Aeration of Polluted Soils

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Aeration of Polluted Soils.
L A Wood, September 19, 1995
To: Berkeley City Council

The growing controversy surrounding Berkeley's Underground Storage Tank (UST) program reaches far beyond the obvious questions concerning the quality of air, water and soils. These polluted properties are posing a real health risk to our community. The old single-walled, constructed steel, underground storage tank have contributed to many a toxic spill in Berkeley. Most of these leaking, waste oil and gasoline tanks have been associated with automobile fueling stations.

Over the last century, Berkeley's fueling stations have been placed on nearly every corner of the city's commercial districts. Today, commercial districts are mixed use, including residential housing. The increased development of the city's commercial zones, coupled with the new UST regulations (1998), will create even more remediation activity in the future. Our current UST program is undergoing severe regulatory changes, and this is challenging the environmental health of our neighborhoods.

Contaminated soil and aeration

The State of California and the Regional Water Quality Control Board (Region 2) regulate the remediation of all Berkeley's polluted sites in conjunction with the city's Toxics Department. Each agency shares in the review of all site work plans for both soil and groundwater remediation. Historically, the aeration process is the most often approved treatment method of remediation, and this usually represents a sizable portion of the total cleanup plan.

Aeration is accomplished quite simply by spreading the contaminated soils across the site. This promotes the evaporation of the gasoline's volatile compounds into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, this transfer of pollutants from the soil unnecessarily contributes to the degradation of air quality. In South Bay, because of poor air quality, the Bay Area Air Quality Board restricts onsite aeration treatment. It is a convoluted logic, employed by this same board, which allows massive onsite aeration throughout the East Bay, supposedly because our air can afford to become dirtier.

These experts, who more often than not, rely on statistics and computer modeling to determine human health risks, are so far removed from the problem as to not understand the real impact of remediation upon the urban community. Typically, site plan analysis fails to acknowledge the actual urban setting and the residential nature of most of these contaminated properties..

Currently, Berkeley's aeration practices are poisoning our neighborhoods. The short term health effects are clear. Burning eyes and sore throat are but a few of the symptoms that one experiences with exposure to these toxic vapors. Such reactions are easily recognized as evidence of toxic exposure. The long term health effects to the many chemical components of gasoline have not been fully explored. However, the better understood chemical toxins, such as benzene, have been clearly linked to various cancer and respiratory diseases.

Diesel fuel, though common on many sites, is a perfect example of the lack of scientific data on health effects. For this reasons there is a tendency in the remediation process to dismiss those contaminants whose health effects are unknown. This often translates into scaled down site plans, reduced remediation standards, and the consequent negative impact on human health.

The effects of aeration on community health and the environment are undeniable. It is clearly seen in the practice of stockpiling soils on site for the express purpose of aeration. This dramatically increases the toxic exposure to adjacent neighborhoods. Many contaminated gas station sites are small lots, while the amount of soil to be aerated is great. Such physical logistics can often produce onsite stockpiles of soil, stacked as high as 20 feet. Contaminated soils can become airborne, presenting additional health risks.

Contaminant groundwater and aeration

Since most storage tanks were placed at a depth of at least 10 feet, many toxic leaks have impacted the groundwater, too. Ground water is the vehicle for migration of contaminants off site. This gradual movement of toxic spills is generally downstream, toward the San Francisco Bay. These spills are rarely stable. It's no surprise that Berkeley's records show many off site migration problems.

When a site remediation plan calls for the cleanup of large volumes of groundwater, onsite aeration is often the tank owner's choice. That choice of on site treatment can include the use of an open air Baker tank. The groundwater found on a site often contains the same contaminants which permeate the soil. These contaminants can be in higher concentrations in the ground water. The open air tank aeration of these toxins poses the same health and environmental concerns as soil aeration, and therefore, should be discouraged as well.

Health risk assessment and aeration

In the past, when a site cleanup plan included aeration, it was rarely questioned by the City of Berkeley. It was accepted as a normal practice. Today, however, these practices are beginning to change. Some onsite aeration plans are being required to develop a health risk assessment.

Though reports on risk assessments are occasionally performed, they usually are inadequate to protect the neighbors around these toxic sites. Such an example occurred last month at a toxic site on San Pablo Avenue. (See attachment) The next-door-neighbors to this former gasoline station were forced to flee their homes because the aeration activity filled their houses with gasoline fumes.

The Community Health Risk Assessment attempts to determine both chemical and physical exposure to remediation. With aeration, these components would seem to be indistinguishable. Risk reports rarely give more than token recognition to residents living near toxic sites. This has led to more health risk investigations concluding that aeration presents a low or moderate risk to the immediate community. It is unquestionable that aeration increases both the chemical and physical health risks to the community.

