News

Eshoo opens inquiry into Silicon Valley toxic cleanup

Sites included are in Palo Alto and Mountain View

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, has opened an inquiry with the Environmental Protection Agency into shortfalls in the federal government's Superfund toxic cleanup program, including sites it operates in Palo Alto and Mountain View.

Eshoo made the inquiry after a report by the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting and The Guardian exposed details of associated pollution that is created by treatment and transportation of toxic pollutants from Superfund sites. The report followed a toxic trail from a site in Mountain View across the country and back to Silicon Valley.

The Mountain View Voice also published a series of stories on the issue in 2003, when community members first began to discuss the environmental consequences for an Indian reservation in Arizona. That was where carbon filters used to clean contaminated groundwater at Mountain View Superfund sites were being burned, emitting dioxin into the air and affecting Native-American residents there.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are 21 Superfund sites located in Silicon Valley, with 11 in Eshoo's 18th Congressional District, including one at the former Hewlett-Packard site at 620-640 Page Mill Road in Palo Alto.

In a March 28 letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Eshoo asked for more information regarding the extent to which the agency monitors the interstate transport and treatment of the hazardous waste, alternative cleanup methods and if the agency has adequate regulatory authority to monitor and control toxic materials after removal from Superfund sites.

"What I'm concerned about is that the Environmental Protection Agency is failing to properly monitor and regulate the emissions associated with remediating the toxic pollutants recovered from Superfund sites," Eshoo wrote.

"Of particular concern are the emissions of dioxin, which is on the EPA's 'Dirty Dozen' list of dangerous chemicals and is a known carcinogen. The carbon emissions associated with collecting, transporting and treating hazardous waste from Superfund sites are deeply troubling. I also understand that in some cases the traditional 'pump and treat' method for decontaminating groundwater may not be as effective as alternative treatment methods," she wrote. The Hewlett-Packard site uses pump-and-treat methods.

When residents of Mountain View first discussed the issue 11 years ago, they worked with the EPA to fix the problem.

"Though I was among the community members who raised the issue of carbon 'regeneration' a decade ago, I believe it's important to put it into perspective," said Lenny Siegel, director of Mountain View's Center for Public Environmental Oversight, in an email. "I believe that Superfund cleanups represent a small portion of the carbon filters thermally treated in the U.S., and carbon filter disposal represents a small portion of the waste shipped from Superfund sites."

"The transfer of waste from one medium to another is one of the reasons we have been promoting in-situ treatment at MEW and Moffett Field (Mountain View's major Superfund sites), and we believe the adoption of new remedies here may serve as a national model," Siegel said.

Alternatives to carbon filtering of contaminated groundwater include the injection of special bacteria into the water table to break down toxics.

"But it's an area where we all need to tread carefully," he said. "Federal and private responsible parties are looking for excuses to reduce cleanup activity, and no active cleanup (monitored natural attenuation) generates less waste and costs less than both conventional remedies (pump and treat) and in-situ treatment."

A map of all Silicon Valley Superfund sites can be found at www.epa.gov/superfund/sites.

The sites in Palo Alto and Mountain View include:

- Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto

- Spectra-Physics, Inc., Mountain View

- Teledyne Semiconductor, Mountain View

- CTS Printex, Inc., Mountain View

- Jasco Chemical Corp., Mountain View

- Moffett Naval Air Station, Mountain View

- Fairchild Semiconductor, Mountain View

- Raytheon Corp., Mountain View

- Intel Corp., Mountain View

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Art
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2014 at 11:48 am

Besides the EPA superfund sites, there are a whole host of sites in and around Palo Alto that are California cleanup sites- go to Web Link and enter Palo Alto and check out the map. The state agencies involved include the DTSC (Department of Toxic Substance Control) and the Water Board. A number of these sites are in the Stanford Research Park, the contamination being result of leaking storage tanks at many companies in past years. This includes the Hillview-Porter regional site, and Varian at 611 Hansen Way, and the COE (California-Olive-Emerson) plume on the other side of El Camino. Twenty five years after the contamination was discovered, the ground water near these companies is still contaminated and pumping of the ground water continues as the primary means of remediation.


