When an airplane is coming in for a belly landing or has an engine on fire, the only way to prevent the entire plane from becoming engulfed in flames is by dousing the runway or the plane with fire suppression foam. Navy firefighters were trained in the use of fire suppression foam near the airplane runways at Alameda Point.
Over the past two decades, there has been one bad news story after another about the foam’s toxic ingredients contaminating drinking water. These same toxic ingredients are also found in common consumer products. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as 95 percent of the population have traces of these cancer-causing, endocrine-system-disrupting chemicals in their body.
That’s partly because consumer products with the same chemical compounds, such as water repellant outdoor wear, carpets, food packaging, and even cosmetics, are still on the market. Some household brand names that pioneered the marketing of products with the harmful chemicals, like Scotchgard and Teflon, have been reformulated and claim to be safe. Environmental advocacy groups like Earthjustice are not convinced.
As the science about the human health effects has become more compelling and public awareness so great, the military is now embarking on a cleanup program at active and former military bases, including Alameda Point.
A liquid solvent that is able to dissolve other substances can run, but it can’t hide from investigators, even 20 feet below ground. A toxic cleaning solvent called trichloroethane (TCE) was used to degrease metal parts in industrial operations at the Navy’s aircraft repair facility. When this solvent leaks into soil and groundwater, as it did in Building 5 at Alameda Point, the odorless vapors can cause cancer and other ill health effects to occupants of buildings above as it evaporates.
The massive aircraft hangar at the end of West Tower Avenue moved one step closer to commercial leasing last week. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) performed random radiation scanning inside the building to certify that the Navy’s cleanup of paint residue containing radium-226 was complete. The other regulatory agencies have already signed off on the radiation cleanup after the Navy performed an inch-by-inch scanning effort.
As soon as this fall, CDPH could issue a letter that would allow the city to lease the building. The nearly million-square-foot building complex (Building 5) has been unavailable to the city for leasing for more than a decade. Other buildings on the base have been leased to the city by the Navy under what’s known as the Lease in Furtherance of Conveyance agreement, which has allowed the city to sublease the buildings until transfer of ownership. Continue reading “Word on the street about Alameda Point cleanup”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.