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March, 2003

Chronic Problems at Hamilton; Army Fails The Test
By Elena Belsky

Toxic chemical contamination and lack of public access are a bad mix in the game that is the remediation and reuse of former Hamilton Air Force Base.

Once again, the US Army has been taken to task by state regulators for failing to properly categorize toxics on the site. The Army also failed to achieve the proper clean up levels on recent work as mandated by the state Agencies, while indicating in their pubic newsletter that they had been successful. The military then refused to provide public access to the original clean up report and the Agencies apparently unfavorable comments.

Is It Clean? No. Sloppy work? Yes.

According to the state Department of Toxic Substance Control's (DTSC) letter reviewing the Army's clean up report, "DTSC has determined contaminants remain above the preliminary remediation goals currently under consideration. DTSC is also concerned that, based on the waste profile sampling results, sites may not have been adequately characterized to determine the contaminants of concern."

Demonstrated time and again on Hamilton, the military does not know where all the toxics are located, or to what extent-it continues to be a base-wide issue.

The DTSC's comment on inadequate characterization of contaminants is a surprisingly universal statement, yet obviously based in years of experience in dealing with issues at Hamilton. In the same letter, dated February 7, 2003, the DTSC repeatedly points out that at nearly each clean up site, the Army found either toxic compounds that weren't originally identified, or failed to provide test results that the known, target contaminants had been properly removed. The harmful pesticide DDT was found "unexpectedly" at concentrations higher than allowed; another banned pesticide, Chlordane was found in a spoils pile, yet the Army failed to conduct confirmation testing; Mercury levels at another site were ten times what is allowed, again with no confirmation sampling done to verify proper removal.

The re-occurring theme for Hamilton seems to be: "Additional site characterization and remediation are needed."

It went where?!

According to the Army's newsletter they removed 4726.21 tons of "Énon-hazardous waste soils." It also cited the areas from which the soil came: revetments 6 & 7, Spoils Pile F, and former Building 41-stating that the soil was either "clean" or contaminated but not at toxic levels, and were transported to a municipal waste facility.

Unfortunately, the DTSC letter points out discrepancies; the data provided in the report does not seem to agree with the Army's newsletter pronouncements. Building 41 soil, for example, turned up with hazardous waste levels of DDT which were placed back on the site and, "It also appears the soils which were hauled off site for disposal were not disposed of as hazardous waste."

There is also some question of soil removed from the Perimeter Drainage Ditch and dumped at Redwood Landfill (which accepts only clean fill), which may not have been adequately tested for toxic contaminants.

It seems that in one instance, soil was re-used during construction to make a driveway for trucks-soil which may contain Mercury above allowed concentrations. If confirmed by testing, this "re-located" contaminated soil would mandate yet another location for toxic clean up.

Compounding the Issue

Since the Army was willing to praise themselves in their own newsletter to the public, it would seem reasonable that the underlying document and data from the remediation report would be available to the public. Not so. When this Coastal Post reporter requested a copy of the report and the Agencies comment letters, the Army refused to provide access to the documents citing a "mandate by FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act)- not Army policy." The Coastal Post was able to easily obtain the letters from state regulators.

It seems the Army does not trust the public to decide for itself, based on review of actual data; rather, it prefers us to "trust" them to tell us what we need to know. Unfortunately, the Army has not earned good marks in the past; their track record on Hamilton does not warrant our trust on issues of toxic contamination or public disclosure.

 

 

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