Coastal Post Online


January, 2004

Toxic Soil Used In Home Construction At Hamilton
By Elena Belsky

   Hamilton Army Air Field contains high levels of contamination from a variety of hazardous chemicals, as well as a history of failed and incomplete characterization of related toxic contamination problems. The Army's history of "fast track" sales of Hamilton lands to the City of Novato, with a quick turn-around to eager developers, has resulted in hastily built subdivisions on potentially unsafe sites.
   In the mid-90s the Army performed a series of cursory toxic-site clean-ups so that developers could begin building homes. Some soil was hauled off as hazardous waste, and the rest was placed on the runway for storage and listed as "non-hazardous." Some piles have remained uncovered for nearly a decade; poorly characterized spoils piles have been used as backfill for sites that had already been "cleaned up."

New Testing By New Property Owners
   Analytical data from runway spoils pile samples collected by the California Coastal Conservancy (CCC) early last year show Army-controlled soils have been used improperly for construction on the Hamilton property.
   Prior to transfer of the wetlands parcel (which includes the runway and spoils piles) to the CCC, the state decided to do further testing on two of the spoils piles. They found that these piles contained hazardous waste that had been improperly stored on the runway as non-hazardous for many years. The Army and the CCC were reluctant to release the test results to the public, the Hamilton Restoration Advisory Board, and state regulators-so this information was not easily discovered, but worth reading. Per the report, one of the spoils piles contained levels of DDT defined as hazardous; the other was also contaminated deemed unsuitable for use in the wetlands. Further testing is being done on the remaining spoils piles. This recent testing prompts more concerns as to the Army's original, incomplete characterization of the of origin of the spoils piles and their re-use in populated residential areas.

Soil Contamination A Threat to Homeowners?
   Contaminated soils from the runway were used in preparation of new home sites and construction of the New Hamilton Partnership levee, Landfill 26 cover, as well as backfill of the Hospital Hill and Lot 8 Rapid Response Area projects (new homes may have been built on top of this area).
   It is unclear why the Army and State regulators gave approval to developers to use the contaminated soil for residential construction.
   The exact location of the other reported usage of spoils piles in the subdivision is not known- comprehensive testing of subdivision soils and homeowner's back yards should commence immediately to protect public health.

What To Do?
   Most importantly, the Army must determine, as comprehensively as possible, the location of each incident of use of toxic soil.
   Additionally, the responsible party (whether Army or developer) should undertake comprehensive sampling of ALL potential locations that might have used contaminated runway soils, and test for a WIDE panel of chemicals of concern. The potential for toxics in residential areas must be taken seriously; corrective action must be initiated.
   The Army is preparing to transfer the New Hamilton Partnership Levee property to the City of Novato. The Army's transfer document states that all clean up has been done. But that document completely fails to mention the contaminated runway spoils pile soil that was used to construct the levee. The Army should not transfer the property until it has adequately characterized the site.
   A public meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 6, 2004 at 7 p.m. in the Novato Police Station meeting room to discuss the property transfer.



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