said Alameda wildlife biologist and Alameda Point bird surveyor Leora Feeney. The 79-acre soil cover on the landfill will be seeded with flowering native grasses later this year. The vegetation mix was chosen by the RAB.

South Pond of West Wetland at Alameda Point.  Island in pond has become a nesting site for Caspian Terns.  Looking north toward Port of Oakland.
South Pond of West Wetland at Alameda Point. Island in pond has become a nesting site for Caspian Terns. Looking north toward Port of Oakland.

According to the Navy’s environmental cleanup coordinator, Derek Robinson, $513 million has been appropriated to date for Alameda Point cleanup, although some of it remains to be spent on upcoming work. His office, the Base Realignment and Closure Program, estimates another $80 million will be needed by the time remaining projects and follow-up monitoring are completed.

Later this year, the Navy is expected to transfer to the city the 33-acre North Housing site and seven-acre former Island High School site that sit next to Alameda Landing and Estuary Park, marking another milestone on the long and winding cleanup road to civilian use.

This story appeared in the Alameda Sun:  Print edition front page and online edition.

Navy Environmental Tour Guide July 12, 2014 – Cleanup Fact Sheets

Navy Presentation Environmental Cleanup Program Review July 12, 2014 to Restoration Advisory Board

More photos and a map

Caspian Terns and chicks at West Wetland, Alameda Point.
Caspian Terns and chicks at West Wetland, Alameda Point.  Click on image to enlarge.
Trail on embankment at southwest corner of Alameda Point.  Looking south with San Francisco Bay to the right and ahead.  Additional trail to the right at riprap elevation.
Trail on embankment at southwest corner of Alameda Point. Looking south with San Francisco Bay to the right and ahead. Additional trail to the right at riprap elevation.
Concrete pad served as a base for conveyor that transferred soil from barge to land for the soil cover at Site 2.  Contractor left it in place and added a few amenities for future users of a place they had come to appreciate the beauty of as they worked here for a year.  Thank you, TetraTech.
Concrete pad served as a base for conveyor that transferred soil from barge to land for the soil cover at Site 2. Contractor left it in place and added a few amenities for future users of a place they had come to appreciate the beauty of as they worked here for a year. Thank you, TetraTech.
Dredging the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point in February 2012.  Tarmac dewatering, drying, and testing area behind black tarp is now being dismantled.  All dredging work is completed.
Dredging the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point in February 2012. Tarmac dewatering, drying, and testing area behind black tarp is now being dismantled. All dredging work is completed.

Previous stories about waste disposal areas: 

Scenic Alameda Point wildlife refuge section to be off limits with security fence (May 31, 2012)

Update notes: Subsequent criticism of the Navy as to the necessity of a security fence by members of the public and regulatory agencies led to the removal of the security fence from the final work plan design. The Navy also agreed to shorten the soil gas vents to two feet, since only trace amounts of methane gas are now emitted from the landfill waste, most of which is industrial and did not produce methane in the first place.  Additionally, the Navy agreed to examine the aging metal culvert that connects the North Pond of the West Wetland to San Francisco Bay.  The culvert provides the water lifeline for the North Pond habitat and was at risk of collapse and being stopped up with debris.  The Navy replaced the metal culvert with a concrete culvert (see photo above) and debris screen.

Navy receives comments on landfill/wetlands plans on Alameda Point wildlife refuge (July 15, 2012)

Ending threat of solvents in groundwater leaching into San Francisco Bay (August 31, 2012)

Cleanup plan changes at waste burning area (April 5, 2013)

Landscaping the Navy’s underground waste disposal site (June 4, 2013)

Massive landscaping project changing scenic area on Nature Reserve (August 5, 2013)

Landfill landscaping on Nature Reserve – Update October 2013 (October 26, 2013)

Landscaping the Navy’s underground waste disposal site

Thirty-five years after the Navy stopped disposing of toxic waste in unlined pits next to San Francisco Bay on Alameda Point’s southwest shoreline, the final actions to comply with state and federal laws are finally being implemented this year. 

