Search The Tattler

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Report Finds Soil at Community Center School Site a Toxic Stew

Center of 'Community' Life Site of 
Toxic Waste Dump

Report: $1.7 Million Clean-Up Indicted

A recently released 1,062 page report on the soils at the Emeryville Center of 'Community' Life (ECCL) site reveals that the ground there is highly contaminated with numerous toxins that will need to be removed at a cost estimated as high as $1,733,467 before construction can proceed.  The report and clean-up plans, prepared by BASELINE Environmental Consulting and Millennium Consulting Associates, explains that prior industrial uses at the San Pablo Avenue site, the future home of a new high school, elementary school and community center, include a gas service station, an auto repair shop, a rubber material manufacturing plant, a plastic molding works, a spray painting facility, clothes press and cleaners, an auto wrecking yard and a motor coach facility, and that these prior users of the site have left behind numerous toxic substances in the soil that constitute a health hazard.

Identified toxins in the soil include carcinogens such as metallic lead, arsenic, volatile organic compounds (VOC's), high levels of pesticides and enough flammable methane to pose an "explosion hazard".  A more complete list is included at the bottom of this story.   

Some of the toxic material permeating the site is especially hazardous for young children BASELINE noted, raising the concern about the Emery School District moving the elementary school children to the toxic site after the planned closing of the existing Anna Yates Elementary School on 41st Street, a location that has no record of any industrial uses in it's history.  Records indicate the existing Anna Yates site has had a school on it continuously since 1886, before Emeryville was even incorporated as a town.

The majority of the toxic waste on the ECCL site is centered on the north east corner near 53rd Street and San Pablo Avenue where the most of the previous industrial activity took place, the same location of the future community center and elementary school part of the ECCL project it should be noted.

The District has indicated they will pay to dig up and truck the toxic waste off the site as the report suggests but they haven't yet committed to a specific plan in the BASELINE report.  There is an alternate less costly solution the report notes, that would leave behind large quantities of toxic material entombing it under a plastic "vapor barrier" beneath the school and community center.  
The City of Emeryville it should be noted, set a precedent for leaving toxic waste at development sites in town when the City Council majority selected a similar solution for the 'Transit' Center on Horton Street in January approving a less costly clean-up allowing Wareham Development to save money by leaving behind copious quantities of toxic waste on the site under the proposed building also beneath a vapor barrier.  That solution will require a much more rigorous on-going monitoring regimen than would have been required with a full clean-up.  Also at the ECCL site, if the School District chooses the less costly solution, the District will be on the hook for implementing a monitoring program in perpetuity.  The less costly plan is estimated to cost the District some $1.3 million. 

A School District official told the Tattler anonymously there is money set aside for contingencies that will go towards the toxic soil remediation on the site but he refused to say how much for the record.

Public Comment Period
There is a public comment period on this removal plan currently running until April 20, 2014.  Citizens are urged to contact the School Board or attend a Board meeting to make their views on this matter known.  For those wishing to encourage the Board to pursue the full clean-up alternative recommended in this report, that plan is referred to as "Alternative 3." "Alternative 2" is the less costly solution (at least initially) that would leave toxins on the school and community center site at a savings of some $400,000.
         .                .                .                .

Hazardous Toxins at the ECCL Site

The specific substances found include lead, arsenic, petroleum hydrocarbons, organochlorine pesticides (“OCPs”), volatile organic compounds ("VOCs"), and methane. The report details the potentially harmful health effects of these substances:

Metallic lead is particularly hazardous for young children. It causes brain damage leading to permanent learning difficulties and loss of cognitive function especially for those of elementary school age.  From the report:
"Lead is a toxic metal and a suspected carcinogen... Lead can impair the nervous system, affecting hearing, vision, and muscle control.  It is toxic to lungs, kidneys, blood, and heart... Exposure in children can cause irreversible learning deficits, mental retardation, weight loss, weakness, anemia, cognitive dysfunction, and delayed neurological and physical development." pp. 35-36.