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Posted by bob@wenzlau.net
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 1, 2014 at 10:45 pm

The following is a more comprehensive overview of the environmental setting in Palo Alto than the Weekly's link. The map shows three categories of subsurface environmental hazards - spill sites, environmental protections and groundwater plumes. Also shown are munitions areas, but none are reported within Palo Alto.

Web Link

WhatsDown is a free mobile mapping tool is still in development, and allows getting an overview breadth of impact. Two areas of content are unique - first the representation of the boundaries of the groundwater plumes, and second is the extent of the environmental protections. Environmental protections is a term that captures land use controls that have been placed on properties when it is realized that the cleanup will never be sufficient to allow unrestricted land use. We will be finishing the application by Earth Day.

I had a chance to characterize the breadth of the impact of the plumes for a national conference discussing vapor intrusion above TCE plumes. The beginning of the YouTube (link below) shows the extent of the plumes, and the introduces practice we are pursuing to support Palo Alto making informed decisions as development occurs near these sites.

Web Link

Terradex is a 12 year old Palo Alto business serving many parts of the country, the article allows us a chance to show the relevance of our services.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 1, 2014 at 11:05 pm

I am glad that we have Rep Eshoo's attention here. How about some help in the flood control project for the San Francisquito Creek from top to bottom. The top is Stanford U - Searsville Dam in which there needs to be a release of water down the creek to keep it clean and allow fish to travel up. There needs to be holding pools at the top. A lot of agencies are now involved in this activity so help would be appreciated.
At this time PA is being expected to make all of the modifications at the Baylands level of activity.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Not a big fan of CIR (Center for Investigative Reporting), as they generally don't have a staff with a lot of depth in any of the topics that investigate.

We all know that the pollution of ground water is real. But what we don't know is how dangerous the situation was, or is, in terms of actual data. Oh, sure, we can measure the PPM for any particular pollutant, but given that the sames are taken from underground, how kinds of dispersion will occur by the time the pollutants find their way into any body of water that matters.

We are not drinking water from wells, at least around here. The water from Hetch Hetchy is in no way obtained from underneath any of the SV Super Sites. Is there any real evidence that people, or wild life, are in danger of great loss of life, if the pollutant levels stay at their current levels?

Will Anna Eshoo (AA, Canada College) be able to dig through all of this data, and come to a conclusion--one way or another? Doubtful.

At the very least, we should be reviewing the EPA's yearly progress reports to see if they provide the public the meaningful data needed to understand if there is any reason to continue, or if there is every reason to continue, pumping and filtering the groundwater under the Silicon Valley.

It's doubtful that this Congress Member will be able to do that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jetman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2014 at 11:19 pm

The City and County of San Francisco owns and operates a very large for profit industrial facility in San Mateo County. That industrial facility is currently dumping the toxic by-product of its operations on Palo Alto, eastern Menlo Park, and East Palo Alto.

The name of this large industrial facility is the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), and the byproducts of its operations are toxic noise, and microscopic droplets of unburned jet fuel. Over 17,000 flights arrive at SFO every month. Under the prevailing westerly wind pattern, in effect 83% of the time, three of the five arrival routes into SFO cross over Palo Alto, eastern Menlo Park, and East Palo Alto on their way to SFO. These flights pass over Palo Alto at 4,000", and even lower altitudes as they transit eastern Menlo Park, and East Palo Alto.

The only arrival route which passes over San Francisco, passes over the western most portion of the Sunset district from the north at 11,000'. This same route continues flying south, descending over the Peninsula, making a u-turn over Palo Alto at 4,000' before proceeding north to SFO.

Jet Pollution Penetrates Lungs and Crosses Blood-brain Barrier
News.com.au ~ May 13, 2011 Web Link
"In the first study of its kind, experts from the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US, collected pollution from an idling commercial plane as it operated at different loads."


Living Under Flight Path Found to Raise Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
The Telegraph ~ March 1, 2014 Web Link
"Previous studies have shown that exposure to aircraft noise overnight can raise blood pressure, even in people who claim to have slept through it."


