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Cleanup crews find surprises at Point

Submitted by on 1, March 17, 2009 – 7:30 am4 Comments

81Crews doing cleanup work at the former Naval Air Station Alameda have found some surprises over the past few months. For one, they hit a 15’x15’x15′ mystery object lodged in the Seaplane Lagoon. Oh, and they also just happened to stumble across a previously undiscovered 50-square-foot-patch of radium-contaminated concrete.

The discoveries have led to fresh concerns about the thoroughness of the Navy’s cleanup efforts on the contaminated base.

“If somebody hadn’t happened to wander over there with their survey meter, (the radium) would still be out there,” said George Humphreys, a member of the citizen board charged with overseeing the base cleanup.

The Navy has put together a preliminary plan for cleaning up the “riprap anomaly,” which is what they’re calling the radium find.

“It’s in a small area. I don’t think it will be a lot of work,” said Pat Brooks, the Navy’s cleanup coordinator. Brooks said that the rest of the western shoreline of the lagoon has been checked and that “nothing unusual” was found.

The Navy has no plans to move the mystery object out of the lagoon, Brooks said.

The unidentified sunken object was discovered by work crews cleaning up debris piles along the northern shore of the lagoon, who found it when their digging equipment scraped against it, Brooks said.

He said it could be a block of concrete. But Councilman Frank Matarrese, who also sits on the citizen oversight board, said the city’s base cleanup consultant thinks it could be some kind of storage tank.

The radium contamination was discovered by work and radiological survey crews as they wandered the western shore of the lagoon, as part of their efforts to clean up contaminated storm drains. (Humphreys said the chalky residue looks like it came out of a paint bucket. “Apparently, it glows in the dark,” he said.)

Humphreys and Matarrese both expressed concern about the discoveries, which come a dozen years after the base was closed. And they said they think the Navy needs to be more thorough in its cleanup efforts.

Humphreys wants the Navy to survey the whole base for contamination, starting with the northern shore of Seaplane Lagoon where the debris removal is being done. (The Navy has no plans to check for any further contamination in that area, according to a recent presentation to the citizen board.)

Matarrese – who said he thinks cleanup issues dwarf all other concerns about development of the base – wants the Navy to agree to clean up any contamination found after the base is transferred to a new owner. The city and SunCal, which is slated to redevelop the former base, are negotiating a new land transfer agreement with the Navy; the results of those negotiations are slated to come at the end of March.

“After 10 years of studying and sampling, they found something they didn’t expect by happenstance,” he said. “There are going to be difficulties that we’re going to have to hold the Navy accountable for.”


  • Jayne Smythe says:

    Who knows? Maybe we can finally solve the mystery of Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance!

    Personally, I find it highly suspicious that the Navy is not interested in the 15' cubed object. For that very reason, the thing needs to be brought to the surface and analyzed.

    The very thought of building in a contaminated area makes me ill. And considering the lawsuits in various parts of the country against companies and municipal governments that did not deal with contaminiation properly should be a huge red flag to the government and residents of Alameda.

    The contamination issue needs major league sunlighting and our city officials need to be held to account.

  • David Howard says:

    Click on my name for stories of two California toxic waste sites deemed "clean" that are suspected of causing illnesses for residents long after the "cleanup."

  • Jason says:

    'Humphreys said the chalky residue looks like it came out of a paint bucket. “Apparently, it glows in the dark,” he said.'

    This comment indicates that this is likely radium dial paint, which was used, for example, in old military planes to make the instrument dials glow green so that the pilots could see them in the dark.

    Does "chalky" imply that this stuff is dusty and easy to brush off? If so someone should test the water and the silt, or better yet filter feeders or bottom feeders in the vicinity for increased levels of Radium. Perhaps there are even a few carcasses in the area gone the way of Alexander Litvinenko…

    Water is the last place you want radioactive waste to show up. Is there any way to investigate how it got there? There could be some criminal failure to follow waste disposal protocols here.

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