The Coastal Post - January, 1996

West Marin Dump Has Serious Problems


The Coastal Post recently interviewed Eugene Kojan, who holds a Ph.D in engineering and geology and has lived in West Marin for 15 years, so he knows the ins and outs of the community. When asked if the West Marin Dump is hazardous to Tomales Bay, Dr. Kojan said outright, "Yes, it is, without doubt."

He went on to recall that when the dump was used for West Marin waste only, even then materials put into it were no means benign, because people still put into their garbage cans half-used cans of herbicides, pesticides, paint or even newspapers, all of which produce dioxin, which is hazardous to health.

Hazardous waste is now required by law to be separated, but no such law was in effect when the dump was first used. For that matter, people used to say, "Will it kill you?" when they talked about dioxin; they did not know that it could cause cancer, compromise the immune system or cause birth defects. The EPA in a massive study published six months ago found that dioxin is adversely bioactive even at extremely low detection limits of a few parts per billion. Anyway you look at it, it's not worth the risk.

In 1989, according to Dr. Kojan, the West Marin Dump situation became significantly worse because the it began to receive massive amounts of waste from Richmond, the Presidio, San Mateo County, and sewage grit and screenings from the East Bay. Recognizing the relatively high cost component of haulage in the total cost of waste disposal, Dr. Kojan asked: "What do you think was the incentive to haul the waste all the way to West Marin over slow, winding roads if it didn't bear some relationship to the content of the waste?"

In California privately-owned waste dumps are permitted to self-monitor. In contrast, note the significant difference in the way automobile smog systems and construction inspection is handled. Try telling the CHP that everything is OK because you are self-monitoring your car. "Could you imagine people turning in their own cars because they are not meeting regulations?" asked Dr. Kojan.

"Dr Robert Stephens, a chemist and local resident and Chief of the State Hazardous Materials Laboratory, and I have carefully evaluated the owner's own Solid Waste Assessment Test Report more than a year ago and have concluded that the report contained major omissions and flaws, especially concerning ground water pollution and lechate (garbage juice) samplings and analysis for chemicals known to be hazardous to public health and the environment. In the summary, they claim there was no pollution," said Kojan.

The dump is unlined, is sitting on intensely fractured and permeable rock associated with the San Andreas fault zone and violates state regulations requiring a minimum of five feet separation between the water and ground water. The owner's own documents prove, in fact, that the lower half of the waste mound, in excess of 25 feet, has been submerged below the ground water table since 1992, permitting the spread of pollutants for long distances outside the dump.

In fact, a recent Bay Area Water Quality Control Board staff report has documented the migration of a plume of polluted water extending a minimum of one mile from the dump at the mouth of Tomasini Creek near where it joins Tomales Bay, in the area where the national park plans to restore a marsh in the Tomales Bay Marine Sanctuary.

"Each of the very sparse monitoring wells has shown the chemical content of this plume, its component concentrations, their effects on massive organisms and water fowl, and a toxicological study has to this day not been performed. It is essential to promptly determine these parameters, as well as the determination of the three-dimensional configuration of the various aquifers and bedrock channels [the natural plumbing system] by which these pollutants are spreading. Such studies are urgently required before any remedial engineering measures are designed and constructed," said Dr. Kojan.

The State Waste Water Control Board staff proposes a very leisurely schedule to assess the problem, a few new bedrock monitoring wells to be installed in late 1996. At this pace the pollution problems will not be fully addressed until well into the next century, besides which the County has allowed the dump operator to operate for years without a valid permit.

Organizations such as Waste Watch, the Tomales Bay Association and the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin have earnestly requested the County to move on the dump.

In the meantime, they would like a moratorium placed on the dump—no more dumping—even of things that are benign, like beach sand.

Dr. Kojan stressed that the West Marin Dump site isn't alone in its problems; all dumps have the same pollution problems. What makes the need for action now is the obvious fact that Tomales Bay is part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and that Tomales Bay is surrounded by national parks, the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Tomales Bay is truly a national treasure.