Baykeeper to launch massive toxic debris cleanup at Point Molate

Point Molate, Richmond, CA

Baykeeper plans to clean up toxic debris from the shoreline near Point Molate, starting in late September or early October 2012. Photo credit: Josh Wolf.

About 125 tons of toxic debris cluttering the shoreline between Point Molate and Point San Pablo will be removed this fall by the San Francisco marine watchdog Baykeeper. With the help of volunteers and some heavy machinery, the nonprofit group plans to clean up trash and take out hundreds of pilings soaked with creosote, a wood preservative and possible human carcinogen, starting in late September or early October.

“There are old derelict docks and piers along Point Richmond and Point Molate – trash, basically, that’s floating around in the marine environment and posing a threat to aquatic habitats as well as people,” said Ian Wren, a staff scientist at Baykeeper who will lead the project.

Baykeeper received a grant for $45,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to conduct the cleanup, with a required 1:1 match of Baykeeper staff time and volunteer support.

The waste removal should help further the cause of reopening Point Molate beach. The Richmond City Council decided July 31 to allocate $154,000 from the Cosco Busan oil spill settlement to revamp and reopen the beach.

“This is a fantastic project and something that is sorely needed,” said Joan Garrett, founding director of Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate. “It would have cost a fortune for an organization like ours or for the city to pay for someone to come in and do that. It’s a blessing that Ian has gotten this grant.”

Wren said he didn’t know about the park’s reopening until long after the cleanup project was underway, and that he applied for the NOAA grant a year ago. But removing tons of creosote will benefit the long-term health of local residents. “There are probably about 250-300 creosote pilings along that stretch of beach,” Wren said. “I would think that would be a Code-A safety issue for any kind of park opening.”

Baykeeper is still looking for volunteers for the project, but will probably keep the numbers relatively low, said Wren, “as it’s kind of a technical job and we’re looking for people who can do heavy lifting.” Volunteers will do as much as possible by hand and then Baykeeper will use a Bobcat and a small crane to lift the material off of the beach and into big refuse bins.

“Unfortunately, because they have creosote in them, they have to go to a landfill,” Wren said. “They can’t be burned.”

Volunteers don’t need to worry about health risks when removing the pilings, he said.

“The exposure you’d have would be pretty minimal,” Wren said.

Although the material was once soaked through with creosote, the outer layer is mostly gone, Wren said, leaving just what is underneath the surface to leak into the water and surrounding sediment. “It’s more of a chronic pollutant, rather than something that would pose acute harm to people who were touching it,” he said.

If you’re interested in volunteering and can lift at least 40 pounds, please contact Ian Wren at ian@baykeeper.org.

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