On Berkeley Soil

return    
 

"On Berkeley Soil" video presentation premiered on the Berkeley City Council Agenda in March 1996. The video addresses concerns over groundwater deregulation and the State of California's proposed Containment Zone and Brownfields Policies. The health of a community can be measured by the quality of its groundwater. This video is dedicated to a better understanding of groundwater and its many beneficial uses, now and for future generations.

toxic groundwater


chemical warning sign

On Berkeley Soil
Video presentation

Script and Narration: L A Wood
Music: "Crying Waters", Ron Hacker & Hacksaw Records www.ronhacker.com

Also See: Containment Zones: Regional Water Board Response

The health of a community can be measured by the quality of its groundwater. This video is dedicated to a better understanding of groundwater and its many beneficial uses, now and for future generations.

KPFA 94.1 FM Radio Earth Day 95 broadcast:Thousands of people turned out to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day in Washington D. C. Today…Over the last decade, Congress has passed…including the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Acts, which environmentalist now say that Republicans are dismantling. Environmentalists spent the day urging Americans to fight back

At a fueling station
Hello, We are here in Berkeley, California to investigate contaminated soil and its impact on both groundwater and the city’s residential community. A gas station would seem an unlikely location to begin this discussion, but in truth, it is quite appropriate.

Historically, the practice has been to store gasoline and heating fuels in underground tanks. Other toxic chemicals, like industrial solvents, have also been stored there. Our focus today is on the underground storage of gasoline and diesel because, as you will see, a large portion of Berkeley’s contaminated soil is saturated with these hazardous substances.

Plume
diagram of underground leaking fuel tank At one time or another, over the last century, gasoline fueling stations have been located on nearly every corner of our commercial districts. Most of these sites originally had single-walled, gas stations.

Often these tanks, when left too long in the ground, develop leaks. This allowed fuel to seep, uncontrolled, into the soil. The fuel you see spreading into the soil is called a plume. The rate at which the plume radiates away from the tank is greatly influenced by the soil composition.

Most flatland site can be described as sandy clay. Although the geology differs from site to site, all soils exhibit some permeability. To identify the extent of a fuel plume, wells are drilled around the site. Soil samples and groundwater analysis can determine the point where toxics are no longer detected. Only then can the total impact be known and a comprehensive cleanup plan crafted.

In Berkeley, investigations have identified nearly 50 gasoline fueling sites which have some soil that is laced with fuel contaminants. Typically, fueling tanks are placed about 15 feet underground in the soil, which puts most tanks into direct contact with groundwater. No site with soil contamination is absolutely stable since its contact with groundwater greatly facilitates off-site migration of pollutants.

Remediation
The cleanup process for fuel-contaminated soil and groundwater is called remediation. Remediation varies from site to site in Berkeley, but over the last ten years, the most common method has been the excavation and hauling of contaminated soils out of town to regional landfills.

The “dig and haul” cleanup method is chosen by developers because it is faster. This practice is widely used even though soils polluted by petroleum hydrocarbon constituents are generally able to be effectively remediated onsite.

Unfortunately, the relocation of fuel-contaminated soils to other communities isn’t environmentally responsible. In the last five years, the remediation industry has begun to use some alternative cleanup techniques. One such technology is vapor extraction. Contaminants are drawn from the monitoring wells and then filtered out.

A similar treatment burns extracted vapor, releasing Co2 and water. Vapor extraction is something that should make neighbors breathe easier. These newer remedial methods are gradually replacing the more common on-site.

Aeration
soil piled on old gasoline siteLeslie Marks: I live next door where there is remediation work being done. I have now been poisoned out of my house. I’ve gotten sick from the fumes. They are aerating the soil …so that its just out in the open air and all of us are getting poisoned.

On site aeration is performed by stockpiling polluted soils in high mounds or though an active process akin to kneading bread. Airing soil onsite releases many volatile compounds, like benzene, into the air. These gases though invisible to the eye, evaporate much like the water vapor seen here.

Unfortunately, this practice has few restrictions. Aeration is clearly destructive to the environment and is inappropriate for any urban setting. This abatement method should be restricted in all phases of the site cleanup.

Helga Allessio: My name is Helga Allesio. I have been living in the west Berkeley neighborhood since 1989. Until just recently, when I found out that the gasoline station next to us was going to be cleaned up. Initially, I was glad to hear that because it’s been there since before we moved in. And it was going on for about 10 weeks into the process when I started having some health problems and with my family…particularly, sore throats and dryness in the throat, difficulties in swallowing and being extremely nauseated, even with the windows and doors closed.

gasoline warning signResidents are wise to be concerned about the health impacts of site remediation. Very little is known about diesel fuel or the over two hundred different constituents in THP-gasoline. The few components that have been studied extensively, like benzene have shown direct links to cancer and respiratory diseases.

Tragically, the tendency is to dismiss the health effects of exposure to these complex chemicals because so little is known about them.

Helga Allessio: I have learned a lot about what the aeration process means, however, I do not know how we will be affected in the long run by this.

Containment Zones
There is a growing controversy about soil contamination and to what standard, toxic sites should be cleaned. The currently regulatory swing appears to be towards lessening cleanup requirements which will result in more hazardous soils being left in place.

Berkeley is being sized up for these proposed changes by what is being termed as containment zones. A containment zone is simply defined as an area where the objectives of groundwater cannot be reasonably achieved.

