After a long and bitter debate early in March, the Richmond City Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to shift complete oversight of the cleanup of the heavily contaminated Zeneca site and the adjoining UC Field Station to the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors followed suit, passing a similar unanimous resolution May 10.
Cleanup of the site had been under supervision of the Water Board, but after a November 2004 California Assembly Committee hearing in which speakers voiced concern that the agency was ill-equipped to handle such a difficult project (see “Ravaged Roost,” Winter 2005), the responsibility was divided between the Water Board and the DTSC.
The governing bodies reached their decisions to shift sole oversight to the DTSC after Contra Costa County Public Health Director Wendell Brunner wrote in a letter to Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson that he believed “the Regional Water Quality Control Board has neither the expertise nor experience to handle a site this complex.” While both agencies are sub-branches of the EPA, the DTSC requires stricter regulation and greater community participation.
The resolution is a major victory for Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development, an organization formed to ensure responsible cleanup of the Superfund site. Sherry Padgett, who believes her health was affected by chemical releases migrating from the site while she worked across the street at Kray Cabling, Inc., notes that the portion of the site under DTSC oversight has been managed much more strictly since November than in the years when the Water Board had control. She notes one example in which activity on the site was shut down due to potentially hazardous dust migrating from the parcel. “That had never happened before—it was the first time ever,” she says. Already, the DTSC has begun working with residents to form a community advisory group after receiving a petition containing 80 signatures of community members, gathered by longtime resident Ethel Dotson.
Yet anxiety over the future of the South Richmond parcel still lingers, especially in light of DTSC’s December 2004 reclassification of site materials as hazardous waste. Padgett voiced her concern in an online web posting after witnessing discolored water at the marsh. “In addition to the orange- and chartreuse-colored water, what other not-so-obvious toxic substances are flowing in and out of the marsh into the bay and underground aquifer?” she asked.
The resolution requesting the change in oversight to DTSC was pronounced a “win-win resolution” by Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson and a step in the right direction by area workers and residents. In question is how far DTSC will take the newly awarded jurisdiction, including determining exactly how toxic the 350,000 cubic yards of excavated material piled and temporarily capped is, and whether the shoreline marsh, a habitat of the endangered California clapper rail, can be restored.