Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Corrective
Action at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
CMS (Corrective Measures Study) Report


To California Regional Water Quality Control Board San Francisco Bay Region, July 20, 2004

Subject: RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) Corrective Action at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/CMS (Corrective Measures Study) Report

Dear Board Members:
We, the undersigned, request that the San Francisco Bay RWQCB issue an order to the Department of Energy to clean up the nuclear and non-nuclear contamination of groundwater and soil at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) within the city limits of Berkeley and Oakland. In addition, the Board should impose penalties under the Porter Cologne Act for the impact on surface waters by the Lab’s tritium-polluted groundwater in the area of Chicken Creek, a tributary of Strawberry Creek.

Members of the Berkeley City Council, city commissions, environmental and neighborhood organizations, and creek groups have spent over a decade working with state and federal regulatory agencies to address the serious problems of environmental contamination at LBNL. Our experience has been one of frustration and disappointment with these regulatory agencies’ lack of commitment to enforce a comprehensive cleanup of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste from the soil, groundwater, surface waters, and vegetation in the Strawberry Creek Watershed.

Our Berkeley city government has communicated to the Board that the City and citizens of Berkeley strongly oppose the imposition of risk-based clean-up standards, which permit significant amounts of federally generated contamination to remain in place at LBNL that threatens groundwater in the Berkeley/Oakland hills. (See attachments 1&2)

Under RCRA Corrective Action, LBNL was required to submit the Corrective Measures Study Report to the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) over two months ago. At the July 1, 2004 Berkeley’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission meeting, a LBNL representative informed the community that Department of Energy (DOE) headquarters in Washington DC had issued an order forbidding LBNL to release the CMS report to the regulators and public. It was further revealed by the LBNL representative that DOE is not committed to any serious cleanup at the LBNL site.

The City of Berkeley has a policy against the use of risk based corrective actions as a first measure of hazardous materials clean-up. City policy, like that of the state water codes (Porter Cologne Act) contains a significant principle that resources that are deemed to have existing and potential groundwater beneficial uses should be preserved. Similarly, the state water board has a non-degradation policy. This means that the first consideration for any site clean-up is that it should be brought back to the pristine condition in which it was found.

The city of Berkeley’s comment letter to LBNL dated November 26, 2003 states the following “Should DOE reduce its budget for clean-up at LBNL, the facility will not meet any restrictive cleanup goals. Mitigation measures should be expressed as measures required to comply with the most restrictive applicable standards to insure implementation of such requirements regardless of changes in Federal funding for remediation.” (See attachment 3. page 13)

If the financial requirements to reach this clean-up goal are too much of a hardship to DOE, or if no technical solution is reasonably found, then some reasonable leniency can be considered. One such approach could be the use of Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs). The use of MCLs is a risk level based on the drinking water standard in which the risk level causes no more that one cancer case in a million people. The clean up at LBNL, if necessary, could employ this approach.

Deed restrictions are the last resort for a clean up and are more clearly associated with Brownfields than they are with a successful clean-up. Brownfields should only be a last resort in a depressed area where the contamination will not be cleaned up due to the absence of a responsible party and/or general economic depression. Berkeley is not depressed economically nor is the federal government. Thus, LBNL/DOE does not require either the use of deed restrictions or Brownfields.

Preservation of the groundwaters of the State of California must be of the highest priority. The Berkeley City Council and its environmental commission support full environmental restoration at LBNL so as to preserve the Berkeley/Oakland hills groundwater for future generations. This is mandatory because in an emergency Berkeley groundwater will be used for domestic, municipal, irrigation and industrial purposes. Today, the LBNL site is contaminated by the presence of large quantities of radionuclides and 162 contaminants including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Pesticides, Fuels, Metals and Freon.

The official Zoning Map of the city of Berkeley designates the UC hill campus lands, including LBNL, as a residential district. This zoning permits, for instance, the construction of residential structures such as apartments and hotels that will provide housing opportunities for transient or seasonal residents. (See attachment 4.) LBNL/DOE must evaluate the cleanup scenarios within the context of actual residential zoning and land use provisions. The city of Oakland’s land use designation (S-7 Preservation) for the UC/LBNL hill area is Park, Recreation or Natural area or Watershed. (See attachment 5.)
The Department of Energy has not proven it has financial hardship. Nevertheless, it is attempting to withdraw money earmarked for LBNL clean-up by past agreements and past practices.

Leaving contamination in place is a cost saving measure. The savings to the DOE is a cost to the citizens of California and especially to the citizens of Berkeley. How much does it cost to accept the tritium, volatile organic compounds and the necessary zoning use restrictions for, say, 300 years? The people of Berkeley would like to comment on the detailed analyses of what costs were considered. The issue of the landowner, University of California, is particularly important since they will have to accept, in perpetuity, any contamination that was caused by the DOE. In this case, the federal government pollutes the soils and groundwater and the state government (and taxpayers) end up paying for the contamination. Has the landlord accepted this liability?

The RWQCB comment letter (See attachment 6.) to DOE dated May 17, 2004 states that the risk characterization of LBNL is incomplete and cited the following areas, issues and contaminants of concern that need to be addressed:

  • Multiple Land Use Scenarios, including unrestricted land use.
  • Site-wide Radiological Issues. Tritium is known to exceed the drinking water MCL (at LBNL) and the groundwater to surface water pathway exists in the area of Chicken Creek.
  • Beneficial Use Assessment of Surface water and Groundwater (including surveys of the groundwater wells (and the Lennert Aquifer)
  • Site-wide Stormwater and Sediment Management issues.Beyond the state, there is the issue of local jurisdiction. If groundwater contamination is not cleaned up, it will continue to move down hill and pollute the City of Berkeley. Contaminated groundwater enters the surface waters or runs subsurface and moves below student dormitories downhill from LBNL.

In conclusion, we reiterate our request that the San Francisco Bay RWQCB issue an order to the Department of Energy to clean up the nuclear and non-nuclear contamination of groundwater and soil at LBNL. In addition, the Board should impose penalties under the Porter Cologne Act for the impact on surface waters by the tritium-polluted groundwater in the area of Chicken Creek, a tributary of Strawberry Creek.

L A Wood, City of Berkeley Community Environmental Advisory Commission
Pamela Sihvola, Co-chair Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste
Steve Donnelly, Executive Director, Urban Creeks Council of California
Janice Thomas, Past President of the Panoramic Hill Association

Attachment 7: Friends of Strawberry Creek Comment Letter on UCB 2020 LRDP EIR.
Cc: Governor Schwarzenegger
Congresswoman Lee, 9th District, California
California Senators Boxer and Feinstein

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