New Radiation Concerns Prompt Orders for More Campus Bay Testing By Richard Brenneman
Friday March 10, 2006
Concerns about the possible presence of radioactive waste at the Campus Bay site in south Richmond have prompted the state to order new tests for the controversial site.
Previous concerns about radiation hazards at Campus Bay involved the possible contamination by uranium testing in which the radioactive metal was melted with electron beams.
But Campus Bay Project Manager and Cherokee Investment Partners engineer Doug Mosteller also hinted that radioactivity materials tests or experiments may have been conducted at a super phosphate plant that occupied part of the site.
“We don’t know what they were doing for the government,” he said. “It was supposed to be secret. We are also concerned that testing may have been done at different places.”
Simeon Properties—the San Francisco firm which has partnered with Cherokee Investment Properties to develop the site—responded by hiring MACTEC Development Corporation of Grand Junction, CO, to conduct a site radiation survey.
The firm specializes in decommissioning and demolition of former nuclear power plants and nuclear weapon manufacturing facilities.
MACTEC conducted a surface walkover of the sites of five demolished buildings, using a detector held at two to six inches above the ground.
The device used, a sodium-iodide detection system, was capable of detecting only gamma radiation—which has the ability the penetrate several feet of concrete.
“[O]ur survey found no indication of radioactive material at the site in excess of normal background level,” wrote Steven D. Rima, the firm’s radiological engineering manager, in an Aug. 13, 2003 letter to Simeon Vice President Susan J. Cronk.
Cherokee Simeon posted the results at the Campus Bay website, www.campusbay.info, but the study has since been removed, a Wednesday afternoon website search revealed.
MACTEC’s report noted that the tests weren’t capable of detecting beta rays, which can be stopped by a layer of clothing, or alpha rays—which are stopped by a sheet of paper.
But alpha radiation can be the most dangerous, especially when inhaled or ingested—and it is alpha radiation which makes plutonium the world’s most toxic substance.
In a Feb. 21 letter to Cherokee-Simeon, Barbara J. Cook, chief of DTSC’s Northern California Coastal Cleanup Operations Branch, specifically noted the inability of the MACTEC survey to detect the presence of plutonium at the site.
DTSC is now demanding tests for all three types of radiation, not only at the site of the uranium melting experiments, but at a potentially much more hazardous site—the location of the plant that made phosphate fertilizers and so-called super phosphate from ore mined in Idaho.
According to GeoNote 40, a publication of the Idaho Geological Survey, those ores contain uranium as well as selenium, another hazardous but nonradioactive metal. (Selenium has been identified as the cause of bird deaths and birth defects in the Kesterton Wildlife Preserve in California’s Central Valley.)
Radioactive compounds (radionucleides) identified in phosphate ores include two forms of uranium, U-238 and U-234, thorium-230, radium-226, radon-222, lead-210 and polonium-210, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Emissions Factors and Policy Applications Center.
In a letter written Feb. 22, Kimiko Klein, a toxicologist with DTSC’s Human and Ecological Risk Division, wrote that phosphate production could have produced increased concentrations of radioactive compounds in the slag (waste) generated by the process, which “may still be present on the site.”
Even before concentration by processing, the radioactive elements present in the ore are found at levels up to 100 times the normal background level, according to the EPA.
The tests won’t offer any means of assessing the exposures to those who lived and worked nearby when the fertilizer plant was operating.
Cook has also ordered Cherokee-Simeon to produce any radioactive licenses held by former site owner Stauffer Chemical prior to 1977 and to identify where the firm stored radioactive materials.
Staffer owned the chemical manufacturing complex between 1949 and 1986, when it was sold to Zeneca—now Astra-Zeneca—a Swiss pharmaceutical and agricultural manufacturing giant.
It was during Stauffer’s control that the electron beam uranium tests were conducted.