UC Ordered to Help in Cleanup of Polluted Stege Marsh in Richmond

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What many people do not realize when visiting scenic Stege Marsh in Richmond is it was declared a "toxic hot spot" by the Regional Water Quality Control Board in 1998-a title given to the 10 most-polluted regions in the Bay Area.

Arsenic, mercury and PCBs were among a number of toxic metals and dangerous organic compounds found on the site.

Now UC, owner of the eastern part of Stege Marsh and the adjoining Richmond Field Station, has orders from the water board to clean up the site.

Zeneca Corporation, an agrochemical manufacturer whose land neighbors UC's, will share in the cleanup responsibilities. The two parties are currently negotiating cleanup obligations and how much each will pay of the project's total cost.

UC Berkeley has made an effort to maintain the site, and though toxin removal isn't expected to begin until July, the Office of Environment, Health & Safety was involved in cleaning up the site yesterday.

Though UC is partially responsible for toxic remediation at the marsh, the university did not pollute the area. It inherited the problem from a long history of heavy

industry polluters who used the land prior to the university's purchase of it in 1950.

Staff/Ben Miller
Bird eggs are evidence of the wildlife that lives in the marsh.

"UC is responsible because they bought the land with the problem," said Wil Bruhns, senior engineer at the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. "If you buy land with gold on it you get to keep the gold. If you buy land with toxins on it, you have to deal with it. It goes both ways."

The area was once home to Ohlone Indians and later Spanish explorers in the 1700s. Pollution did not begin to build up on what is now UC's land until the 1870s, when heavy industry moved in.

The California Cap Company manufactured mercury fulminate for blasting caps there, according to the Office of Environment, Health & Safety. Another company used land east of the Richmond station to manufacture sulfuric acid.

UC Berkeley professors and students have used the toxic site for educational and research purposes.

One course at UC Berkeley uses the site as a case study to better understand environmental issues. Engineers also use the site for research into toxic remediation, while scientists are looking into methods of habitat restoration.

"Although (the cleanup) will be an expensive project with short-term disruption to the habitat, I feel this is the soundest strategy from an engineering perspective and the most environmentally responsible way to address this contamination," said Professor Fiona Doyle, whose own work on pyrite cinders led UC to change its cleanup strategy to an environmentally safer approach.

The toxic remediation project set to begin this summer may be delayed until September by endangered species who make their home in the marsh, said Project Manager Diane Mims from the engineering and consulting firm assisting UC Berkeley in the Richmond Field Station Project.

The endangered California clapper rail, a small bird known for its call which resembles a clapping sound, makes its home in Stege Marsh. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has declared UC and Zeneca must keep work 200 feet away from the bird's breeding site.

"We are modifying the remediation project to minimize the impact on species," Mims said.


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