Activists fight to clean up Richmond Field Station

As we reported in May, UC workers and community members are facing serious health hazards from toxic chemical contamination in Richmond, primarily from the former Stauffer Chemical/Zeneca site next to the UC-run Richmond Field Station (RFS), about 10 miles north of the Berkeley campus. UC workers are exposed to some additional toxins at RFS, which was the site of an explosives manufacturing company. Since May, UC unions have mobilized, Richmond now has a Community Advisory Group to work with the agency overseeing cleanup, the Contra Costa County Health Services Department and the California Department of Health Services have issued a provisional joint health statement about the Zeneca and UC Richmond Field Station sites, and UC Labor Relations seems to be digging in its heels. Although Labor Relations has gathered some of the information we have requested, it remains to be seen to what extent they will cooperate with the UCB union coalition.

For instance, some of the information UC has provided is inaccurate. As one of the coalition safety committee members wrote in a note to Labor Relations: “[W]e asked for a list of represented employees, but what we got was the phone directory from 2004–2005 for all people. Not only is it outdated, but employees without offices, such as custodians or groundskeepers, are not listed on it.” As of this writing, RFS staff and the coalition have yet to receive “the no retaliation letter that was requested in May”—ensuring that RFS staff could freely discuss their concerns without fear of reprisals—or “a uniform policy for all departments regarding going to the doctor or leaving if they feel ill . . . using paid administrative leave rather than sick leave.”

Labor Relations also had assured us there will be no digging at RFS without the soil being tested, and had told us this was the case already. At an all-union meeting at RFS on July 14, employees reported otherwise. It turns out, however, that UC has considerable information about the location of toxic hot-spots at RFS, as does the Cal/EPA Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which now has oversight over both RFS and the neighboring site. (In my last column I stated inaccurately that “DTSC has little knowledge about RFS hazards. . . ”) I recently learned that the agency has eight large boxes of material about RFS and Zeneca. At the coalition meeting with RFS employees, we also learned of a 2004 report of a UC-commissioned private analysis of the soil that includes many tables and maps of contaminated areas, with the chemical names, amount, depth in the soil, etc.

According to a member of the Community Advisory Group (CAG), which the DTSC recently created to participate in its oversight of toxic cleanup of the forner Zeneca site, “the scale of available information is staggering, as is figuring out how to share the material and even how to wrap one's mind around it.” At the first CAG meeting on June 30, the 25 members, who are broadly representative of the Richmond community, decided that DTSC should expand its cleanup to all properties in the vicinity, including downwind businesses, the Blair Landfill, the Richmond Gun Club shooting range, Liquid Gold (a nearby superfund site), and BioRad, as well as a former PG&E facility.

So, while UC officials may claim ignorance about the scale of pollution at the site, they will not be able to stonewall forever. Six UC unions are working in coalition to protect RFS employees, and working with community members to share information from a number of sources, including past and present RFS workers, whose tales of health hazards at RFS contradict UC at every turn.

Joan Lichterman, UPTE Systemwide Health & Safety Director

Information Sources:
Community: “Zeneca Towers”: (includes RFS material)
UCB: Capital Projects Fact Sheet:
Developer of UC and part of the old Zeneca site: