The Baylands Superfund Site History
Updated: Mar 1, 2018
Three former Federal EPA Superfund sites are located on the Baylands. Based on the levels of hazardous waste on these sites and the fact that they have not yet been cleaned up, they may still qualify for Superfund site designation. Let’s trace their history to better understand why they have been moved from the Federal EPA Superfund List.
First, let’s define terminology. What is the difference between a Brownfield and a Superfund Site? And what is a Superfund site?
Brownfield: A piece of industrial or commercial property that is abandoned or underused and can be moderately contaminated.
Superfund: Land contaminated by hazardous waste that has been identified by the Environment Protection Agency, as a site for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and the environment. Some common contaminants at Superfund sites include, but are not limited to: asbestos, lead, dioxin, radiation, etc. that can be spread by soil availability, groundwater plumes, and vapors.
So, What is Superfund?
Thousands of contaminated sites exist nationally due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed. These sites include manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills and mining sites. In the late 1970s, toxic waste dumps such as Love Canal received national attention when the public learned about the risks to human health and the environment posed by contaminated sites. In response, Congress established the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980.
CERCLA is informally called Superfund. It allows EPA to clean up contaminated sites. It also forces the parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work. When there is no viable responsible party, Superfund gives EPA the funds and authority to clean up contaminated sites.
Superfund’s goals are to:
· Protect human health and the environment by cleaning up polluted sites;
· Make responsible parties pay for cleanup work;
· Involve communities in the Superfund process; and
· Return Superfund sites to productive use.
Three sites on the Baylands have been officially identified as Superfund sites. Two sites occupy most of the land that makes up the Baylands They have been moved off the federal list for more local oversight from the state of California. This does not mean that have been cleaned up or are less toxic than sites on the Federal Superfund list. Since they have not have been cleaned up, the Rail Yard and the Landfill continue to pose risks, in their current state, to human heath and safety.
The first Baylands former superfund site history we will look at is the SOUTHERN PACIFIC TRANSPORTATION COMPANY - BRISBANE RAIL YARD - , CERCLIS ID# CAD980638415. The oversight of the clean-up passed from the Federal EPA CERCLIS Superfund program when UPC purchased the land from the SP Railroad and agreed to clean-up the hazardous waste. Clean-up oversight passed to the State of California Department of Toxic Substances, DTSC and the California Regional Water Control Board, RWQCB. Read about this transfer in the first part of this Superfund document here, Superfund Record Center # 2261989. Scroll through the document to see the level of contamination at the site. On page 10, read through the violation notices and orders, including the December 17th Order for SP to enclose the area with a fence to keep people out. Despite all of these violations, SP did not comply with the orders and UPC has done little as well to clean-up the site. SP Railroad owned the Bayshore Railyard site from 1896 to 1990. The site was used for rail car rehabilitation and maintenance operations from 1914 to 1960.The site is bordered on the west by Bayshore Boulevard and Industrial Way and the commercial and industrial businesses that line these roads. To the east is a SP freight rail line, a large undeveloped parcel of filled land, and the inactive Brisbane landfill. San Francisco Bay is located 2500 feet to the east. The sources of contamination at the site are related to rail yard operations. The specific operations, as they pertain to waste generation, handling, and disposal, are not known; however they can be assumed to have been consistent with similar rail yard operations that utilized alkaline/caustic cleaners, corrosion inhibitors, grease, lubricating oils, fuel oils, organic solvents, and paints and thinners. A leaky, 3 million gallon, above-ground oil storage tank is known to have existed onsite. Site investigations have identified four main areas of contamination: the northern area (approx. 20,000 sq. ft.), the oil tank area and the turntable area (approx. 80,000 sq. ft. combined), and a southern disposal area (approx. 140,000 sq. ft.) The levels of hazardous substances in the soil and ground water are extremely high.
The second former Baylands Superfund site, the eastern part of the Baylands site, is an unregulated, unengineered garbage dump from San Francisco, started in the 1920s. The Caltrain line divides these two fill areas. One of the reasons that Brisbane incorporated in 1961 was to try and get control of this toxic foul smelling mess (Watch short TV documentary: No Deposit No Return). The garbage fill in the Baylands stopped operations in 1967. Anything was and could be dumped in this site, including large amounts of tires which caught on fire and burned for days. The full extent of toxic contamination there has not yet been studied. The situation is further complicated by two interim uses: UPC has been operating a very profitable soils processing business on top of the dump for concrete recycling and soil processing and storage. From 1990 until 2009, what was dumped at this soils processing site was unregulated. There are no records of who or what was dumped here. In essence, UPC continued to use this land as an unregulated dump for 19 years. Learn more of what was going on there in 2005 here.The mountain of of soil and debris now reach 70 feet above sea level. Unfortunately, it also has not been engineered. The lead regulatory agency is the Regional Water Quality Board, though the County Environmental Health Department has been assigned the responsibility for managing the land fill closure process and conditions. The CERCLIS ID number assigned to this former Superfund Site is CAD98366908, which has been archived, presumably for the same reason as the SP rail yard: UPC purchased the land with the commiment to clean it up.
The third former Superfund site on the Baylands is the Stauffer Chemical Company on Industrial Way. It is noteworthy because of the nature of business. The company was founded in 1886 in San Francisco. Initially a manufacturer of pesticides, it branched out to be a kind of Monsanto of its day. There are 4 current Stauffer Sites on the Superfund National Priority List. Wikipedia states that a former Stauffer site in Florida, according to "The United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that "Site operations resulted in the contamination of soils, ground water, and waste ponds on the property. The main contaminants of concern (COCs) in soil include arsenic, antimony, beryllium, elemental phosphorus, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), radium-226, and thallium." that it was in and that there are currently 4 Stauffer Chemical Sites on the Superfund National Priority List across the country. There is scanty information in the CERCLA report of the Stauffer Chemical Co ID # CAD980636948 site here on the Baylands, While there was a record of miscellaneous lab reagents were disposed on-site. Hydrogen peroxide, sodium hydroxide,sulfuric acid and chromium were also used on-site, it has been covered with dirt and paved over. The reason for not including this site in the National Priority List was based purely on the fact no one lived nearby and there were no plans to have people live nearby. Read the short document. On page 4 of this document, it states, " It appears that this site is an unlikely candidate for inclusion on the CERCLA National Priorities List due to the lack of a target population. However, SCC should be considered for a low priority Site Inspection due to the lack of information regarding the historical operations and waste management practices." No further study was done of this site. It is alarming that the developer omitted this document from the EIR, since there has been discussion about developing housing near this site. The Brisbane Citizens for Responsible Development used the Freedom of Information Act to uncover this hidden document.
In public hearings, UPC and their paid consultants have consistently claimed that there have never been Superfund sites on the Baylands. They refer to the Baylands as a brownfield. This lack of honesty has undermined trust with the community and damaged delicate good-faith negotiations.