Toxic cleanup at Concord Naval Weapons Station doesn't ease concerns
By ANNIE SCIACCA | The Contra Costa Times | Published: November 2, 2018
CONCORD, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Officials overseeing the cleanup of the Concord Naval Weapons Station tried to reassure City Council members this week that the arduous task of removing toxic materials left behind by the Navy is on the right track.
But after a year in which it became public that some soil tests at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard site in San Francisco had been falsified and much of the dirt was trucked to the Keller Canyon Landfill in Pittsburg, worries about potential environmental danger to residents of planned housing there still linger.
Vice Mayor Carlyn Obringer said at the meeting that although the presentation at Tuesday night’s special meeting by officials from the Navy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the regional water board and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control was “informative,” she continues to have reservations about the cleanup process.
For example, even though Navy representatives said their contracts with Tetra Tech EC, Inc. are soon coming to an end, the Navy still plans to work with that company’s subsidiaries in the future. Tetra Tech’s employees have admitted to switching clean dirt for contaminated soil for testing at the Hunters Point Superfund site.
“Tetra Tech still makes me nervous,” Obringer said. “I would encourage you to look for a substitute.”
Councilmember Laura Hoffmeister agreed, noting that “credibility was lost with them.”
In a presentation to the council, Marc Smits, environmental coordinator for the naval weapons station’s closure, explained the Navy’s cleanup and property transfer process includes a “preliminary assessment” to determine through documents, maps and aerial photographs what the site was used for and what might need to be cleaned up.
The station had fewer radiological operations than Hunters Point, Smits said, noting they were limited to “munitions-related assessment” and handling of equipment with radioluminescent dials and gauges.
Tetra Tech’s work at the Concord site involved preparing the Historical Radiological Assessment, a document that identified 48 buildings and bunkers in need of further radiological investigation. The company did not conduct any fieldwork, such as soil sampling, according to the Navy.
Tetra Tech also had two contracts to investigate munitions-related cleanup sites at the Concord station. According to the Navy, an independent contractor was hired to oversee that work.
Concerns have also surfaced about the thousands of tons of potentially radioactive soil trucked from Hunters Point to the Keller Canyon Landfill in Pittsburg.
The Keller Canyon Landfill is not licensed to receive radiological waste. After a months-long search and review, the county’s health department this week has hired a contractor, TRC Solutions, to investigate the data that Navy consultants provided to landfill operator Republic Services certifying the soil as “non-hazardous,” as well as to survey the soil itself for toxic material.
Smits said about 70 percent of the Concord base is ready for transfer to the city. The Navy and regulatory agencies such as the EPA have to verify the base is safe for reuse before it can be transferred to the city and to the East Bay Regional Parks District. The transfer is to happen in phases and is expected to be complete in 2026.
The city envisions redeveloping the Concord Naval Weapons Station into 13,000 housing units and millions of square feet of office, retail and campus space.
While the Navy and agency representatives at the meeting said the plan is to make the land as safe as possible, the cost of cleanup is sometimes prohibitive, so in some cases the Navy would place restrictions on use of the land use instead of cleaning it up to the level required for homes.
That concerned some council members and residents, who questioned why not all areas will be cleaned up to the highest standard.
At the end of the meeting, council members urged the Navy to provide a written document outlining new protocols adopted after the Hunters Point-Tetra Tech incident, such as hiring an independent contractor to oversee the work, and describe the differences between Hunters Point and the Concord Naval Weapons Station cleanups.
The Navy representatives did not publicly confirm whether they will provide that type of document to the city.
Mayor Edi Birsan said he’d like the soil retested every several years to make sure dangerous material is not present.
“I hold collectively you all partly responsible,” for what happened with Hunters Point, he told the officials. “We have a damaged Navy and federal government oversight … We can’t change what happened.”