Newark Plans Housing For Area Tainted With Industrial Chemicals

In some cases efforts to purge the soil of industrial waste failed numerous times.

The red dots indicate where chemicals contaminated soil in Newark, California.
The red dots indicate where chemicals contaminated soil in Newark, California.

The City of Newark is planning to place hundreds of homes on a site where industrial chemicals taint the soil, in spite of protests by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.   

The endeavor is called the Trumark Dumbarton Transit-Oriented Development Residential project; it encompasses 21 acres of land at 8400 Enterprise Drive. This project would build 217 single-family homes and place businesses near area that city officials say is fine.

A letter from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board Toxics Cleanup Division to the City of Newark says otherwise. 

On September 27, 2013 Bruce H. Wolfe, executive officer for at the SF Bay Regional Water Board wrote to Terrence Grindall, Newark employee managing the environmental review of this project. The letter reads:

“Soil and groundwater pollution exists in the Dumbarton TOD area and poses a threat to human health and safety under a variety of scenarios, including residential receptors, commercial workers, construction works, and utility workers, etc. The pollution results from decades of processing and manufacturing chemicals and hazardous waste facility operations… The Site Cleanup Requirements Orders adopted soil and groundwater cleanup standards to support continued industrial/ commercial land, and not residential use.”

This letter was included in the city’s General Plan Tune Up Final Environmental Impact Report dated October 24, 2013. That 1,040-page document outlines the ways that land can be used within city borders. In spite of this letter that outlines potential problems with that land, the housing project is underway.

An Environmental Impact Report prepared for that project said that it will have significant impacts on air quality, biological resources, and expose workers to chemicals that saturate the soil and ground water in the area, according to the Draft Supplemental Impact Report released by the City of Newark in December 2013.

While the report says that the safety of the workers and the general public can be mitigated, information from the California Water Resources Control Board indicates that may not be as easy as projected. Five sites within 1000 feet of 8400 Enterprise Drive contain the detritus of industrial-grade endeavors.

Efforts to clean the land at 8333 Enterprise Drive have been ongoing since 1993, according to California Department of Toxic Substances Control records. Ironically, the companies that conducted business there pride themselves in making products that cleanse things. 

That land used to be owned by Purex, the laundry company. It operated a subsidiary called Baron Blakeslee, an industrial cleaning equipment company that spewed industrial waste into the soil, according to public records. Later that land was transferred to Honeywell International, which makes “high-purity, high-quality performance chemicals and materials,” according to its website. This company is currently liable for the efforts to clean up that land.

It is unclear whether the chemical leaks were overlooked, or undiscovered until it was too late.

What is known is that some of the chemicals leaking into the soil are problematic to remove and dangerous to human health. They included tetrachlorothene, which is used for dry-cleaning fabrics and degreasing metal. It can be damaging to kidneys and the respiratory system. Another one was Freon 113, which degrades the Earth’s ozone layer. Yet another is xylene.

Alameda County officials discovered that chemicals were contaminating the soil in April 1993. Multiple attempts to remove chemicals from the soil there have failed. 

Another project to put 27 homes at 8375 Enterprise Drive is planned.

The public has the opportunity to comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Report prepared for this project until 5 p.m. on February 7, 2014.   

Want to know about the other areas in Newark where companies have left their mark on the soil? 

Patch compiled information about all the areas in town that have been contaminated by dubious chemicals.  Take a look at the map embedded in this post to see where they are.  Click on the dots to see the status of cleanup efforts there. 

