Status Report
Impact of Chromium VI at Harrison


Memorandum, December 6, 2000chrome 6 sign
From Weldon Rucker, Acting City Manager

Re: Status Report on the Impact of Chromium VI at Harrison


On November 16, 2000, the City's Toxics Management Division and the Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board) met with WRE Colortech (WRE) located at 1225 6th St., the company responsible for contaminating groundwater with chromium VI. The parties discussed the possibility that the City was pumping the polluted groundwater into the storm drain system while constructing the skate park located at 5th and Harrison Streets. The Water Board and City staff requested additional investigations from WRE to properly characterize the extent of the contaminated groundwater plume, and to review recent and attractive developments in chromium VI abatement technologies. The water being pumped at the skate park was analyzed on November 17th and was found to contain chromium VI. The City immediately responded by taking responsible measures to contain the problem and minimize any health risks. On November 21", the Council approved $100,000 to fund the initial emergency actions.

The skate park is the only area impacted with the chromium. The new playing fields and the Harrison House Shelter are not affected since the water has surfaced only at the site of the skate park. A preliminary report from a qualified toxicologist retained by the City to evaluate any health risks will be available later this week and will be submitted to you under separate cover. According to the toxicologist, the report concludes that there are no adverse impacts to users of the park, the surrounding community, or construction workers.


In 1993, the City of Berkeley's Toxics Management Division identified WRE as being responsible for introducing chromium into the groundwater on its property at 1225 6th This contamination reportedly began at WRE in the late 1970's. The contaminated groundwater plume was found to extend a few blocks west of the source on 6th Street. In 1998, WRE removed the source of the onsite pollution and proposed a plan for the chromium VI to convert with natural attenuation over several years to the less hazardous chromium Ill. At that time, the City and the Water Board agreed to this proposal, subject to WRE providing continuous monitoring of the plume.

Early in 1997, the City began considering the purchase of the 6.4-acre site at Harrison and Fifth Streets owned by the University of California (UC). UC provided the City with a Phase I Environmental Property Assessment (Phase I) dated 1993 and a soils report prepared for UC dated May, 1994. This Phase I report identified WRE as a source of pollution, and concluded that it did not pose a significant risk to the property. Neither of these reports identified any reason to suspect the presence or potential impact of chromium VI on the property.

The City then retained Ogden Environmental and Energy Services Company (Ogden) to assess any health risks to persons using the proposed recreational facilities. Ogden conducted both soil and groundwater tests to determine the extent, if any, of certain contaminants in the soil and/or groundwater based on site conditions and historical data presented principally by UC and the City's Toxic Management Division. Ogden examined 27 soil samples and 11 groundwater samples. In areas of the property where groundwater was tested for metals, no evidence of any chromium was detected. Chromium was detected in the soil samples collected from the property; however, the chromium was determined to be within the range of natural background concentrations and below levels that would pose a health concern. Ogden found evidence of solvent contamination and concluded that such contamination was generated from off-site source(s). In its final report, Ogden stated that contaminants found on the site would not cause any significant health risks to persons using the property for recreational purposes.

It is important to note that during the environmental review period prior to purchasing the site, the skate park had not yet been fully designed and a dewatering system had not yet been proposed. Therefore, the potential risks of such a system drawing chromium VI contaminated groundwater onto the site from off-site sources, was not considered. However, the system was designed to deal with the on-site solvents identified in the Ogden Report.

The City then purchased the property in April of 2000 and contracted with the Association for Sport Field Users (ASFU) to design and build the skate park, field house, and two playing fields. The City also entered into a Voluntary Clean Up Agreement with the State Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to provide another level of independent environmental assessment and to identify any potential negative impact to the park users. Prior to and during the construction work, DTSC also did not recognize the potential migration of chromium VI onto the site and its possible impact.

In summary, the impact of pollution on a property from off-site sources is typically part of a Phase I Environmental Property Assessment. The Phase I report made available to the City did not identify the potential impact of pollution from the WRE site. The City took reasonable steps to determine the environmental conditions of the site itself. Environmental reviews of the site conducted by the City and DTSC assessed the property from the perspective of potential health risks to users. These reviews did not raise the possibility of the contaminated groundwater plume migrating onto the site. There were no indicators from the environmental assessments that would have triggered a concern for off-site sources of chromium.

