Posted on Thu, Jan. 06, 2005

Soil hazard at Richmond site
By Rebecca Rosen Lum


RICHMOND - A state Department of Toxic Substances Control study released this week shows that 4,000 cubic yards of marsh mud piled on the Campus Bay development site should be reclassified as hazardous waste and hauled away to a toxics landfill.

Rather than export it, the developers had dumped the muck alongside a 325,000-cubic-yard mountain of treated soil. The plan was to cap it then build a 1,300-unit housing complex on the property.

The mud, culled from Stege Marsh in October, is contaminated with high concentrations of arsenic, lead, copper and mercury, according to state tests.

But the results do not mean contaminated soils extend throughout the marsh acreage, said Barbara Cook, chief of the Northern California coastal cleanup operation branch for the DTSC.

"We looked at the data, and the 4,000 yards were excavated where the highest concentrations were located," she said. "We see a very big difference between the different areas of the marsh."

In a prepared statement, developer Simeon Cherokee's public relations firm, Singer and Associates, said Simeon has always complied with all state regulations and will continue to do so.

The firm's statement noted the company has no plans to develop in the marsh and that the DTSC report said the discovery of toxic mud does not present a new risk since no dust is rising from the still-wet material.

For decades, Stauffer Chemical produced pesticides and sulfuric acid here before being bought by Zeneca, which sold off the agricultural products division and the property.

Zeneca spent $20 million to remediate the toxin-laced soil to a commercial/industrial standard required by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Cherokee Simeon's cleanup firm, Levine Fricke, had tested the marsh mud in September for the presence of eight metals and referred to past tests in its own report.

Critics of the development clamored for an independent assessment to probe for the presence of other toxins.

The state's report confirms the fears of those who own or work in businesses downwind from the 80-acre expanse.

"This is the conclusion we've been expecting all along," said Sherry Padgett, the chief financial officer of Kray Cabling, Inc., one of several neighboring businesses. "We have to have (the contaminated soil) taken to a place where it will do less harm."

Levine Fricke's findings had characterized sediments in the soil as nonhazardous.

The state Regional Water Quality Control Board, which once had authority over the entire cleanup effort, had given its blessing to the Levine Fricke's marsh mud test results. That agency still oversees the marsh remediation.

The state toxics control department, which has assumed oversight of the dry land clean-up, could not conduct its own tests of the marsh mud until it was moved to the uplands.

"Was I surprised at the results? Not at all," said Wendel Brunner, chief of the county's health services. "What it does show is that the DTSC is doing its job."

The developer has already treated more than 300,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with pyrite cinders, a byproduct of sulfuric acid production, by mixing it with neutralizing lime, and leaving it on site.

That is the current way to handle such problems, said environmental engineer Jim Levine, who founded Levine Fricke.

"Hauling it off would have meant running 10,000 trucks through Richmond, and I can't see how that's a good idea," he said.

"The major problem has been solved," he said. "I don't think people have really reflected on that."

In coming weeks, state toxics control officials will re-examine what has been done on the property and what remains, Cook said.

"We have to go back and look at (the cleanup method) with the change in land use in mind," she said. "The department needs to get our arms around all that information and figure out where we need to go."

Reach Rebecca Rosen Lum 510-262-2713 or