Nation's budget problems slow NASA's toxic cleanup | News | Palo Alto Online |


Nation's budget problems slow NASA's toxic cleanup


Until budget problems are sorted out, NASA officials say they plan to simply put a fence around piles of contaminated soil that could harm wildlife in Moffett Field's wetlands.

On March 15 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered NASA to clean up piles of contaminated soil near the Bay Trail at Moffett Field that threaten to contaminate a former salt pond along the trail.

The soil -- excavated from other areas of Moffett -- are contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), zinc, lead, chromium, cadmium, and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). According to the Environmental Protection Agency, erosion of the soil mounds into the adjacent ponds poses a threat to wildlife, including the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.

NASA officials say a silt fence around the mounds -- typically made of plastic -- may have to do for over a year until a "permanent remedy" can be developed.

The nearby pond, known as site 25, was subjected last year to a $9.7 million toxic cleanup by the United States Navy, which handed over Moffett Field to NASA Ames Research Center in 1994.

According the EPA, one source of contamination from the ponds was rainwater runoff from Hangar One, which recently underwent its own toxic cleanup of PCBs, asbestos and lead, also by the Navy. The Navy is still responsible for much of a widespread toxics cleanup effort at Moffett, which includes miles of petroleum lines and tanks that leaked and a massive groundwater plume of the carcinogenic solvent trichloroethylene (TCE).

EPA spokesperson David Yogi said NASA has been cooperative with its portion of the ongoing toxics cleanup at Moffett, but a long-term Federal Facilities Agreement has yet to be negotiated. "NASA is on board" with efforts to get a long-term agreement in place, Yogi said. The California State Regional Water Quality Control Board is also regulating cleanup work at Moffett.

"We wanted to make sure we highlight this as a priority for immediate action," Yogi said. "We have the Navy that's already done work that's close to this site."

NASA Ames deputy director Deb Feng issued a statement about the situation.

"In response to the order -- as an interim measure -- NASA will install a silt fence barrier this summer around the fill area to prevent contaminated sediments being released to Site 25," Feng said. "NASA will develop a permanent remedy for the fill area to replace the temporary silt fence barrier and expects to complete the project by the summer of 2014. NASA is still assessing the effects that budget sequestration might have on the cleanup project."

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Like this comment
Posted by William
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm

So .. just how much does NASA claim this toxic waste cleanup is going to cost? Just how has the Sequester affected NASA Ames' budget?

Without knowing these two numbers, NASA could be well blowing smoke--and not clean up toxic waste with the money it does have.

Like this comment
Posted by Sorry to say this...
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2013 at 1:14 pm

I hate to say it ( not really), but protecting public health and safety has not been a government priority for several decades, if ever.

Like this comment
Posted by Stew
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm

NASA knows more about their toxic plume than they let on. Naturally they don't want to pay to clean it up, who would? The fact is NASA Ames has been a superfund site for decades, some of the problems have been addressed, but clearly others have not. The EPA issued a news release a week ago or so stating that they had basically told NASA to stop stalling and get to work cleaning. The sudden lack of funds and citing sequestration as the problem is smoke and mirrors. Don't let their slick PR machine fool you.

Like this comment
Posted by Unhappy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Members of my family work in the contaminated buildings at Google so I'm not at all happy with NASA on this one. On the other hand another relative of mine is a climate scientist who depends on NASA grant money to do his job!!

Like this comment
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Another fine example of Obama's stimulus has helped the new pre revolutionary "Divided America"

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