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”

Groundwater solvent cleanup will use cheese whey and veggie oil to feed natural bacteria

Cleanup Operating Unit 2B at east entry to proposed Town Center - Alameda Point.    Graphics by Alameda Point Environmental Report.
Cleanup Operating Unit 2B at east entry to proposed Town Center – Alameda Point. Graphics by Alameda Point Environmental Report.

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.

voice graphic w:text













One of the high contamination "hot spots" that will get extra treatment to cleanup trichlorethene solvent in groundwater 30 to 40 feet deep.
One of the high contamination “hot spots” that will get extra treatment to cleanup trichloroethene solvent in groundwater 30 to 40 feet deep.
Fenced area is where testing was conducted.  This is one of the hot spot areas that will get extra attention to clean up trichloroethene in groundwater.
Fenced area is where testing was conducted. This is one of the hot spot areas that will get extra attention to clean up trichloroethene in groundwater.
Groundwater cleanup area on OU-2B.  Cleanup will not be completed until 2020.  Looking west with maritime ships in background in Seaplane Lagoon.
Groundwater cleanup area on OU-2B. Cleanup will not be completed until 2020. Looking west with maritime ships in background in Seaplane Lagoon.

Alameda Point 2012 environmental cleanup review, and busy year ahead

Cleanup activity at Alameda Point in 2012 started where it left off in 2011 — at the Seaplane Lagoon.  The northwest corner of the lagoon was the site of the second and final phase of lagoon dredging, which targeted sediment that had been contaminated near storm drain outfalls.  With dredging completed by spring, the sight of Americas Cup racing yachts arriving at their temporary dock in the lagoon seemed to be a harbinger of the approaching end of the Superfund era at the Point.

Dredging northwest corner of Seaplane Lagoon
Dredging northwest corner of Seaplane Lagoon

Just outside the Seaplane Lagoon, another dredging operation was started and finished at one of the maritime ship piers where the Cape Orlando had been docked.  By November, the massive ship was back at dockside, hull lights glowing at night.

Dredging Pier 1 wharf area
Dredging Pier 1 wharf area

In one of the most complicated and contaminated areas to the east of the Seaplane Lagoon, cleanup work began at an area 30 feet below ground where a cleaning solvent used on aircraft parts had seeped into the groundwater.  After driving a series of metal bars down to the contaminated area, the soil, groundwater, and solvent were heated to just below simmering by means of electricity.  This turned the water and solvent into vapor, which was then vacuumed out into a filtering system through a series of pipes. 

Heat treatment and vapor extraction - OU-2B
Heat treatment and vapor extraction – OU-2B

At the far end of Alameda Point on the northwest landfill, the Navy relied on chemicals, rather than heat, to do the cleanup on a small portion of the site.  Dozens of hoses snaking around the site to the injection wells delivered an oxidizing mixture of neutralizing chemicals into a pocket of solvents.  Without this remediation, the solvents had the potential to reach the Bay.

Injecting oxidizing chemical into solvent plume - Site 1.  Navy photo.
Injecting oxidizing chemical into solvent plume – Site 1. Navy photo.

The year ends with a cloud of controversy over the Navy’s plan for leaving drain pipes under the old Naval Air Rework Facility — Building 5.  Letters from both the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) and the city call for the complete removal of any lines containing radium paint waste.  The Navy ruled out a more costly alternative that would remove all the contaminated pipes.  The city challenged this decision, in part, on the ground that the Navy’s cost estimates for a thorough job are inflated and have asked that they reconsider.

Building 5
Building 5

Also in Building 5, plans to remove above-ground radium contamination from floors, walls, and ceilings in the mezzanine area will get underway within weeks.  This area is where aircraft dials and markers were painted with radium paint that provided visibility in the dark.  A final scanning investigation to detect radium, using sophisticated equipment employed in the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, found dozens of pie-sized irregular areas where radium dust had embedded in the surfaces.  This project will conclude two decades of scanning and radium removal efforts in Building 5 and other buildings.  Around $50 million has already been spent replacing drain lines leading to the lagoon under the surrounding tarmac, and dredging the lagoon, due to the disposal of radium paint and other chemicals down storm drains.

Scanning a wall for radiological contamination.  Navy photo.
Scanning a wall for radiological contamination. Navy photo.


2013 will see the long-awaited final soil cover installed on the waste disposal site called Site 2 on the southwest corner of the wildlife refuge.  It will be the largest engineering project since the runways were expanded in the 1950s, with over 200,000 cubic yards of clean soil being barged in from Decker Island in the Sacramento River.  It will be seeded with California native flowering grasses selected by the RAB.  This is the controversial dump that led the US Fish & Wildlife Service to balk at accepting the land for a wildlife refuge ten years ago.  Since then, this dump has seen numerous reviews and a new plan that the US Environmental Protection Agency, regional Water Board, and state Department of Toxic Substances Control will be signing off on shortly.

