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Point Being: Are Point veggies safe?

Submitted by on 1, April 26, 2011 – 8:52 pm9 Comments

Fruit and vegetables were gathered for study in this area near Alameda Point’s old Main Gate. Photo by Richard Bangert.

By Richard Bangert

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.

The study was reassuring as to food consumption, but did not address the risk of ingesting dust containing “elevated levels of PAHs.” According to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, PAHs break down when exposed to sunlight and certain soil microorganisms, and risk levels for dust containing PAHs normally occur only at industrial operations.

Blight busted

The neighborhood where the Alameda Point Collaborative housing is located will no longer be marred by boarded-up apartment buildings. The demolition contract approved by the City Council on March 15 will remove eight former four- and six-plex apartment buildings on Barbers Point Road, Glenview Road, and Norfolk Road that have been sitting vacant for over 10 years. The demolition project is now underway and expected to be completed this week, according to city officials. It not only removes depressing visual blight, but also a magnet for petty crime.

The $279,000 contract awarded to Urban Metro Environmental, Inc., the low bidder, came at the urging of the Alameda Point Collaborative (APC), the Alameda Police Department, and the city’s Economic Development Department because of the negative impact the boarded-up buildings have on APC residents’ quality of life. The blighted complex is also close to the Collaborative’s Ploughshares Nursery and visible to Bayport residents on the other side of Main Street.

The demolition project will leave the foundations in place because removal would have led to a more complicated and expensive city approval and removal process. Unfortunately, since the foundations will remain in place, the area will be fenced off for safety reasons, and it won’t have a park-like open space look to it. Nevertheless, it’s a huge improvement.

The funds for the project are coming from U.S. Housing and Urban Development block grant monies allocated by city officials to a program intended to bust blight. Four other vacant nearby structures were demolished under the program in 2007.

Cleanup news

The contractor dredging Seaplane Lagoon is removing a final leg of the contaminated sewer line leading to the lagoon. The extensive radium-226-contaminated sewer line removal project was completed in 2010, except for an area under the concrete where it empties into the Northwest corner of the lagoon. In order for that area to be cleaned up without further contaminating the lagoon, a steel wall has to be temporarily built in the lagoon around the work area to contain soil and debris.

Up along the Oakland Estuary on the Northwest Territories is the 14-acre Site 14, known as the former fighter training area. Groundwater here was contaminated with vinyl chloride and has been undergoing cleanup since 2008. The method of injecting a chemical, sodium perchlorate, into the groundwater to neutralize the contaminant was able to achieve an 80 percent reduction in the contamination.

The Navy recently announced that continuing to use the chemical injection method was not prudent, and that they would instead allow the remaining contamination to degrade naturally. They expect this to take between two and a half and about five and a half years. They noted in their report that bacteria beneficial to breaking down vinyl chloride are on the rebound. They will periodically monitor the groundwater.

Previous actions on this site include removal of dioxin-contaminated soil. The Navy’s plan for this site was announced in 2006.


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