It should be noted that a site risk assessment report was required for the above mentioned San Pablo site. That document was challenged by. the city because of its statistics and the credentials of the health risk assessor. Unbelievably, the Regional Water Quality Control. Board approved the plan over the objections of Berkeley's Toxics Department. Today, the remediation process is being driven more by the cost , effectiveness of the clean up than how contaminant-free a site becomes. Aeration is the method most used to reduce remediation costs, other than a no-action scheme. The consequences are clear:

Berkeley's community and the local environment are left to shoulder the real costs of onsite aeration. This is due in part to the City of Berkeley's failure to mandate clear, sustainable remediation policies.. Some of the shortcomings of aeration which need to be addressed are:

• Alternative technologies: The reduction of airborne, volatile compounds is facilitated by the use of blo-venting with filtration. or catalytic burn off of the vapors after they are extracted from the soil. Both these approaches to urban remediation lessen the environmental impact of site cleanup activities.

• Incentive Programs: Currently the City can only approve or disapprove site treatment plans, and cannot tell them what methods to use. For this reason, it is imperative that Berkeley promote alternative technologies which increase protection to the community and environment. Incentive programs are an excellent way to promote these preferred methods of remediation.

• Weather windows: Aeration is influenced by weather conditions. Remediation should be discouraged on poor air quality days. When soils are left to aerate on site, they are purposely uncovered. This is a real problem during the rainy season because of polluted soils entering the storm drainage system. Currently, there are few weather restrictions governing aeration.

• Monitoring: There are many variables in the monitoring of on site aeration. Portable monitors provide limited measure and data. One way to provide better information is to require fixed monitoring in and around remediation projects, especially along any common borders with residential properties.

• Risk communication to public: The best way for the public to protect itself against aeriation pollution is to be better informed. The present notification process for residents around a remediation site is sketchy at best. Proper posting at each site should include an explanation of the project, the types of contaminants, health effects, work schedules, and contact numbers of the owner, the engineer, all onsite contractors, and all responsible reulatory agencies are all a part of the public right to know. This critical information is absent at most active remediation sites.

Sometimes risk communication is requested and sometimes it is required. Sometimes, however, the tank owner is given exemption by the Regional Water Quality Control Board from this reporting requirement. Unfortunately, neither the Board nor the remediation process encourage meaningful community participation.

Public notification of most remediation activities is delivered like a pizza flyer, stuffed in residents' doorways. A more formal notification process should be a requirement for every toxic site in Berkeley. Citizen participation needs to begin at the planning stage, long before the commencement of site remediation work.

Berkeley and aeration

The contradictions of onsite aeration are telling of the many problems fading our UST program. One month regulators will reprimand a tank site owner for not covering up stockpiles of soil, and the next month allow for a fullblown aeration plan! What are we doing? It is no wonder that our UST policies create so much confusion.

Berkeley's Underground Storage Tank program has seen few changes in the last twenty years. However, one exception is blatantly evident. Now more remediation plans are structured around cost effectiveness, with less attention being directed at the completeness of the clean up. This focus has limited the scope of many investigations and has resulted in more contaminants being left on site. Meanwhile, the list of stressed properties, which are either contaminated or adjacent to known toxic sites, continues to grow.

Regarding aeration of polluted soils.
From: City of Berkeley , December 5, 1995

Dear Mr. Wood:

This is in response to your letter regarding aeration of polluted soils. On site aeration of contaminated soils is an issue that both the Toxics Management Division (TMD) and the Community Environmental Advisory Commission (CEAC) have addressed in the past two years. The City removes 50 underground storage tanks in an average year. Most of these tanks show some measure of pollution during excavation but very few of the underground storage tank (UST) removals result in complaints from neighbors. The reason is that the TMD and the consultant usually agree upon an acceptable procedure in advance. The TMD has made aeration a costly remediation procedure by requiring all aeration requests to be accompanied by a limited health risk assessment and an air monitoring program at the site for the duration of a prolonged aeration process.

In a recent and fairly rare case of aeration in Berkeley, the consultant, property owner and State agencies allowed aeration to be used as a cost effective remediation method. Aeration is an accepted remediation method in other Cities in the San Francisco Bay Area. The aeration operations resulted in the expected nuisance complaints from the community and the TMD intervened with the State agencies to reverse this policy and remove the remainder of the contamination for off-site remediation.

The CEAC supported staff position on restricting aeration of polluted soils and passed a recommendation to the City Council to further restrict this activity. Since that time, Council delayed the CEAC recommendation and recommended that a workshop be presented to them on this subject.

On November 21, 1995, a workshop was presented to the City Council. There was also a short video ("On Berkeley Soil") presentation from the public on the problems of aeration and ground water quality. A discussion followed the presentation and Council approved the CEAC item for limiting aeration of contaminated soils and added a request to staff and the CEAC to determine risk communication procedures, accelerated contaminated stockpile removal, and added inspection of high hazard stockpiles.

With respect to the clean up levels, staff is to prepare a communication to Council explaining what a containment zone is and what Emeryville is doing in their recent "brownfields" application. The City Attorney is to look into the potential action the City of Berkeley can take if we are impacted by Emeryville's action. Additional language is to be added to the communication to the State and Regional water boards reflecting a stronger role for the impacted community on advisory bodies which may impact decision making.

Problems with toxic cleanup method aired
Will Harper, Berkeley Voice, September 14, 1995

Problems with toxic cleanup method aired: City officials, gas station neighbors frown on aeration

When Leslie Marks bought her west Berkeley home in 1992, she never suspected the closed gas station next door posed a danger to her. The person who sold her the house neglected to tell her there had been underground gas leaks at the site, she said.