SFBA Major Jet Arrival & Departure Routes under Westerly Winds: Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 2, 2014 at 8:29 am

I would like to add that one of the largest, and perhaps the most dangerous producers of deadly toxic by-products into our air and soil is the Palo Alto airport. There is a deathly silence vis-a-vis that elephant in the room and I wish Anna would address that as well.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm

I am sitting in on the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meetings. This is a intensive super fund site with ground water traveling under 101 moving west. Many government agencies are involved in the clean-up activities. I am glad that there is now focus on this problem. It affects where housing is built as well as industrial activity.


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Posted by Later, dude
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Apr 2, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Anna Eshoo is about thirty years too late on this one. Sunnyvale is one big toxic site, as is the Santa Teresa section of San Jose. parts of Mtn View and Santa Clara are included in this also.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jetman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2014 at 9:46 pm

boscoli...

If you are referring to the continued use of leaded gas in private planes and helicopters, I could not agree with you more. 30+ years after leaded fuel was phased out of automobile gas, it is still in use in private aircraft.

A Duke University study found that children living within 1,000 meters of private airport have elevated levels of lead in their blood. If you draw a circle 1,000 meters in radius around the Palo Alto Airport you will find that most of the schools and childcare facilities within that circle are located in East Palo Alto.

The good news is... there are alternative high octane fuels available. The bad news is... the FAA's current plans calls for a phase-out in 2018. I think that is too long to wait, and would like to see the Palo Alto City Council pass a local ordinance banning the sale of leaded aviation fuel at the Palo Alto Airport.

Meanwhile... thousands of commercial jets pass over Palo Alto every month continuously spraying the city with microscopic droplets of unburned jet fuel. What are the long term health effects?

Leaded Fuel Is a Thing of the Past, Unless You Fly a Private Plane
Mother Jones ~ January 10, 2013 Web Link

Mother Jones Reports on Leaded Avgas
General Aviation News ~ January 28, 2013 Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 2, 2014 at 10:29 pm

During our last go around on the SFO jets I went over to the PA Airport because there is a FAA group there - but behind a gate and you have to have an appointment. I never did make an appointment.

I think the FAA is there for the SFO airport because that is where the SFO flight line comes in from the west to east zone to turn up into the north approach. I am a great fan of the SFO flight tracker system now so can calibrate when someone is going to come over.

The FAA is not going to go anywhere so the PA airport is not going to go anywhere.

I think the previous efforts on this front has helped - less noise.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jetman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2014 at 11:31 am

Resident 1...

Thanks for the info. I did not know the FAA was at the Palo Alto Airport.

Commercial aircraft arriving from the west, south and even aircraft coming from the north over the Peninsula converge on a point near Palo Alto Airport called the Menlo IAF (intermediate approach fix)on their way to SFO final approach.

I don't think (or even want) the Palo Alto Airport to go anywhere. I just wish they would stop using leaded gas in private planes and helicopters.

By previous efforts... do you mean a decade ago when Gary Fazino was mayor, or something more recent? I have noticed a dramatic increase in jet noise in the last year. Info provided by the SFO Noise Abatement Office shows the number of flights over some Palo Alto neighborhoods doubled in 2013 compared to 1999-2000 when SFO had a similar number of total arrivals (17k/mo). The 2013 figures even show a 50% increase over 2011-2012, again with a similar number of total arrivals in those years (17k/mo).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 3, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Jetman - you were the star of what started out as the Surf Air debate last summer, PA vs Atherton which morphed into the Palo Alto vs San Mateo incoming flight line for SFO. If the FAA is at the PA airport I guess this is not gong anywhere. Other alternative is to start emailing SFO when the 747-400's from the orient are coming over - way too low. They need to pick themselves up into a higher flight path.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jetman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Well... it is a shame to see another pollution issue developing in Palo Alto before one from 40-50 years ago has even been put to rest.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by lmftfy
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 4, 2014 at 12:41 pm

"Will Anna Eshoo (AA, Canada College) be able to dig through all of this data, and come to a conclusion--one way or another? Doubtful."

lmftfy: Will (a moron poster, anonymous, with zero credentials) be able to dig through all of this data, and come to a conclusion--one way or another? Doubtful. Nope, but she can ask stoopid questions!!

Dude/dudette - yer a hater, we get that. JFK or Ronald Reagan couldn't come up with a policy to save his life. That's why they had science, and educated advisers.


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