Birgitta Bower January 19, 2014 at 11:13 AM
Impressive reporting! Bravo Patch!
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 19, 2014 at 01:42 PM
Thanks, Birgitta Bower.
Nadja Adolf January 19, 2014 at 01:43 PM
Thank you Patch! Some of us have been fighting against this, Newark's own Love Canal, for years - and have been ridiculed, harassed, and even referred to as gadabouts by the powers that be in an effort to keep the public from actually understanding the risks. Misinformation has been given, suggesting that the city itself would incur no liability, and that the "developer would be responsible" when in reality many development projects involve shell corporations that dissolve as soon as the project is completed and sold, which would leave the city the only agency left standing available to be sued or prosecuted. We already have one development with toxic fume monitors installed in it by government agencies; this is well known to people who are looking for property to buy, and does not reflect well on Newark. We certainly don't need another debacle like that to show up on various environmental sites used by people considering new housing. What is under these sites is far worse than the various chemicals that have recently caused outrage in Santa Clara County. Arsenic may be forever, but it is more easily sequestered and removed than the elusive toxics of Newark that have evaded clean up effort after clean up effort.
Nadja Adolf January 19, 2014 at 01:47 PM
Then, last in the minds of most, but foremost in mind, there is the matter of the human beings who could be killed, crippled, or left diseased by these contaminants and the questions one must ask about a city government and bureaucracy that would knowingly agree to subject workers, children - entire families - to these risks in order to make money for the city and for the developers who are friendly with city planners and others. This area is considered so contaminated that it is considered unsafe for children to sleep there - or even to attend a day care or school sited there. And our city plans to build dense housing for many families, crowded cheek by jowl, in the middle of this toxic plain. They intend to site a new school in the midst of heavy metals and toxic organic compounds. Can someone tell me what ethical justification can be made to cause miscarriages, cancer deaths, and other problems in order that someone can make money?
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 19, 2014 at 01:52 PM
I think you hit the nail on the head there, Nadja Adolf. Money.
Birgitta Bower January 19, 2014 at 04:35 PM
Not knowing if we are dealing with apples (pesticides)and oranges (other chemicals), but I think the Trumark-Dumbarton Project is interesting to compare with the Patterson Ranch and The Quarry Project at Coyote Hills. In the Argus on the 17th (www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_24928839/fremont-agency-oks-pesticide-laden-soil-dumping-dumbarton) there was an article: 'Fremont: Agency Oks pesticide-laden soil dumping in Dumbarton Quarry'. Soil- 210,000 cubic yards from the Patterson Ranch- with 'dozens of pesticides' will be used to fill the quarry. Then 500 homes are going to be built at the Patterson site, and people are going to R&R on the filled quarry . The contaminated soil has to be placed at least 15 feet under the finished surface and you cannot use the ground water. The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board says it's OK, the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge is not so sure. So in one case you move the soil, in one case you don't. The soil is buried 15 feet deep in one case, I don't know what the precaution is in the other. In one case a Water Agency is Ok, with it, in the other not. Go figure.
Rob Sorensen January 19, 2014 at 07:02 PM
The PATCH is clearly a news nozzle for the Sierra Club. "We're all gonna die!" is the refrain. Why would any developer ever build?
Nadja Adolf January 20, 2014 at 12:21 AM
Rob, the real question is if the developer builds, uses the standard temporary shell corporation for the development, and then disbands that corporation - are you willing to pay any damages and liability suits that follow from your taxpayer funds? It is not legal to build in an area that does not meet residential standards, and the city has pressed ahead on this project *knowing* it is illegal to put residential projects in an area that can only be cleaned to industrial standards. You and others wonder why employees at high technology firms across the Bay aren't moving here? Well, for one thing, they tend to have some understanding of toxic chemicals (commonly used in high technology), and no desire to live in a toxic waste contaminated area.
Rob Sorensen January 20, 2014 at 12:41 AM
The thesis is of failure. I don't accept the thesis. A builder need not be, nor would be accepted, that has a profile like 'Ziggy & Mugsy' Development. Assuming catastrophe is a bit much.
Frank Mockery January 20, 2014 at 02:31 AM
Anti-environmentalists & global warming deniers are generally right-wing conservatives & promote a pro-business,pro-industry & anti-worker point of view. They generally put business interests & profits before the health & welfare of their fellow citizens. These folks are most often selfish,ill-informed & not very bright & base their opinions not on scientific research,but on repudiated propaganda compiled by likeminded idiots. These are the same bastards who complain about Spare the Air alerts & have no problem with exposing their neighbors to noxious wood smoke as long as they can continue to burn logs in their fireplaces. They don't like any kind of government regulation when they're on the receiving end,yet have no problem with the government imposing their own views on others. Thank goodness that here in California these anti-people,anti-Earth morons have been completely marginalized & have absolutely no political clout. In closing I would certainly hope that Newark won't allow any residential building on this site until an adequate remediation plan has been adopted & the site has been thoroughly cleaned & certified safe for construction workers & future residents.
Rob Sorensen January 20, 2014 at 12:53 PM
Ipse dixit!
James Nelson January 20, 2014 at 01:31 PM
Nadja Adolf January 20, 2014 at 02:02 PM
Rob, both you and Frank have committed the "bare assertion fallacy" or ipse dixit. You I assume have good motives at heart, but don't have a full understanding of the issues; please go read the EIR and responses to have a clearer understanding of the problems involved. Even if one doesn't care about the environment, one should be concerned about the city volunteering to take on what could be a huge liability case in the future. Frank, with all due respect, I am proudly to the Right of Attila the Hun and seem to care more about the environment than most warm, fuzzy-hearted, liberals. And I don't turn my neighbors in for burning wood because I am not some sort of Communist or Fascist. (Although I will cheerfully report the dumping of toxic or inflammable substances in the storm drains. Some people not only don't understand that gasoline is toxic, they have no idea that pouring a five gallon can of gas too use in the lawnmower down the storm drain is also an explosion hazard.)
Frank Mockery January 20, 2014 at 04:13 PM
A former employer of mine occupies a Superfund cleanup site (DDT & asbestos) & I unlike most of the other commenters have first hand knowledge of the challenges involved in remediation efforts. Disturbing contaminated soil creates toxic dust which becomes an airborne hazard for cleanup workers & drifts to adjacent property. In addition in an area so close to the bay where the water table is so shallow it's likely that the groundwater is contaminated too,both under this site & adjacent property as well. Capping the contaminated soil wouldn't pass muster for a residential development & removing & disposing of the soil is extremely costly. Depending upon the cocktail of contaminates present few if any disposal sites will accept such soil,it must be transported in sealed containers & will cost hundreds of dollars per cubic yard. We're talking millions & millions of dollars to cleanup a site most likely worth a fraction of the cleanup expense. On the other hand no matter what the ultimate use or this site is, Honeywell must be forced to cleanup this site regardless of the incredible expense. These sites are a gold mine for lawyers & remediation engineers & the city apparently doesn't have a clue when it comes to a matter of this magnitude. They need to consult with both the state & federal EPA,a law firm well-versed in these matters & Honeywell & their attorneys before proceeding with any future plans for this or any other contaminated site. To do otherwise would be as foolish as it would be reckless,potentially leaving their constituents liable for damages from future litigation ling after they've left office. Then again foolish & reckless is an apt description of not only our present City Council,but also the majority of the actions that they take. Note: Following your dog around with a plastic bag in no way makes you an expert on toxic cleanup,but does indicate a certain aptitude for remediation nonetheless ! Vescere bracis meis !!!
Rob Sorensen January 20, 2014 at 05:30 PM
Thanks Nadja for being the voice of reason. My brief response was to an idea that the concerns are somehow not know. Thus, there's a normal process, given the EIR, which we are ALL sensitive to, which must be played out. The fact that there is pursuit of development goals should be a clue that "the towel has not been thrown in. There's a process. All the fears and supposition is just that.
Rob Sorensen January 20, 2014 at 05:57 PM
Attila was a warm fuzzy guy and clearly misunderstood.


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