Earlier this summer a toxic cleanup of the site at 2700 San Pablo Ave. started after the go-ahead was given by various local, regional and state agencies.

The remediation a plan used a controversial and relatively inexpensive cleanup method known as aeration in which polluted soil is unearthed and essentially aired out over a period of time.

Marks said the fumes have caused her an ongoing sore throat, nausea, burning eyes and severe headaches. The fumes have also made her house is uninhabitable, she said. Marks, an artist, now either stays in her studio down the street or with friends.

I'm furious," she said while standing across the street from the site and her home. "I've got a house I've got to continue to pay for and I can't use it."

Marks said she was notified that the cleanup was going to take place, but she was not told what method was going to be used. A city toxics official acknowledged an odor definitely emanated from the site, although that did not mean the site posed a health hazard. A sign posted by the city said measured air emissions did not reveal the presence of benzene -- a known cancer-causing agent often associated with contaminated gas sites. The posted sign said the air being emitted from the site posed no health risk to the surrounding community.

Still, environmentalists question the wisdom of using aeration to clean up sites in urban areas near homes and businesses. It's a method better suited for rural or industrial areas, environmentalist say.

According to the city toxics program there are 40-50 underground storage tank sites in Berkeley, many of which may be contaminated. If the owners of those sites all wanted to clean up their property using aeration there's little the city could do now to stop them.

The Community Environmental Advisory Commission last month unanimously passed a resolution strengthening the city's policy on the use of aeration. The commission's recommendation goes to the City Council for final approval some time in the next month.

Nabil Al-Hadithy, staff secretary to the commission, said the commission wants to establish a city policy that would declare aeration an unacceptable method of toxic cleanup or remediation. The commission's recommendation would also require property owners to protect soil stockpiles from water and wind and remove those stockpiles from the polluted site within 30 days.

Currently, Al-Hadithy said, the city's policy is to advise property owners not to aerate on site, But the city doesn't have the legal authority to prevent owners from aerating if they insist on doing so. That's because the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the regional body that regulates local air standards, permits aeration and doesn't allow cities to ban it. What the air district does allow the city to do, Al-Hadithy said, is strengthen restrictions. "Consequently, we have to be creative and restrict aeration without banning it," he said.

"I'm longing for something stronger, but it's the best we could do under the circumstances," said Jami Caseber, the vice-chair of the commission. The appeal of aeration is that it is a relatively cheap remediation method.

A city policy at simply restricts aeration still can deter its use, Al-Hadithy said. Property owners will know from the beginning that the city doesn't want them to aerate. If owners insist on using aeration they must seek the permission of three regional and state boards.

In the case of 2700 San Pablo, Al-Hadithy said, a city policy opposed to aeration may have prevented its use on the site. Such a policy may have been more persuasive to the to State Water Resources Control Board -- which controls the purse-strings to the state's underground storage tank cleanup program paid for by gas taxes -- than an individual city toxics inspector advising against it, Al-Hadithy said.

There are some air quality management districts in the state that don't permit the aeration of polluted soils, Al-Hadithy said. The Bay Area air district only restricts aeration if a property is very large or extremely contaminated. Relatively small properties like gas stations generally qualify to aerate on site, Al-Hadithy said. I'd be happy if other cities in the Bay Area follow our lead, not only because it's good policy but also because it's bad policy to take pollution from one medium (soil) and transfer it to another on.

Caseber said he'd like the city to lobby the regional air board to ban aeration. Al-Hadithy said the city already takes pro-active measures to protect the community from adverse health impacts by requiring preliminary health risk assessments and air monitoring of polluted sites. If aeration of petroleum hydrocarbons, like those found at gas stations, wore to adversely affect the health of nearby residents, the city can shut down a site. In most cases, however, Al-Hadithy said such aeration does not have any measurable health impact.

Still, there are less measurable "nuisances" effects which go along with aeration such as the smell of gas having a psychological or sensitizing impact on surrounding residents. Such effects can't be measured by a toxicologist, Al-Hadithy said, but are valid nevertheless.

Local environmentalist and neighborhood activist L A Wood said while the city's efforts to further restrict aeration was a step in the right direction, still more can be done. Wood suggested the city could offer incentives to use safer alternative remediation methods, such as bio-venting, that don't send volatile compounds into the air. Wood added that the city should require more complete public notification so nearby residents know what's happening when a toxic site is being cleaned. For example, Wood said, residents near the site at 2700 San Pablo received only a vague notice that didn't warn of any potential health effects.

"Public notification of remediation activities is delivered like a pizza flyer, stuffed in residents' doorways. A more formal notification process should be a requirement for every toxic site in Berkeley," Wood said. "All those people involved in remediation have a right to know the types of contaminants, work schedules, the actual health effects these contaminates have. People should be warned so they can avoid areas that are being remediated or aerated," he said.

Al-Hadithy said if preliminary health risk assessment required by the city showed a potential health hazard then the city would not allow aeration to take place on the site.

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