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Navy offers annual toxic site tour at Alameda Point

Submitted by on 1, July 19, 2010 – 4:50 am4 Comments

Photo by Rin Kelly

By Rin Kelly

About 50 people turned out Saturday for the Navy’s annual Alameda Point tour. The tour offered participants to see four toxic hot spots at the Point, which is a Superfund site, and to learn more about the Navy’s efforts to clean up the base.

The four stops on the fully booked bus tour included visits to some of the more complex and controversial cleanup areas at the former Naval Air Station, including the Seaplane Lagoon and a former landfill location known in Superfund-speak as Installation Restoration Site 1.

Used as the main waste disposal site at NAS Alameda between 1943 and 1956, Site 1, which is at the Point’s Northwest edge, has been the subject of a heated bureaucratic back-and-forth between city officials, environmental regulators and the Navy, which has chosen to clean up the site to a level less stringent than that desired by city leaders – at a fraction of the cost of the city’s favored alternative.

The 36-acre site is contaminated with radium, petroleum products, solvents, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and metals left over from its days as a dumping ground.

As participants piled out of the bus on the edge of the fenced-off, restricted site, officials from the Navy and contractor Tetra Tech, Inc. set up an informational poster describing ongoing and planned remediation efforts. Costing $45 million, the cleanup at Site 1 will involve groundwater remediation, removal of contaminated soil from the shoreline, the creation of wetlands, and the installation of a four-foot soil cover, Cecily Sabedra of Tetra Tech said. The work is expected to be completed in 2013, leaving the area ready for open space and recreational use.

City leaders wanted the Navy to more fully examine the site to find out what contaminants are where and to remove them, but Navy officials said the cost of such an operation would be $900 million.

Councilman and mayoral candidate Frank Matarrese, who was taking the annual tour for the first time but has been vocal about cleanup issues at the Point and has toured the base in the past on other occasions, said that though “they are doing a lot” throughout the base, he would still prefer to see a “scoop and remove” operation at Site 1.

The tour then continued with a drive through Site 1, after which officials scanned the bus tires for radiation.

The second stop was Operable Unit 5, an area that includes Island High School, the North Housing parcel and U.S. Coast Guard housing. As part of a presentation on the groundwater cleanup work in the area, Navy and Tetra Tech representatives passed around examples of the kinds of pipes they are using in a “biosparging” operation. The pipes transmit air to the groundwater, adding oxygen that helps microorganisms to eat the benzene and napthalene in the groundwater.

So far, the biosparging system has removed 2,800 pounds of benzene and 70,000 pounds of napthalene, said Navy project manager Mary Parker.

At the next site, the pier area near the U.S.S. Hornet, Navy officials represented the diver-assisted hydraulic dredging that will occur in 2011 and 2012 with a photo of a chihuahua in scuba gear. Mechanical dredging will also be conducted at the site, which contains sediment contaminated by pesticides, PCBs, and metals like cadmium and lead.

Alameda resident Irene Dieter expressed displeasure that no active cleanup has yet occurred at the site, which Derek Robinson, Navy environmental coordinator for Alameda Point, said has been subject to records searching, sampling, and testing. The design phase of cleanup at the site will begin in two weeks, he said.

The tour’s final stop was the Seaplane Lagoon, where sediment contaminated by flows from storm drains will be removed during dredging operations next year.

The primary contaminants in the area are metals, pesticides, and PCBs, said Navy officials. Additionally, following last year’s accidental discovery by workers of previously unknown radiological contamination in the area, new investigations have been conducted at the site.

“We’ve extended our radiological surveys to a much larger area,” said Navy project manager Bill McGinnis. No further radiological material has been found, he said, though Matarrese said he remained concerned about the true extent of the radiological contamination on the base.

“I haven’t gotten a satisfactory answer (about it),” he said.

The Navy and state and federal environmental regulators said in May that about 40 percent of the base has been cleaned up and 35 percent is in the midst of cleanup activities now, while 25 percent is being looked at to see what, if any, cleanup still needs to be done.

Some $466 million has been spent to clean up the former Navy base to date, with another $122 million committed toward additional cleanup activities there. A federal regulator said in May that final cleanup activities are expected to take place in 2015.

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