Site 2 where industrial waste is buried.  Area up to the wetland will be covered with two feet of additional soil.
Site 2 where industrial waste is buried. Area up to the wetland will be covered with two feet of additional soil.

Decades of wrangling between the Navy and regulatory agencies over how to handle the West Beach Landfill, dubbed Site 2, were finally ironed out this spring.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board), and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) have agreed to a plan that calls for leaving the estimated 1.6 million tons of industrial waste in place and adding more soil to the existing soil cover.  

Placement of soil cover at Site 2 - May 2013.  US Navy Photo.
Placement of soil cover at Site 2 – May 2013. US Navy Photo.

The Navy began dumping waste in the area in 1952, four years before they surrounded the area with a seawall.  The dump was closed in 1978, but early efforts to comply with state environmental laws for landfill closure were not to the satisfaction of the Water Board.

In its May 2012 draft engineering work plan for the landfill, the Navy cited a decade of groundwater monitoring along the shoreline that proved the toxic chemicals of concern are not migrating toward the Bay.  Instead, the chemical concentrations are either stable or declining.  The contents have been sitting in water-saturated subsurface soil since the disposal program began 60 years ago. 

Radiological hotspots of debris and soil, including a small storage building, were removed after an earlier scan of Site 2.  Before the current two feet of clean soil is put in place, the soil will again be scanned down to a depth of one foot, and elevated concentrations will be removed.  Radium-226 paint waste was disposed of in the landfill.

One of the major concerns about leaving this landfill in place is the consequence of a major earthquake.  The Navy responded to a comment from a DTSC engineer by acknowledging that in the event of a maximum credible earthquake, the riprap boulders forming the “seawall is conservatively assumed to be non-existent, instantaneously whisked away and replaced with a 25-foot vertical face of liquefiable sand subject to plastic flow without being constrained by a rigid shell (sea wall).”  The Navy’s earthquake model predicts that the earthen embankment above the seawall at the perimeter of the landfill, composed of clay and not sand, will glide into the Bay and “will not be overtopped by the waters of San Francisco Bay and freeboard of about 5 feet above mean sea level will remain, and so the refuse will remain isolated.”

Navy graphic showing predicted movement of embankment berm into San Francisco Bay during an earthquake.
Navy graphic showing predicted movement of embankment berm into San Francisco Bay during an earthquake. Click on image to enlarge.
Navy graphic depicting position of embankment berm at Bay shoreline a following catastrophic earthquake.
Navy graphic depicting position of embankment berm at Bay shoreline following a catastrophic earthquake. Click on image to enlarge.
Southwestern shoreline of Alameda Point at Site 2 landfill.  Rock/cement riprap seawall, with green embankment berm above.  Looking north toward Port of Oakland.
Southwestern shoreline of Alameda Point at Site 2 landfill. Rock/cement riprap seawall, with green embankment berm above. Looking north toward Port of Oakland.

The Navy removed a perimeter security fence from their plans following objections from regulators and the public.  “Navy’s design and [Superfund] requirements for this project do not preclude future use of the site for limited public access or passive recreational purposes,” said the Navy.  Simple “Habitat Restoration Project” and “Stay on trail” signs were deemed adequate.

In an unusual move, the Navy offered the Restoration Advisory Board the opportunity to select the new vegetation that will anchor the 60 acres of clean soil.  In the fall of 2013, the Navy will seed the new soil with 13 native grasses, most of them flowering.  The Navy has permanently removed the 12-foot high embankment on the eastern, inland side of the landfill site, which will make the grassland visible from the mixed-use area.

The 30-acre wetland area on Site 2 was not contaminated, but will receive improvements to the quality of several acres.  The culvert connecting the wetland to San Francisco Bay will be regularly inspected and permanently protected.

Final Remedial Action Work Plan for Site 2 – Alameda Point – April 2013