Site 2 underground dump on southwest corner of Alameda Point.
Site 2 underground dump on southwest corner of Alameda Point.

2013 will end with commencement of a similar soil covering operation on the nearby landfill on the northwest corner of Alameda Point called Site 1.  Both landfill areas will be safe for open space recreational activities when completed, but will be limited to hiking trails rather than mowed playing fields in order to maintain soil-stabilizing vegetation. 

Northwest corner of Alameda Point where soil cover will be installed.
Northwest corner of Alameda Point where soil cover will be installed.

Soil cleanup planned at runway workshops area

Future recreational open space

The 4.18-acre cleanup Site 34 in the old runway area next to the Oakland estuary looks barren from a distance.  But up close there are concrete slabs and pavement, reminders of its bygone days as a bustling workshop area.

This area was once part of the division known as the Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF).  Everything from sandblasting and painting, to metal working, woodworking, and scaffold maintenance went on out there. More than 40 years of activity left soil around buildings contaminated with lead, arsenic, pesticides, PCBs, and aircraft and diesel fuel.  Above ground fuel storage tanks and electrical transformers contributed to the contamination.

The Navy will clean up the soil in this area next year.  Their draft work plan, which will be released on July 31, was discussed during a Navy presentation at the July 2012 Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting. 

Site 34 aerial view. Old fuel dock to left of site. Runway at bottom is part of area where antiques faire is held.  Navy photo/graphic.

Based on more than 200 soil samples taken in prior years and this year, the contractor created the draft work plan.  Separate groundwater samples indicate contamination from the solvent trichloroethane. No remedial action is being taken on the trichloroethane, however, because 1) vapor intrusion into residences is not a factor, as this land will become Public Trust Land on which housing is not permitted; and 2) water monitoring has shown that the chemical is not migrating toward the estuary.

The northern edge of this site is part of the early westward land extension of Alameda, which allowed trains carrying freight and passengers to get out to a point where the water was deep enough for ferry connections.  More fill was later added to the area.  According to the Navy’s Remedial Investigation report, “In the 1920s, most of IR Site 34 was filled with estuary dredging material during construction of the Posey Tube.” 

Site 34 starts at concrete slab on far side of tree. Port of Oakland on right.  In late 1800s and early 1900s, trains travelled on tracks along the estuary where tree and slab are.

By the time the closure of the Navy base was announced in 1993, this workshop area had 12 buildings, 7 aboveground storage tanks, 2 “generator accumulation points” (waste storage), 15 transformers, and over 7,000 feet of aviation fuel line.  Between 1996 and 2000 everything except the concrete pads and pavement was removed. 

Building demolitions ended shortly after Alameda Point became a Superfund site in July 1999.  The Superfund program, officially called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), does not allow for land improvements such as building demolition.

Most of the soil cleanup locations are adjacent to the exterior edges of old building slabs. Much of the lead in the soil came from sandblasting lead-based paint.  Other contamination came from lubricants used for metals fabrications, and the use of oils and solvents for woodwork and metal work.  In addition to removing soil next to the slabs, the contractor will dig under the slabs at the hot spots to take what is called a sidewall sample to confirm that all contaminated soil is removed.  They have to keep digging as long as contamination is found. Clean soil will be brought in to the areas where soil is removed.

A strip of coastal marshland running along the Oakland Estuary on the north end of the site has no contamination.  Its habitat quality, however, is marred by discarded concrete, wood, and trash.  It will be up to the city to initiate wetlands restoration efforts there.

Coastal marsh on Oakland estuary at Alameda Point Site 34. Port of Oakland on left. Old runway area on right. Looking east toward Alameda Main Ferry Terminal.

A 60-day public comment period on the work plan begins when it’s released on July 31.  The work plan will be finalized in January 2013.  Fieldwork is anticipated to take place January through April 2013.

Site 34, located in the Northwest Territories, is expected to be given to the City of Alameda in 2014.

Click here > Site 34 RAB Presentation  for more details.

Announcing the new reference tab at the very top of this blog called “Cleanup document libraries.”

Groundwater cleanup back on track at heat treatment site

The groundwater remediation project between two buildings near the East Gate entrance, in the area known as Operating Unit 2B, finally got underway after a long delay in startup since last spring.  

During set up, one of the 30-foot-long steel electrodes driven into the ground to generate heat struck a plastic sewer line.  The sewer line was not on any maps and was undetectable through scanning since it is not iron.  Operation of the system began last month after a sewer line bypass was installed, and it will continue through May.

Heating and extraction of solvents in groundwater between East Gate entrance and Seaplane Lagoon.

The contamination is from nearby aircraft maintenance operations that resulted in chlorinated solvents, used in cleaning aircraft parts, ending up deep underground in the groundwater.  Of the three most common methods for cleaning up groundwater contaminated with solvents and fuels – pumping in neutralizing chemicals, heating up the ground to vaporize and extract the contamination, and bioremediation using microbes – the heat treatment method was chosen for this site because it is the fastest.

