News

Diesel fuel spills into Matadero Creek

VA Palo Alto Health Care System-caused leak being contained

A view of Matadero Creek north of the Bol Park footbridge in Palo Alto, adjacent to a donkey pasture. A 600-foot section of the waterway which was impacted by a diesel fuel spill on May 6, 2021. Photo by Sue Dremann.

UPDATE: Read our latest story on the fuel spill, which has prompted concerns from residents about environmental damage.

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A diesel fuel spill from the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System's Palo Alto campus flowed into Matadero Creek on Thursday, contaminating a 600-foot section of the creek.

A failed sensor in a generator plant pump at the campus caused the May 6 spill, which entered a nearby storm drain flowing into the creek at approximately 11 a.m., according to an email, which was sent to Barron Park Association President John King. The campus is located at 3801 Miranda Ave. in Palo Alto behind Gunn High School.

"There is minimal risk of fuel breaking containment upstream. Most of the spilled diesel fuel was captured inside the VA generator building. On-site staff responded immediately to stop the spill and cleanup," Hill-Jackson wrote.

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A hazardous materials cleanup team arrived within 45 minutes and they have been working to contain the spill, including the placement of absorbent booms in the creek, he said.

The VA has received approval for a mitigation plan with California Fish and Wildlife Service and the Palo Alto Fire Department. Cleanup efforts will continue until the spill is adequately contained and removed from the surrounding environment, Hill-Jackson said. The VA has notified 13 state, federal and local authorities regarding the spill.

"We will continue to share updates should any changes to our plan occur," Hill-Jackson said.

Matadero Creek is home to Pacific tree frogs and is frequented by the native gray fox. It historically supported endangered steelhead trout.

The VA and a Palo Alto Fire Department spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

The spill is not the first for the VA. A 1982 wheelchair-cleaner spill from the Palo Alto VA caused a die-off of tree frogs that took 20 years to rebound, according to longtime residents.

The creek was also subject to a chemical cleanup from the Superfund cleanup Hillview-Porter site in Stanford Research Park in 1994. In 2008, 40 gallons of water containing copper and nickel from Communications and Power Industries leaked into a storm drain and into the creek.

In 2010, 25 gallons of white roofing material washed into Matadero Creek from a Xerox/VMWare building after a rainstorm.

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Diesel fuel spills into Matadero Creek

VA Palo Alto Health Care System-caused leak being contained

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sat, May 8, 2021, 10:17 pm

UPDATE: Read our latest story on the fuel spill, which has prompted concerns from residents about environmental damage.

---

A diesel fuel spill from the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System's Palo Alto campus flowed into Matadero Creek on Thursday, contaminating a 600-foot section of the creek.

A failed sensor in a generator plant pump at the campus caused the May 6 spill, which entered a nearby storm drain flowing into the creek at approximately 11 a.m., according to an email, which was sent to Barron Park Association President John King. The campus is located at 3801 Miranda Ave. in Palo Alto behind Gunn High School.

"There is minimal risk of fuel breaking containment upstream. Most of the spilled diesel fuel was captured inside the VA generator building. On-site staff responded immediately to stop the spill and cleanup," Hill-Jackson wrote.

A hazardous materials cleanup team arrived within 45 minutes and they have been working to contain the spill, including the placement of absorbent booms in the creek, he said.

The VA has received approval for a mitigation plan with California Fish and Wildlife Service and the Palo Alto Fire Department. Cleanup efforts will continue until the spill is adequately contained and removed from the surrounding environment, Hill-Jackson said. The VA has notified 13 state, federal and local authorities regarding the spill.

"We will continue to share updates should any changes to our plan occur," Hill-Jackson said.

Matadero Creek is home to Pacific tree frogs and is frequented by the native gray fox. It historically supported endangered steelhead trout.

The VA and a Palo Alto Fire Department spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

The spill is not the first for the VA. A 1982 wheelchair-cleaner spill from the Palo Alto VA caused a die-off of tree frogs that took 20 years to rebound, according to longtime residents.

The creek was also subject to a chemical cleanup from the Superfund cleanup Hillview-Porter site in Stanford Research Park in 1994. In 2008, 40 gallons of water containing copper and nickel from Communications and Power Industries leaked into a storm drain and into the creek.

In 2010, 25 gallons of white roofing material washed into Matadero Creek from a Xerox/VMWare building after a rainstorm.

Comments

The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on May 8, 2021 at 11:00 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on May 8, 2021 at 11:00 pm

This is unbelievable! Way to ruin nature. We can’t even have Matadero Creek without somehow polluting it. Not to mention, on a personal level, I occasionally like to visit Matadero Creek as a way to relax from the stress of the world and the stress from posting here when I venture out and leave my beloved Crescent Park. The last thing I want to see and smell out there is this disgusting Diesel fluid. On behalf of humanity, I would like to apologize to the tree frogs, steelhead trout, and the gray foxes for this spill. Hopefully, it doesn’t take those adorable tree frogs 20 years to rebound like what happened with the other spill in 1982. Get that spill cleaned up expeditiously and be more careful in the future. I love Matadero Creek trail and this news has infuriated me. Long live “Arroyo De Matadero.” Wallace Stegner would be ashamed of you if he were still alive. All The Little Live Things(can’t italicize) is a must read by the way. “There is no way to step off the treadmill. It is all treadmill.” But I digress. By destroying nature we destroy ourselves!


Not Good Enough
Registered user
Barron Park
on May 9, 2021 at 7:04 am
Not Good Enough, Barron Park
Registered user
on May 9, 2021 at 7:04 am

This happened Thursday morning, our neighborhood association President was told late Friday afternoon by the VA and he alerted neighbors first thing Saturday morning, two days after it happened. That's way too long before residents knew that a toxic spill into a creek had occured in their neighborhood and town.