The concept of containment is founded on a false premise that lower standards can be good for business because of the cost effectiveness of doing nothing. Unbelievably, this is somehow supposed to also be good for the environment.

Let’s examine the issue of containment by first looking more closely at groundwater and how it is used.

Groundwater
Most of us have an unclear sense about groundwater. The measure of clean is drinking water safe. It wasn’t that long ago that our parents, or their parents employed hand pumps which drew up groundwater for both drinking and irrigation.

Today there are many residential wells all over Berkeley. Though most are capped, other are still functional.

In our East Bay city, groundwater is often quite shallow due to the seasonal rains and geology. Because contaminated soils have so often come in direct contact with the groundwater, our city’s aquifer has been heavily affected. A survey of sites reveals off-site migration problems that range from just a few feet up to a quarter of a mile.

Though groundwater generally flows below the surface, it is directly linked to our creels, our lakes, and our wetlands, as it moves toward the bay. Logically, water quality regulations should also be this closely linked if we are to maintain environmental sustainability.

University Avenue in Berkeley 1950 It has been suggested that there are no beneficial uses for our urban groundwater supply. In truth, groundwater is underutilized. But, there are a number of important uses for this natural resource.

It has been selectively used for irrigation and even at construction site. Our recreational activities often bring residents and groundwater together. Inevitably, groundwater makes contact with all city surface water because they are hydro logically connected.

Certainly we can’t dismiss the potential benefit groundwater might play in a disaster like a earthquake, especially if water supplies or delivery were interrupted for any length of time.

Berkeley’s own special bio habitat supports a special marine ecosystem and is a migratory pathway for may species. It is hard to estimate the impact that lower groundwater standards might have on these animal populations.

Additionally, Berkeley like many communities has had a tradition of vegetable gardening. No one has calculated the health effects of this pseudo-containment from this kind of land use.

The ever present problem with water shortages, due to drought and our state’s tremendous population growth, should compel us to preserve all our water resources. News reports tell us that more and more municipal water supplies are failing to meet drinking water standards. This is not the time to forsake groundwater quality.

property for sale sign The question has become; what is a reasonable standard for cleanup of contaminated properties. Perhaps this question will be answered by the real estate marketing of these stressed parcels, or perhaps from the growing litigation initiated from adjoining properties impacted by these toxic sites. This aspect of containment is surly a municipal nightmare.

Each generation in Berkeley has had to establish its own response to the challenge of maintaining a “sustainable” environment. Over the last three decades, our city’s awareness and efforts have grown considerably.

Even so, our generation is a turning point. Like most other urban cities, Berkeley is confronted with itsduck in water greatest environmental challenge. We are beginning to move in a regulatory direction from which there is no return. Public notification of this process is not enough.

Berkeley, along with other urban communities must stand up and send a clear message, no containment zones and no lower groundwater standards. Clean water is everyone's right!

KPFA 94.1 FM Evening News: Earth Day events in Berkeley got off to an early start today. At 8:30 this morning, environmentalists demonstrated at San Pablo and University in Berkeley demanding immediate cleanup of the former Chevron gas station. L A Wood, Berkeley resident and environmental activist says contamination from the old gasoline station has migrated off site and has put residents at risk.

Containment Zone - Water Quality WorkShop in Berkeley 1995 and Regional Water Board Response (below)

(L to R, top roll) Steve Morse, San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board, Steve Belcher, City of Berkeley Planning, Jami Caseber, Berkeley Community Environmental Advisory Commission, L A Wood, Berkeley resident, (L to R bottom roll) Steve Morse at front table, Steven Hill, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Nabil Al-Hadithy, City of Berkeley Toxics Management. Discussion following the showing of the video, On Berkeley Soil November 21, 1995

Images from the Berkeley City Council Containment Zone Policy discussion

In March, 1996, the Berkeley City Council responded to what they perceived as a weakening of the State Board Resolution 92-49 in State Board’s Executive Officer Walt Pettit’s proposed amendment to the resolution and in the recommendations found in the LLNL Report. Berkeley took the position that Resolution 92-49 gave Regional Boards authority to suspend remediation requirements on a case-by-case basis and suggested that any further loosening of these requirements not be adopted.

Berkeley felt that “the initial intent of a containment zone policy was to provide a process for the closure of sites that had undergone remediation but for technological and financial considerations were unable to achieve drinking water standards but would still protect human health and the environment. The containment zone policy as currently proposed does not reflect this goal. Therefore, the City of Berkeley will not adopt these policies, as currently proposed.”

Existing Toxics Management Division (TMD) policy is to preserve the water resource, where technologically and financially feasible, and this is consistent with existing State policy and with Berkeley policy set by Council in 1996. In the City’s position (discussed in Council in 1996), the resource is identified first and if found to not be of quality, then a lower level of clean up is required. Berkeley’s policy has several significant benefits, it reduces dependence on EBMUD water, less water is diverted from Sierra and Delta regions and provides an emergency resource if needed in the future.

TMD proposes taking it further by actually correctly identifying and encouraging the use of groundwater for irrigation or industry, where possible. This indicates a commitment of maintaining high environmental and health standards.

Source: EAST BAY PLAIN GROUNDWATER BASIN
BENEFICIAL USE EVALUATION REPORT Final Report, August 18, 2006
San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board Groundwater Committee

Berkeley Citizen © 2003-2017
All Rights Reserved