Frequently Asked Questions

Site Background answers

What is the Richmond Field Station (RFS)?

The RFS is a 170 acre parcel owned by the University of California (UC) located in Richmond, about five miles from the central UC Berkeley campus. It was purchased in 1950 and is used primarily for College of Engineering academic teaching and research activities, but also houses some non-UC tenants. Current uses include the Northern Regional Library Facility, laboratories for other campus departments, including Art Practice, and EPA’s Region 9 Laboratory. The RFS also contains unique natural resources, including a remnant coastal terrace prairie and tidal marsh that is home the endangered California Clapper Rail. Additional background material about the RFS is available on the "About" page.

Why is remediation needed at the RFS?

Industrial activities that occurred prior to UC ownership led to the majority of contamination found at the RFS. The three main pollutant sources were:

  1. The California Cap Company (the former site owner), which manufactured mercury fulminate for blasting caps from the 1870s to 1940s on what is now the RFS property.
  2. Stauffer Chemical Company, acquired by Zeneca Inc., which operated on property adjacent to the RFS from 1919-1962. Stauffer Chemical manufactured sulfuric acid, pesticides and other chemicals. This neighboring property is now owned by Cherokee-Simeon Ventures, LLC, also known as "CSV."
  3. An unknown source of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Is the neighboring "Campus Bay" site owned by or connected to UC Berkeley?

No. “Campus Bay” is the name Cherokee-Simeon Ventures, or "CSV," has given to the site formerly owned by Stauffer/Zeneca, which is adjacent to RFS. It is a private development unaffiliated with UC Berkeley.

What are the contaminants found on the UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station (RFS) site?

The main contaminants are the metals mercury, lead and copper from the California Cap Company operations.

Pyrite cinder waste (waste from sulfuric acid production) that includes an assortment of metals (arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium and zinc) and creates low pH (acid) conditions, was deposited by Stauffer Chemical Company in the early 1900s.

An isolated spot of PCB contamination was found at the outfall of the Western Storm Drain in Meeker Slough and was cleaned up in 2003, although detectable PCBS remain in some other locations at RFS.

Cleanup and Restoration Activities answers

What has UC Berkeley done about the contamination at RFS?

UC Berkeley has established a multi-year program to remove contaminants and dispose them off-site at approved treatment and disposal facilities.

Work began in 2002 with removal of the largest areas of contaminated soils, which were excavated, treated, and transported off-site. Excavated areas are replaced with clean bay mud or clean dirt for re-planting with native marsh and coastal prairie plants.

The project has been divided into multi-year phases to protect the endangered Ridgway's Rail (formerly called the California Clapper Rail). Work in the marsh is prohibited by the US Fish and Wildlife Service from February 1 through August 31, the breeding season for this very rare bird.

If UC Berkeley is not the source of the contamination at RFS, why is it paying for the site cleanup and marsh restoration?

UC assumed the liability for materials left by the previous landowner, the California Cap Company, when the property was purchased in 1950. Because the California Cap Company went out of business around the time of purchase, there are no assets that UC can attempt to recover for payment toward the cleanup. However, UC is paying for only a portion of the RFS cleanup. UC is working with agencies to identify any responsible parties who should pay to remove contamination on the site that resulted from their activities.

How will the contaminated areas at the RFS be cleaned up?

The contaminated soil on UCB property is being excavated, treated and sent for off-site disposal at permitted landfills. Hazardous waste is being sent to the Kettleman City Class 1 Hazardous Waste Landfill. Other non-hazardous wastes are being sent to the Keller Canyon and ohter landfills. Clean soil is being reused on-site. Any soil left in the remediation areas or brought in to use as clean fill has been tested extensively and approved for use by applicable government agencies.

Pyrite cinders that were deposited in the 1940s by Staffer/ Zeneca on what is now UC property were removed to the Zeneca site for management by Zeneca in 2002 and 2003 and are now sent for off-site disposal at permitted landfills.

How long will the construction work at the RFS continue? When will the cleanup work be completed?

Removal actions presented in the Removal Action Workplan approved by DTSC in July 2014 is being scheduled to begin in 2015. Further investigations will be completed in 2015 in Western Stege Marsh and final remediation activities may continue into 2016 or beyond.

Which agency is overseeing the RFS remediation/restoration project?

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board was the lead oversight agency from 2001 until May 2005, when the California Environmental Protection Agency announced that the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) would assume the role as lead regulatory oversight agency for RFS remediation and wetlands restoration work. Other agenices are involved as necessary. For example, the Department of Public Health Radiological Health Branch oversees investigation and remediation of radioactive materials.

Health and Safety answers

Are any of the chemicals at RFS harmful to my health?

During normal activities — such as working in offices and labs, walking and bicycling around the RFS, driving to and from work — RFS occupants and visitors would not have contact with the contaminants, most of which are in the marsh, to put them at risk. If a person were exposed to sufficient amounts of heavy metals and PCBs through ingestion (eating), inhalation (breathing) or skin absorption, however, it could be harmful to his or her health.

Anyone wishing to use the RFS for activities that could disturb soil or impact sensitive natural resources must obtain approval for that use by submitting a written proposal. Call RFS operations at (510) 665-3401 for a copy of the Facility Usage Guidelines.

