Real estate firm removes toxic soil from Richmond neighborhood, but controversy remains

Piles of soil containing toxic chemicals are removed from a lot on Canal Boulevard in Richmond. Photo by Julia Vassey.

Piles of soil containing toxic chemicals are removed from a lot on Canal Boulevard in Richmond. Photo by Julia Vassey.

A dispute between Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and Emeryville real estate firm Wareham Development over contaminated piles of soil stored at a lot on Canal Boulevard came to an end last week, when trucks hauled the dirt off the site.

Senior Water Resource Control Engineer Cheryl L. Prowell of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, the agency that supervised the soil removal, said it was completed last Friday. But nearby residents expressed concerns over how the removal was handled.

“I saw the soil being blown in the air,” said Norma Wallace, a Cottage Avenue resident who lives about half a mile from the site.

Prowell said that Wareham Development, the firm that brought the soil to the site late last month, managed the process to make sure no one was exposed to toxic chemicals.

“The appropriate steps are being taken to control any potential risk,” Prowell said during the removal last week.

The health risks associated with the chemicals in the soil, namely PCBs, range from a 1 in 1,000,000 to 1 in 10,000 chance of getting cancer from a lifetime of exposure to levels as low as those detected in the soil at the Richmond site, Prowell said.

As a precautionary measure, Wareham Development’s environmental contractor, San Francisco-based GHD, was instructed to spray the dirt with water to make sure the dust would not be airborne. The contractor was also instructed to monitor the air quality throughout the removal process.

Mayor Tom Butt said “he saw complaints” about the removal process posted by residents on the Nextdoor neighborhood network. Some were concerned about dust flying in the air, and others were frustrated with a Wareham supervisor who escorted passersby away from the site.

The controversy over the contaminated soil began on September 29, when the mayor wrote in his e-forum that Wareham Development had “dumped hundreds of tons of PCB-contaminated soils excavated from a site in Emeryville without informing the City of Richmond and without applying for the required grading permit.”

In an email reply to the mayor, Wareham Development executive Chris Barlow disputed the claim that the soil was “dumped.” Barlow said it was placed there for “temporary storage” and that the level of toxic chemicals it contained were “below actionable level.”

City of Richmond Director of Planning and Building Richard Mitchell confirmed that Wareham Development provided the city with results of tests on the soil, but said he did “not have the ability to say whether they are below actionable levels.”

Russ Edmondson, Media Information Officer with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, said the state agency “has never received information confirming the origin of the stockpiled soil located at 505 Canal Boulevard nor data showing the soil’s chemical compositions and concentrations.”

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