State officials confirm radioactive material present at Richmond southeast shore site
on November 15, 2013
Richmond resident and community activist Sherry Padgett said Thursday night’s meeting of the Richmond Southeast Shoreline Community Advisory Group was the culmination of hundreds of hours of grueling research into the toxic history of the Blair Landfill site. And the group’s steadfastness was finally rewarded, she said.
“This is the first meeting we’ve had where regulators have come forth and had something to say about the site having potential hazards,” Padgett said.
Radiation experts from California’s Department of Public Health and Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Toxic Substances Control were on hand to talk about confirmed radioactive waste present at the site, which is near the South 51st Street access path to the high-trafficked San Francisco Bay Trail and Baxter Creek. About 30 people listened to witnesses.
The radioactive materials are 100 times higher than the commonplace levels found in earth’s soil, causing the California Department of Public Health to initiate extended testing, officials said.
Padgett and fellow members of the community advisory group, reached out to the state officials after discovering the former Stauffer Chemical Company that once operated on the site melted more than 600 pounds of uranium at the site in the 1960s, of which 10 percent is still unaccounted for.
The group alleges the chemical company dumped leftover radioactive elements at the site.
“What we have right now is a trail of clues,” said Eric Blum, chairman of the Richmond Southeast Shoreline Area Community Advisory Group. “We want to know what is the risk to us working, walking, and living next to this.”
John Fassell with the state Radiologic Health branch said he led a team of four with radioactive survey meters to take readings of the area last week. Some of the areas were found to have levels 10 to 15 times above normal background radiation levels, but he said one location had levels from 30 to 100 times above normal.
Fassell said it would take more than 900 hours per year of exposure to the radioactive material to pose any harm.
The team took soil samples of the locations surveyed for a full isotopic analysis, which he said will take about four to eight weeks to complete. Community group members suggested Fassell’s team take additional samples at other “warm spots” near the site.
During the question period, Padgett asked about putting up warning signs near the location, a suggestion which she called her “assignment” for the meeting. Currently, only “no trespassing” signs are present.
“A ‘no trespassing’ sign doesn’t give a clue to the public that there’s a possibility of getting some kind of exposure they wouldn’t want to be near,” she said.
Workers at businesses near the site might risk the possibility of exposure to harmful amounts of radiation above the 900 hours per year threshold. Group chairman Blum said he would go around to the businesses and get a list of all the owners who want to have their businesses tested for radiation levels.
Fassell did mention some possible disposal options for the radioactive material, but further study was needed before a plan would be developed.
Blum said the group will lobby “to their last breath to get it cleaned up” so that future generations won’t have to worry about it affecting them and their children.
Members of the group thanked the representatives for coming to the meeting, discussing the survey results and listening to suggestions.
“We’ve been asking for a long time for an in-depth analysis to what happened to the radioactive material,” Padgett said.
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