Coastal Post Online


July 2002

Clean Bill Of Health For Hamilton Is Bogus

Hamilton Worst At National Military Cleanup Conference

By Elena Belsky

Former Hamilton Air Force Base was the poster child as a worst case scenario for base closure and re-use, regarding technical process and open participation, at the ISIS National Military Waste Conference. While many other military properties are contaminated with much more toxic and hazardous materials, HAFB seems to be the worst as far as governmental cover up of problems, lack of adequate evaluation of site activities, and extent of contamination, poor public process and involvement, and the non-cooperative attitude of the people in charge. Intermittent and inconsistent regulation and participation of the State and Federal environmental protection agencies were also cited as contributing to the problems.

Approximately one hundred and seventy five invited guests who were hand picked for their technical knowledge, experience, or community involvement, attended the Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies (ISIS) Federal Facilities Cleanup Workshop 2002 in Oakland, in early June, sponsored by Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts, the Environmental Protections Agency, and grants from private foundations.

The purpose of the conference was to unite scientists, technical advisors, regulators, community members, and environmental advocates in sharing technical information and experience to build "Éthe powerful coalition needed to ensure safe, effective, and timely clean up efforts" according to ISIS staff.

Materials provided at the conference indicated that there are an estimated 9,000 military sites that are in need of cleanup and restoration, and the amount of money needed ranges from $200-300 billion dollars, and that it will require more technical expertise than all environmental scientists that have graduated in the last 50 years (minus those employed in weapons work), in all fields.

There obviously is insufficient funding and scientific people-power for all the environmental cleanup that needs to be done in the Nation, so affected communities and environmental advocates will have to play a crucial role in the base cleanups to ensure success and protection of the public health and environment. Bottom line coming out of the conference was: if it's in your back yard, you are going to want to educate yourself and your community to the technical and practical issues at hand; what exactly is on the site, what's being done to remedy the situation, and very importantly-voice how and what YOU as a community want done.

Health Risk AssessmentsÉ Aren't

Another hot topic at the MilWaste Conference was Risk Assessment methodology and government requirements of using Risk Assessments for evaluating the potential human health hazards on a contaminated site. Risk Assessments are often based on formulaic data also typically using a 180 pound, white male with all the associated characteristics-women, children, the elderly, and those already physically compromised, are very rarely part of the equation.

Interestingly, there was nearly unanimous agreement between the scientists and community members: Risk Assessments are a legal requirement-they do NOT adequately assess health threats to the public, and are should NOT be used as a "clean bill of health."

Which is exactly what just occurred, again, at HAFB. In mid June, the Army Corps of Engineers pronounced "there is no health risk" at a public meeting, regarding the draft Health Risk Assessment for Landfill 26's methane problem and associated volatile compounds, in relation to the adjacent 48 Shea home sites (only 3/4's of an acre of study area).

"The information gathered to this point leads us to believe there is no risk," said Brad Call of the Army Corps of Engineers.

"Is it safe to live there? Yes, it is safe for the current and future residents of Hamilton Meadows," Call said.

Michael Schum, a toxicologist with the State Department of Toxic Substances Control, (who is still reviewing the draft report) surprisingly offered; "I work on a lot of school sites statewide and based on the risk assessment I see here, I would recommend they put a school site here."

The Risk Assessment is not available to the public for review, nor has it been finalized by the military or the State Agencies involved. Yet previous information that has obviously not been included, leads one to believe that the Study is seriously flawed.

The fact that the military and regulators admit that only HALF of Landfill 26 has been tested for methane problems, (the remaining north and west half remain untested) and harbors unknown potential hazards, seems to have been ignored by the military and DTSC.

The Risk Assessment also focused only on monitoring and testing gas and vapors, it did NOT include examination or consideration of the highly contaminated soils and sediments in Landfill 26 and the surrounding area, which was historically used as the "Quartermaster's Salvage Yard" for storage of toxics and materials prior to dumping in the nearby landfill.

Groundwater in, around, and under Landfill 26 is inadequately tested, and is also another unknown health risk factor not included in the Army Corps Risk Assessment. Groundwater in the area IS KNOWN to be contaminated with MTBE other volatile chemicals, due to the Navy's gas station release of fuel, for many years.

It seems the best use of this Risk Assessment is as a political and financial tool for the Army Corps and Shea Home developers, to extricate themselves from the legal quagmire facing them, should they attempt to authorize, build, and sell new homes adjacent to a known toxic landfill.

Third Party Science

Based on discussions held at the MilWaste Conference and with technical advisors, advocates, and community members involved in base closures and re-use throughout the Country, the HAFB process is a disaster. Many were astounded at the lack of cooperation and manipulative attitude we regularly experience, and were dismayed that we did not feel comfortable or trust in our military partners.

As the ability for the community to accept and trust in the information being presented to us is long gone, perhaps it is time for independently funded, third party testing to be done. Confidence in available data is critical for proper evaluation and analysis of existing conditions, and finding potential solutions to those problems; without this, there is no possibility of agreement or even meaningful discussion.

Access to the various sites on Hamilton for public based testing and monitoring studies could be the key to re-establishing a common ground for understanding and repairing the public trust. Until then, the community is left with an uneasy feeling that things are still quite amiss at the former Hamilton Air Force Base.


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