Where Alameda Point’s cleanup is at year’s end

 

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The past year had some high points and low points in the cleanup process at Alameda Point.  Added delays, including a pile-driving surprise, were balanced out by steady progress.

The year saw, among other things, completion of a second Point-wide radiological survey of buildings and structures that identified two building interiors needing radium remediation, a new soil scan for radium on a section of the western runway area, replacement of a storm drain segment next to the Seaplane Lagoon, and preparation of the environmental document for the Berkeley Lab site, which will be useful whether we get the Lab or not.

Northwest Territories - Site 1 dump area, partly covered by runway

The contractor preparing to cover the old dump with rocks and soil at the northwest tip of Alameda Point delivered some embarrassing news to the Navy.  In the normal course of their duties, work-plan design testing revealed that the shape of part of the contamination did not match the official description.  You would think they could just process a work-order change.  But the Superfund law requires an additional two-year review process, which will push the completion of this open space opportunity to 2015.

At another cleanup project, the Navy drove over four dozen 30-foot steel electrodes into the ground to heat up the toxins and capture the vapor.  But before turning on the electricity, the contractor discovered they had hit a sewer line.  The project has since been idle for months awaiting a decision on how to proceed.

Seaplane Lagoon dredge dewatering pad - northwest corner

The big Seaplane Lagoon dredging project that began in January is certainly one of the most dramatic displays of cleanup.  Both the northeast and northwest corners of the lagoon were supposed to have been dredged by April and final soil disposal completed by year’s end.  But the contractor failed to meet the deadline and was let go.  A new contractor has been testing and removing existing soil, as well as doing extensive set-up over the past two months for the dredging of the northwest corner that will begin in January.

Another dredging project has just begun under the dock area next to the maritime ships.  They’re removing mud contaminated from two storm drain lines.  That project is on schedule.  It’s worth visiting the area to get a glimpse of the elaborate engineering needed to capture and clean water runoff from the mud.

Shinsei Gardens low-income housing located above ongoing groundwater cleanup

Less dramatic and seldom seen work is always ongoing.  Groundwater is monitored at cleanup sites to ensure cleanup goals are being met.  One example is the monitoring of the removal of benzene and naphthalene under Shinsei Gardens and vicinity.

Evidence of the Petroleum Program is also seldom seen, other than some white PVC pipes in the ground.  But besides the big fuel extraction projects, there is ongoing testing of pipelines and oil/water separators in order to develop a remedial plan.

Finally, and perhaps most important, getting the first, very large, no-cost land conveyance from the Navy next year appears to be on schedule.  To help make it happen, the Navy and regulators are planning on modifying cleanup goals by enacting restrictions against future ground-floor residential development near the east entrance to Alameda Point.

Originally published in the Alameda Journal.

Berkeley Lab Site Environmental Plan Released

Looking toward Berkeley Lab site.
Conceptual buildout for Lab 2nd campus

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

Alameda in 1915

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.

Underground testing

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 Protocols

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.

Alameda’s Proposal for Berkeley Lab 2nd Campus at Alameda Point

Site Management Plan for proposed Berkeley Lab 2nd Campus at Alameda Point

Berkeley Lab parcel at Alameda Point. Top of outline area designated for first phase of Lab buildout; red area is for second phase.

City of Alameda Marsh Crust Page

Marsh Crust Map - Four irregular outlines emanating from right side indicate various depths.

Video: Alameda Point 2011 Cleanup Update

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.)

Cleaning up a toxic groundwater plume using heat

Hoses carry vapors to large pipe that leads to filter system. Vapors are created using high-temp electrodes that extend 30 feet into the ground. Seaplane Lagoon and San Francisco are in background.

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”

Should cleanup advisory board meetings be cut back?

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.

Sampling contents of old disposal site called Site 2 on Wildlife Refuge. Cleanup plans here are the subject of controversy. (Navy photo)

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.  

No decision was made at the September meeting.  Mr. Robinson said the subject of meeting frequency would be brought up again in a few months. Continue reading “Should cleanup advisory board meetings be cut back?”

Seaplane Lagoon Dredging Update

Radioactive radium waste not an issue  The massive pile of dredge mud that has been sitting between the Seaplane Lagoon and the hangars is now dry enough to be tested to determine the exact contaminant profile and hauled away. 

dredge soil awaiting testing and hauling away

The contaminant of greatest concern to community has been radium-226, the radioactive ingredient once used to make aircraft dials glow in the dark.  Testing revealed that the sediment did not contain elevated radium levels and therefore would not need to be disposed of at a special radioactive waste site.  There were several solid objects, referred to as “buttons,” that were found which contained elevated radium.  Those objects and the surrounding soil were removed for special disposal.

The piles of dredge soil neatly arranged and numbered next to the old Control Tower are waiting to be hauled away to a hazardous waste disposal site. 

Wildlife Refuge Truck Route

In addition to trucking dredge soil to a hazardous waste site, there is a large mound of asphalt that is being trucked onto the wildlife refuge and out to an area where clean soil and fill material is being stored for future use.  This asphalt is from a temporary pad that the Navy laid down in the dredge soil dewatering area.  It was covered with plastic and not contaminated, and now it is no longer needed.

PCB hotspot 

Early this year the Navy began its dredging project to remove contaminated sediment from the northeast and northwest corners of the Seaplane Lagoon. The Seaplane Lagoon ranked as one of the worst PCB sites in the Bay Area according to a regional Water Board study.  Continue reading “Seaplane Lagoon Dredging Update”

Navy Announces Cleanup Plans – Public Meeting August 31, 2011

OU-2A cleanup area - Seaplane Lagoon and USS Hornet are to the left - numbered areas are individual site #s

After years of investigation, the Navy, along with the federal and state regulators, has come up with a remediation plan for 39 acres, encompassing five sites, called Operating Unit 2A. On Wednesday, August 31, the Navy will spell out its plan for remediation and solicit comments.  The meeting will be at City Hall West at Alameda Point, 950 West Mall Square, Room 201 from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm.

Operating Unit 2A is roughly one block away from the soccer fields on the south side of Alameda Point and one block away from the USS Hornet.  The Unit has contamination issues that date back to 1879 when the Pacific Coast Oil Works Company began operating an oil refinery near Main Street.

The main two highlights up for discussion are:

Building 410

Building 410 is where the Navy operated an aircraft paint stripping facility.  The soil was found to be clean, but toxic chemicals seeped into the groundwater.  The conclusion reached by the Navy and regulators is that no active remediation efforts need to be conducted.  Instead, they will rely on “natural attenuation,” which means to let nature take its course through dilution, dispersion, and biodegradation of the contaminants.

Building 410 - former paint stripping building

Their rationale for not undertaking a vigorous program to clean the groundwater to drinking water safety levels is that no one will ever be using it for drinking water, especially because of high salt content.  No wells are permitted and, even if a well was desired for drinking water, there is pure water at the much deeper 100-foot depth.  They also claim that vapors will not intrude into structures because it is in the second water-bearing zone and, therefore, the water zone above will act as a barrier. Continue reading “Navy Announces Cleanup Plans – Public Meeting August 31, 2011”