Graphic illustration of heat treatment system. Brown electrodes are heated with electricity, which heats the soil and groundwater, creating steam and toxic vapors that are sucked out into red pipe. Navy graphic.

It takes weeks for the ground to get to the target temperature of 194 degrees, which is the temperature at which the solvent boils and turns to vapor.  Pipes at ground level suck the vapor out of the ground and channel it through a large pipe to the granulated activated carbon filter system.

Granulated activated carbon filter system in tanks. Water vapor and toxic vapors are captured and separated.

Other groundwater contamination nearby will be treated by a different method not yet announced.  The Alameda Point electrical substation is near the other treatment area, and underground electrical lines leading every which way preclude the use of electrodes to heat the groundwater.

See also, “Cleaning up a toxic groundwater plume using heat.”

Click here > for background info on this cleanup area.

March cleanup meeting announced

Restoration Advisory Board

Naval Air Station, Alameda (Alameda Point)

March 8, 2012       6:30 PM

Location: Alameda Point – 950 West Mall Square (Alameda City Hall West) Room 140 – Community Conference Room

Enter from West Midway Avenue at rear of building. 



6:30 – 6:35     Welcome and Introductions    

                              Community and RAB

6:35 – 6:45     Co-Chair Announcements     

                             Navy: Derek Robinson

                             Community: Dale Smith

6:45 – 7:05     Site 17 – Seaplane Lagoon     

                             Dredging Update

                             Navy Project Manager: Mary Parker

7:05 – 7:25     Site 24 – Pier 1 dock area     

                             Dredging Update

                             Navy Project Manager: Lora Battaglia

7:25 – 7:45     Operating Unit – 2B  near East Gate     

                             Underground vapor extraction using heat

                             Navy Project Manager: Curtis Moss

7:45 – 7:55     Update from regulatory agencies     

                             Pankaj Arora, US EPA

7:55 – 8:15     Community and RAB Comment Period

8:15 – 8:30     Approval of Minutes     Review Action Items

                             Dale Smith

8:30                 RAB Meeting Adjournment

Alameda Point Map

Todd Shipyards copper cleanup

Todd Shipyards/Site 28. Dog Park to left of fence, Port of Oakland on right.

Right next to the Main Street Ferry Terminal, between the Oakland Estuary and the Dog Park, is the Navy’s cleanup Site 28, also known as the Todd Shipyards site.  The contamination at this site — copper and arsenic, and to a lesser extent lead and hydrocarbons — was not the result of Navy activities, even though the Navy owns the property.


Filling in the land with estuary dredge soil contaminated with hydrocarbons from the coal gasification plant that once operated in Oakland was likely responsible for the petroleum-related hydrocarbons in the ground.  The Alameda Mole Railroad operated along this route from 1883 until 1939 and was also a possible contributor to the hydrocarbon residue in the soil.  Non-Navy shipbuilding and repair between 1941 and the 1980s was responsible for lead, arsenic, and copper contamination.

According to the Navy fact sheet, “The property was leased to various entities for non-Navy shipbuilding and repair between 1941 and 1970. The property was purchased from the Navy in 1970 by the Todd Shipyards Corporation, which used the land as an extension of its adjoining shipyard property until 1983, when the property was then sold to Alameda Gateway Limited.  The IR Site 28 portion of the former shipyard reverted to Navy ownership in 1995.”

Paint used on ships

The copper contamination came from paint used on the bottoms of ships.  The paint was an anti-fouling paint that served to prevent the growth of barnacles.  Copper in the paint acted as the biocide, which is why possible leaching into the estuary is a big concern.

Emerging cleanup technology

Todd Shipyard/Site 28 groundwater monitoring well. Alameda Main Street Ferry Terminal in background.

Even though the Navy did not cause the contamination, they are responsible for the cleanup, which it performed in 2010.  They are also responsible for monitoring the groundwater for 10 years to make sure their methods are permanent.  Some of the methods used here were straightforward:  Digging up soil and replacing with new soil.

The copper at groundwater level, however, is being dealt with by an emerging technology called metals immobilization.  In this process a proprietary non-toxic compound is injected into the ground to bind to the copper and cause it to be absorbed into soil particles, which will prevent it from leaching into the estuary and harming aquatic life.  Hence, the term immobilization – the copper is no longer mobile, or able to move.  Water and natural microbes in the ground are what activates this immobilization compound.  A helpful byproduct of this reaction is that food (carbon) for natural microbes is released, further enhancing the effectiveness of this process.

So-called emerging cleanup technologies are halfway between experimental and mainstream.  They have been proven effective in the short term, or in some locations, but have not been in widespread use long enough to be considered 100% effective in every soil type.  No one knows for certain if the binding effect will hold, but pilot lab tests were done on soil from Site 28, and the Navy and regulators fully expect it will work.  If groundwater monitoring indicates that it’s not working, the Navy will have to come up with another plan since there is no statute of limitations on their responsibility for cleanup.

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