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July 2001

HazMat Expert Witnessed Hamilton Toxics

By Elena Belsky

In a letter dated May 11, 2001, retired Sixth Army Hazardous Materials Inspection Team Leader, Robert T. Foley, documented the inspections that his team conducted on Hamilton Army Air Force Base between 1985 and 1990. The letter lists many toxic materials, where they were stored or dumped, how they were mishandled, and how they were ultimately improperly disposed of in landfills on the Base. Previously unknown aspects of Hamilton are once again coming to the surface, and are demanding responsible resolution.

The letter-sent to Tony Landis, Chief of Northern California Branch, Office of Military Facilities of the State Department of Toxic Substances Control, and Victor Bonilla, Headquarters, US Army Force Command-details a new, unknown landfill, next to acknowledged toxic Landfill 26. In 1987-88, Mr. Foley's HazMat Inspection Team evaluated Hamilton for handling, storage, and disposal of toxic materials, as well as personnel training in these matters. A major problem they uncovered was improper use of "Conex" containers: 8 feet wide by 8 feet high by 10-foot long metal storage units, used for ship and train transport. There were 45 to 50 Conex containers with "Éa full spectrum of chemicals used in a large aircraft maintenance facilityÉ," as well as "Hundreds of gallons of paint, strippers, thinner, degreasers and cleaning solvents. Many of the paints and primers were lead based." According to Foley, all of these were improperly dumped on landfill sites on Hamilton.

Other items dumped in the unknown landfill were decontamination chemicals, including large quantities of DS2 and STB (a highly concentrated industrial bleach) and petroleum based products; radiological survey instruments (10 or more) with all of the radioactive calibration samples missing; boxes of aviation dials and compasses containing radium; past use dated medical supplies; arsenite (used by hospitals).

Says Mr. Foley, "Many of these supply stocks contained chemicals that were incompatible with each other and could, under certain conditions, produce violent isothermic (explosive) reactions without a catalyst. In other words, the toxic chemicals that were improperly stored together could spontaneously combust and explode at any time.

When Mr. Foley and his team returned to Hamilton one year later in 1988-89, the Conex containers of hazardous materials were missing. Army Base staff said there were no transport and disposal documents for the toxic materials because they had been disposed of on site; Mr. Foley was then shown the unknown landfill at the west end of the runway (neither Landfill 23 nor Landfill 26).

Other areas that had not been previously documented were outlined in the letter: the use of underground, lead lined communications buildings; distribution and storage of pesticides (DDT and many others); unofficial firing ranges; flooded storage facilities containing "go to war" stocks of toxics; and radioactive materials generated by the 500 bed hospital.

While Mr. Foley has known about the situations outlined in his letter for some time, he believed that the Army would take care of its mess on Hamilton prior to it becoming a public area. When this was obviously not the case, he felt compelled to bring out the truth. In the fall of 2000, Mr. Foley addressed the Hamilton Air Force Base Realignment Advisory Board (RAB), which includes representatives from government agencies, military personnel, County of Marin, and City of Novato.

The military and agency representatives for Hamilton, finally called a special meeting on January 16, 2001, to hear Mr. Foley's full testimony.

Five months later, after receiving no follow up contact or action, he decided it was time to write and submit an official statement. After the local media ran with the story, Ed Keller, Hamilton coordinator for the US Army, finally indicated that he had begun to investigate the unknown landfill, and would report back to the public at the next RAB meeting. In a recent statement to the press, Keller said the Army will spend $100,000 for a team of Army Corps of Engineers to search for the missing hazardous materials report.

If the report is not found by the end of July, the search will be called off, regardless. Citizen researchers have tracked the Sixth Army archives and believe they were transferred to Deputy Chief of Staff Logistics (DCSLOG) headquarters outside of Washington, DC.

 

 

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