Our City Council wasn't told. Was our City Manager told? Seems unlikely - his name isn't among those contacted by the VA (he would tell the Council). The local press couldn't immediately report it because our Police Chief encrypted police scanners that would routinely alert them of such incidents.

Matadero is a beloved wild creek in Barron Park, running the lenghth of its Bol Park. A few weeks ago I counted over two dozen mallard ducks swimming in it. Little kids splash in it during the winter. Saturday evening I watched a duck swim to the downstream spill boom, trying to get beyond it into the spill. It was awful to watch.

The spill booms are stair-stepped across the creek just upstream from the pedistrian/bike bridge next to the donkey paddock. The stink of diesel fuel could still be smelled from the bridge/paddock area Saturday evening.

I know this was an accident and the VA responded, but I don't have faith that the fuel was or is contained and that ducks and all the other wildlife won't be impacted for - how long? I do know I am sad and very very frustrated once again about toxic spills in our creek and the lack of information to residents and our elected officials.


blah
Registered user
another community
on May 9, 2021 at 1:00 pm
blah, another community
Registered user
on May 9, 2021 at 1:00 pm

I am pretty sure that emailing your neighborhood association's president is not the first priority on any entity's environmental contamination response plan. If you have ever piloted an aircraft, you might know that when something goes wrong, the pilot's priorities are to aviate, navigate, then communicate, in that order because the priority is to get the immediate emergency situation under control, then limp the aircraft to a safe landing, then notify the authorities once everyone is safe on deck.

Obviously, the VA's first priority was to stop the leak and contain what had already leaked out, then to notify the actually-important authorities, such as federal and state regulators that must be notified within a certain time period when a spill happens. Quite frankly, I think the VA should get kudos for even figuring out who your neighborhood association president is, and obtaining that person's email address.


felix
Registered user
Barron Park
on May 9, 2021 at 3:02 pm
felix, Barron Park
Registered user
on May 9, 2021 at 3:02 pm

Not surprisingly, I’ve haven’t piloted an airplane in danger of crashing, but I have lived in Barron Park for decades with its long relationship between neighborhood, the VA and it’s periodic toxic spills.

Yes the first priority was to address the spill. Which should have been followed much more promptly by notice given to the neighborhood and residents of this environmental emergency (as described by “blah” above). The VA and/ or the City let us down.


Dr. Science
Registered user
Professorville
on May 9, 2021 at 3:48 pm
Dr. Science, Professorville
Registered user
on May 9, 2021 at 3:48 pm

Concerned residents should test the pH of the creek water.

Go buy some litmus paper and take a sample.

A pH of 7 is safe. Extreme readings in either end of the scale > caution.

Web Link

In the event of serious contamination, notify authorities to close off the creek and prevent further pollution and risk to wildlife.

Don't just sit there and complain on the internet.


blah
Registered user
another community
on May 9, 2021 at 10:09 pm
blah, another community
Registered user
on May 9, 2021 at 10:09 pm

The VA didn't let anybody down. I am sure there are people illegally dumping toxic things into storm drains all the time that you never hear about. You're just reacting because this was reported in the news so you became aware of it. If you've ever put paint; motor oil; dead batteries; old mercury-containing thermostats and/or thermometers; household chemicals and solvents; old electronics; fluorescent light bulbs and the like into the trash instead of taking them to a hazardous waste drop-off site, then you are part of the problem.

If this article is to be believed, the cleanup team arrived within 45 minutes after the spill was detected and the contamination was limited to 600 feet of the creek. The article states the VA has a mitigation plan that was approved by both the state fish and wildlife service, as well as the Palo Alto fire department, so obviously the PAFD was aware of the spill and as a city service, could have notified city officials or dug up the Barron Park neighborhood association president's email address.

Your complaining makes it sound like the VA dumped the diesel into the creek on purpose; if you read carefully, you will see that the cause was a failed sensor.

We all know many residents of Shallow Alto are closet Republicans because although they are quite good at putting on social justice theater, what they are really concerned about is NIMBYism and making sure to keep up the front of "exclusivity" so their property values don't fall. Where else can you get people to pay $3.5 million for a tear-down house? I've lived here practically my whole life and the Shallow Alto charades are some of the most hilarious and transparent (not in a good way) attempts at being politically correct I've ever witnessed.


felix
Registered user
Barron Park
on May 11, 2021 at 8:24 am
felix, Barron Park
Registered user
on May 11, 2021 at 8:24 am

More has been learned as heard by the public’s and City Manager’s slide and comments at Council last night.
The contamination has not been contained and is well downstream.


Robbie B.
Registered user
Downtown North
on May 12, 2021 at 6:53 am
Robbie B., Downtown North
Registered user
on May 12, 2021 at 6:53 am

"Concerned residents should test the pH of the creek water."

"The contamination has not been contained and is well downstream."

"Don't just sit there and complain on the internet."

Perhaps best to press the City of Palo Alto and VA for additional information and report the incident to conservation groups like The Audubon Society and The Sierra Club.

Then a class action suit can be filed against both the city and VA.


jimmy
Registered user
Barron Park
on May 12, 2021 at 9:05 am
jimmy, Barron Park
Registered user
on May 12, 2021 at 9:05 am

Follows a list of the professional organizations notified of the spill and some of whom are testing the water professionally Representing three of the affected landowners I ask all the non-professionals to Butt-out.

California Emergency Response
National Response Center
California Fish and Wildlife Service
US Environmental Protection Agency
Palo Alto Fire Department
Palo Alto Water District
Palo Alto Police
Santa Clara Water District
US Coast Guard
USA Digs Utility
Santa Clara County Dept of Environmental Health
HAZMAT Cleanup Contractor Environmental Logistics Inc


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