The design of the skate park evolved during many meetings held from December, 1998 through June, 2000 involving skateboarders, landscape architects, engineers, geologists, and various City staff. The design calls for the skate park to be situated on the corner of 5th and Harrison. This location provides easy access and visibility; separates the skate park from the playing fields; and is close to the restrooms in the adjacent field house. During the design process, a number of concerns were addressed and the design developed to include excavation and a dewatering system that involves pumping groundwater into the storm drain. Dewatering is required to relieve any upward pressure from sub-surface water that might structurally damage the skate park. At no time in this process did anyone raise a concern over pumping polluted groundwater onto the site. Therefore, the skate park designers were not aware of the existence of an off-site chromium VI plume, or that it could affect the groundwater at the skate park site.


  • A stop work order has been issued to the contractor to cease construction of the skate park. This does not affect the remainder of the project involving the playing fields, field house, and the Harrison House Shelter. Work is continuing on these improvements.
  • Approximately 120,000 gallons have been pumped from the contaminated plume. 40,000 gallons were shipped off-site and 80,000 gallons have been placed in large containers adjacent to the site. A treatment system is being developed to process this contaminated water. This treatment will allow the water to be disposed of safely into the sanitary sewer system. The City has requested an emergency permit from EBMUD for this purpose.
  • The pumps have been turned off and the chromium polluted groundwater is now evident in the excavated earthen bowls. These bowls are now covered with plastic to reduce any evaporation and exposures. Notices of the hazard are posted on fences around the skate park site.
  • The skate park will be secured with two perimeter fences and lights will be on at night.
  • The City has retained a toxicologist to evaluate risks. The preliminary report concludes there are no adverse impacts from the chromium VI or solvents to park users, the surrounding community, or to the construction workers. Copies of this report will be distributed within the week.
  • The Toxics Management Division has the lead responsibility to prepare and manage a remediation plan, and will coordinate its efforts with the Water Board and DTSC.
  • Pursuant to Council direction, the City's Attorney's office intends to pursue all appropriate legal remedies and has retained outside legal counsel to assist in that effort.

The Toxics Management Division and the Water Board will notify WRE to further delineate the extent of the contaminated groundwater plume, and to consider new technologies available to more aggressively clean up the contaminated groundwater. City staff will also notify affected property owners of the presence of this contaminated groundwater plume.

Staff will meet with the City's skate park design team, engineers, and representatives of the skateboard community to review design options and to develop plans to remediate the contaminated groundwater and hopefully complete construction of the skate park.

To ensure that information is shared in a timely manner among City staff in the future, I have directed staff to adopt the following procedures:

a. Land transactions involving the City as the purchasing/leasing party will require the City to conduct a full, current and independent Phase I Environmental Property Assessment to evaluate the potential of on-site and off-site impacts. A Phase II Environmental Report (with sampling of soils and groundwater) may be required on a case by case basis;

b. All significant developments in industrial or commercial areas, especially those involving a dewatering system, will require an adequate assessment of potential on-site and off-site pollution impacts;

c. Develop a web-based database of contaminated sites to make such information readily available to the general public.


I will keep the Council informed of this situation through regular informational reports, including options for completing the skate park. I plan to place this item on the Council agenda for the December 12, 2000 meeting along with an update for possible Council discussion. In addition, there have been many questions raised by the general public and adjacent property owners. Staff will post pertinent information on the City's web site and will meet with property owners in the area to distribute information and address their concerns.

Staff will report again to the Council at its meeting on January 16th to provide information on completing the skate park, any additional costs attributed to the polluted groundwater, and to develop a plan for its long-term remediation.

Although this situation at the skate park is very disappointing, it is worthwhile to note the positive benefits of the entire Harrison Park project that includes substantial improvements to the Harrison House Shelter, two new playing fields, a field house with public restrooms, and land for creek restoration and flood control. These important assets are constructed on 95% of the 6.4-acre site. It is certainly unfortunate that off-site contaminated groundwater has jeopardized completion of the skate park, but our goal is to contain and eventually eliminate this pollution problem, to mitigate its adverse impacts, and to complete construction of a well-designed skate park. Taken as a whole, this project contributes significantly to the City's goal of providing the community with open space and recreational opportunities.

cc: Manuela Albuquerque, City Attorney Philip Kamlarz, Deputy City Manager Fred Medrano, Director, Health and Human Services Dept. Lisa Caronna, Director, Parks and Waterfront Dept. Dr. Poki Nainkung, Public Health Officer Wendy Cosin, Acting Director, Planning Dept. Nabil Al-Hadithy, Toxics Management Division Regional Water Quality Control Board State Dept. of Toxic Substance Control

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