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.
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.
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.
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.
Every scoop of dirt that was dredged from the Seaplane Lagoon earlier this year is first sorted into premeasured compartments. The piles are then tested for heavy metals, PCBs, and pesticides. But the piles cannot be tested for radium 226.
In order to test for radium, every pile has to be scooped back into a dump truck, dumped into a screening area the size of a tennis court, and graded smooth to a depth no greater than 12 inches.
Then an electric vehicle with a scanning rig and GPS mapping system drives back and forth over every inch at the pace of a turtle. If any radiation is detected, it is mapped onto a computer, and then this area is scooped up and placed in a special dumpster. This already time-consuming process was slowed even more with unexpected rains in the fall because the soil cannot be scanned for radiation when it’s wet.
There are no final numbers on how many dumpster loads have gone to a radiological disposal facility. Most of the other soil, however, that was tested for heavy metals, PCBs, and pesticides is not even leaving Alameda Point —it now meets screening standards for clean soil, and it’s being hauled out to the runway area to eventually be reused to cover the old dump known as Site 2.
2012 – More Dredging
When the existing piles of dirt are all gone in a few weeks, it might seem like they are finally done. But they won’t be. In January, the second phase of dredging begins on the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon.
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.
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.
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”
Seaplane Lagoon dredging contractor fails to meet deadline
The Navy was expecting the contractor to complete the dredging of both the northeast corner and the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon by mid-April prior to the arrival of the endangered California Least Terns. The terns nest on the Wildlife Refuge and feed in the Seaplane Lagoon and nearby waters. It is illegal to disturb them while feeding and nesting. The contractor completed the northeast corner, but work was halted before starting on the northwest corner due to the arrival of the Least Terns.
The dredging will resume in early 2012 and be completed by mid-year. It is unclear at this point whether the Navy will incur an additional expense for the dredging operation, since it was not completed by the deadline, and the dredging equipment had to be demobilized.
In response to a question about whether the Seaplane Lagoon dredging contractor is expected to complete the project within the budget allocated for this project, the Navy’s Environmental Coordinator for Alameda Point, Derek Robinson, said, “The Navy is optimistic the project will be completed within the allocated budget. The Navy and its current contractor are presently negotiating a change to scope to allow the future dredging of the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon to be performed under a new contract.” In response to a question about whether the demobilization of the dredging operation until 2012 is going to lead to a cost overrun, or will the contractor absorb the cost, Derek Robinson reiterated the above statement and went on to say, “Until the negotiations with the current contractor are complete and the new project is awarded, the total project cost will not be known.”
The existing piles of dredge soil on the tarmac near the Air Museum and Bladium will be hauled away this summer. They will be tested for radium-226 and other contaminants in order to determine where they will be disposed of. The fencing along the eastern side of the lagoon has been removed, and the dredging barge is gone.
A separate project on the western side of the lagoon is continuing. It involves removing the last leg of the old sewer drain line that was removed due to radium-226 contamination. A steel barrier has been constructed in the lagoon to prevent contaminants from entering the water during the project.
Is it safe to eat vegetables grown at Alameda Point? A little-known EPA study conducted in 2005 around the Big Whites and Alameda Point Collaborative housing tried to answer that question. In the study, researchers collected fruits, vegetables and edible weed plants such as apples, figs, tomatoes, fava bean seeds, and also flowers of Cat’s Ear which people had been observed gathering for food.
The fruits and vegetables were gathered for the study from 15 locations and analyzed to see if PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) were absorbed by the root systems and transferred to the edible parts. PAHs occur in oil, coal, and tar, and can be produced by forest fires and car exhaust. They are of particular concern in the tested area because rail cars once carried oil products along the northern shore and also because dredge soils from the Oakland Estuary used to form Alameda Point contained byproducts from the coal gasification plant that once operated in Oakland near the estuary. Some of the chemicals in the PAH family, notably benzo(a)pyrene, have been identified as carcinogenic by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Even though some of the soil areas contained elevated levels of PAHs, the edible parts of the plants were found not to contain any contaminants. “None of the 16 PAH congeners on the EPA Priority Pollutant List was detected in any of the plant samples collected from the site,” the report says. Continue reading “Point Being: Are Point Veggies Safe?”
Radioactive alarm bells went off for many peoplewhen they saw the radiological warning signs posted on the fencing around the Seaplane Lagoon dredging operation. But so far, air readings have shown insignificant levels of radiation.
The first soil testing of the dredge mud will take place this summer.
The dredging operation was set up to remove sediment with other contaminants – PCBs, cadmium, chromium, lead, and pesticides. But because there is a chance the radium levels are elevated to risk levels, by federal law, the signs must go up.
The contractor handling the job requires that workers wear a dosimeter, or dose meter, that records cumulative exposure to radiation, and they are monitored daily. As of March 16, two months into the job, the readings have been 1,000 times below the hazard level set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Continue reading “Point Being: March Mudness”