"Lead was detected in 35 soil samples at concentrations above the DTSC’s action level of 80 mg/kg (DTSC, 2009).  The highest concentration of lead detected on‐Site was 2,700 mg/kg... Therefore, soil on‐Site that contains concentrations of lead above 80 mg/kg poses a potential health risk for Site occupants." p. 41. (That's right. One soil sample contained nearly 34 times as much lead as is allowed by California's Department of Toxic Substances Control ("DTSC").)

"Arsenic is one of the most toxic elements that can be found.  Humans may be exposed to arsenic through food, water, and air.  Exposure may also occur through skin contact with soil or water that contains arsenic.  Exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause various health effects, such as irritation of the stomach and intestines, decreased production of red and white blood cells, skin changes and lung irritation. It is suggested that the uptake of significant amounts of inorganic arsenic can intensify the chances of cancer development, especially the chances of development of skin cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer, and lymphatic cancer. A very high exposure to inorganic arsenic can cause infertility and miscarriages with women, and it can cause skin disturbances, declined resistance to infections, heart disruptions, and brain damage with both men and women. Inorganic arsenic is regulated as a carcinogen." p. 36.

"Arsenic was detected in two soil samples collected... at concentrations above the Site‐specific background level of 15 mg/kg.  Therefore, soil on‐Site that contains arsenic above background levels poses a potential health risk for Site occupants." p. 41.

Pesticides - Dieldrin
"Dieldrin was used extensively as an insecticide on crops such as corn and cotton from the 1950s until 1970. The U.S. Department of Agriculture canceled all uses of dieldrin, as well as aldrin (a structurally similar pesticide) in 1970. In 1972, however, U.S. EPA approved aldrin and dieldrin for killing termites. Use of aldrin and dieldrin to control termites continued until 1987 when the manufacturer voluntarily canceled the registration for use in controlling termites.

People exposed to large amounts of dieldrin experienced convulsions, some had kidney damage, and some died.  Exposure to moderate levels of dieldrin led to headaches, dizziness, irritability, vomiting, or uncontrollable muscle movements. Some sensitive people seemed to have developed an autoimmunity in which dieldrin caused the body to destroy its own blood cells. Results from animal studies showed that dieldrin caused similar effects on the nervous system and on the kidneys to those seen in people. Additional effects on the liver and immune system were also observed in animal studies. More recent data suggest that children may differ from adults in their susceptibility to health effects from dieldrin exposure and may increase children’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. The U.S. EPA has classified dieldrin as probable human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in animals." p. 36.

Pesticides - Heptachlor Epoxide 
"Heptachlor epoxide is created when a substance called heptachlor is released to the environment and mixes with oxygen.  Between the 1960s and 1970s heptachlor was used to kill termites found in the home and farmers used it to kill insects found on farm crops, especially corn crops.  In the late 1970s, the use of heptachlor was phased out.  By 1988, the commercial sale of heptachlor was banned in the United States.  The use of heptachlor is restricted to controlling fire ants in power transformers.  There is very little information available about the short‐term exposure to high doses of heptachlor epoxide to humans.  But animal studies show that heptachlor epoxide is very toxic to humans and animals.  Animals that were fed high levels of heptachlor during a short period of time experienced tremors and convulsions.  Not much information is available about the health effects on humans from long‐term exposure to heptachlor epoxide.  But animal studies suggest that long‐term exposure can affect the liver. The U.S. EPA has classified heptachlor as probable human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in animals." p. 37.

"The total excess lifetime cancer risk from dermal contact and soil ingestion" due to chemicals such as dieldrin an heptachlor epoxide at the ECCL site was determined to be five times the acceptable risk level. p. 47.

Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons ("TPH")
"Total petroleum hydrocarbons is a term used to describe a large family of several hundred chemical compounds that originally come from crude oil... some of the more well‐known constituents of TPH‐mo polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons are naphthalene, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(a) anthracene, and dibenzo(a,h)anthracene. Some of the TPH compounds can affect the human central nervous system or cause headaches and dizziness at high concentrations in the air. Other TPH compounds can cause effects on the blood, immune system, lungs, skin, and eyes. Animal studies have shown effects on the lungs, central nervous system, liver, and kidney from exposure to TPH compounds. Some TPH compounds have also been shown to affect reproduction and the developing fetus in animals.  Other TPH compounds, such as benzo[a]pyrene, could possibly be carcinogenic to humans." p. 37.

"The health hazards from dermal contact and soil ingestion posed by the" TPH compound levels found on site "indicates that the presence of contamination may pose a significant non‐cancer threat to human health." p. 48.

Volatile Organic Compounds ("VOCs") - Benzene
"Benzene, a volatile organic chemical, is a clear, colorless aromatic liquid.  It is highly flammable... Acute (short‐term) inhalation exposure of humans to benzene may cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation, and, at high levels, unconsciousness.  Chronic (long‐term) inhalation exposure has caused various disorders in the blood, including reduced numbers of red blood cells and aplastic anemia, in occupational settings.  Reproductive effects have been reported for women exposed by inhalation to high levels, and adverse effects on the developing fetus have been observed in animal tests.  Increased incidences of leukemia (cancer of the tissues that form white blood cells) have been observed in humans occupationally exposed to benzene.  The U.S. EPA has classified benzene as known human carcinogen for all routes of exposure." pp. 37-38.

Volatile Organic Compounds ("VOCs") - Vinyl Chloride
"Most vinyl chloride is used to make polyvinyl chloride (“PVC”) plastic and vinyl products... Acute (short‐term) exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride in air has resulted in central nervous system effects (“CNS”), such as dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches in humans.  Chronic (long‐term) exposure to vinyl chloride through inhalation and oral exposure in humans has resulted in liver damage.  Cancer is a major concern from exposure to vinyl chloride via inhalation, as vinyl chloride exposure has been shown to increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer in humans. EPA has classified vinyl chloride as a human carcinogen." p. 38.

"The total excess lifetime cancer risk from exposure to VOCs in indoor air posed by" chemicals such as benzene and vinyl chloride was determined to be 4.5 times the acceptable risk level. p. 47.

"Methane is non‐toxic but may represent a health risk from explosion or asphyxiation if allowed to accumulate in enclosed spaces.  Methane is explosive between the LEL of 5 percent by volume and the Upper Explosive Limit (“UEL”) of 15 percent by volume.  If potentially explosive gas levels are detected, an imminent and substantial danger may exist.  If the concentration of methane becomes extremely high, the oxygen content of the air may become oxygen deprived. Asphyxia may result if the oxygen concentration is reduced to below about 16 percent by displacement..." p. 38.

"Elevated methane levels were detected in the subsurface within the northeastern corner of the Site... The lower explosion limit for methane is 53,000 ppmv or 5 percent. The maximum methane concentration detected in the soil gas at the Site was 83,000 ppmv... indicating the methane may represent a health risk." p. 48. (That's right. Methane was found at levels nearly twice as high as is necessary for it to EXPLODE.)


  1. It's a good thing this project will clean up these hazards, otherwise kids would have continued to be exposed to this stuff.

    1. The commenter makes a good point; provided the School Board chooses Alternate 3 (the "full" clean-up), the vast majority of the toxins will be removed from the San Pablo site. But warning: even Alternate 3 will leave some small amount of toxins on the site according to the BASELINE report. The only way to keep children completely clear of such toxins is to keep them away from these kinds of contaminated sites altogether. The existing Anna Yates campus is such a non-contaminated site, never having been anything other than a school for more than 100 years.

  2. I feel sorry for the long term staff on that site. I guess it's A good thing EUSD is so dysfunctional, not many people stay too long.