In March 2008, the, officials from the California Department of Public Health and the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances Control and Disease Registry issued a Public Health Assessment of the RFS. The PHA final Public Health Assessment Evaluation of Exposure to Contaminants at the University of California, Berkeley, Richmond Field Station (PHA). concludes that it is safe for people to walk on RFS grounds and on the Bay Trail. The PHA is available on the technical documents page of this website and can be linked to by selecting the document title above. 

Is the air at RFS safe to breathe?

Yes, all air sampling performed to date has indicated that the air is safe. UC Berkeley’s Office of Environment, Health & Safety and its consultants have conducted extensive air quality sampling during RFS cleanup activities. Air monitoring is performed for appropriate organic chemicals, metals and particulate matter. In addition, Zeneca performed sampling while work was occurring on their property adjacent to RFS. DTSC, the agency overseeing the Zeneca cleanup, also sampled the air during Zeneca's remediation activities.

RFS air monitoring data is available on the Air Monitoring page.  Data for the Zeneca site is available at the Department of Toxic Substances Control's EnviroStor database.

Sampling will be performed per DTSC order when additional clean-up work is performed at either the RFS or Zeneca site.

How can UC Berkeley be sure that the construction activities for the cleanup (digging and moving soil) aren't putting people’s health at risk?

All work has been done under permits issued by several government agencies and with oversight through 2005 by the Regional Water Quality Control Board and activities after 2005 by DTSC. During remediation work, UC's environmental consultants are on site providing assurance that the work is being performed in accordance with plans approved by the government oversight agency, and in such a manner that no one's health — including that of any remediation worker — is jeopardized. There have been several layers of oversight during remediation, including three consulting firms, the environmental contractor, and UC Berkeley’s Office of Environment, Health & Safety.

In addition, as described previously, extensive air monitoring is performed during RFS remediation activities.

What can RFS staff do if they have concerns about health problems and want to know if they are related to the remediation work?

There are several possible options if you feel you have symptoms related to your work environment, including:

  • Contact Your Personal Doctor/Health Plan.
    This may be preferable, especially for anyone with a prior history of potentially related medical conditions. Your doctor will be able to evaluate your current symptoms in the context of your medical history.
  • If University Health Services (UHS) serves as your primary health care provider, make an appointment for an evaluation: 
    Students: Call (510) 642-2000 to schedule an appointment.
    UHS Health Net patients: Call (510) 642-1976 for an appointment.
  • Contact the University Health Services (UHS) Occupational Health Clinic
    UHS Occupational Health Providers are familiar with the campus and its field stations and can help answer questions, provide additional information and coordinate a medical evaluation as warranted. Call (510) 642-6891 to schedule an appointment.

As always, if you experience symptoms of an acute medical emergency — such as chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting or severe dizziness — you should call 911. The responders will transport you to an appropriate facility.

Additional information on workplace health concerns is available online at University Health Services.  For general information about health and safety conditions at the RFS, contact the campus Office of Environment, Health & Safety at (510) 642-3073

I'm concerned about workplace retaliation if I complain about health problems or ask about the remediation project. What should I do?

Staff members at the RFS are welcome to voice concerns or ask questions at any time regarding the remediation and restoration projects. Employees are encouraged to discuss matters of concern with their supervisors and managers or other University representatives. No employee will be subject to reprisals for doing so. If you are concerned about reprisals for expressing your concerns regarding these issues, you can contact the UC Berkeley Office of Human Resources at (510) 642-7053 or your union.

UC would like to remind its employees of their rights under the California Whistleblower Protection Act. More information regarding the protections afforded employees by this act can be found online at the Office of the Chancellor's website.

What is arsenic, and why would it be present at the RFS?

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element present in Bay Area soils in concentrations of 5 to 20 mg/kg (parts per million). As such, it is expected that soil and dust samples will contain some background levels of arsenic. Ambient air is also expected to contain arsenic in background concentrations ranging from 0.04 to 1.0 µg/m3. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA), the permissible occupational exposure limit to arsenic is 10 µg/m3

Impacts on human health can be seen with exposure to (ingestion, inhalation and skin contact) elevated levels of arsenic, which can occur in areas with significant arsenic pollution or abnormally high natural soil or water concentrations of arsenic.

Arsenic is also found as a naturally occurring constituent of iron sulfide ore (pyrite), which was used for manufacturing sulfuric acid at the former Stauffer Chemical Company, a property now owned by Zeneca, a private development not associated with UC Berkeley. Arsenic is thus present in the pyrite cinder manufacturing waste product, which was discarded in Stege Marsh. 

Were hazardous levels of arsenic found in RFS air samples?

No. As part of the Supplemental Air Monitoring Program implemented in 2005, the campus Office of Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) completed air monitoring for arsenic at various locations at the RFS. In sampling taken to date, air concentrations of arsenic are at or below naturally occurring background levels.

The following are results of the recent arsenic monitoring by EH&S:

  • Aug. 16, 2005, Building 163: Arsenic concentration of 0.098µg/m3, about a hundred times less than the level considered safe by OSHA and in the range of expected background concentrations.
  • Aug. 16, 2005, Building 175: Arsenic concentration of 0.085µg/m3, about a hundred times less than the level considered safe by OSHA and in the range of expected background concentrations.
  • Sept. 20, 2005, Building 175: Arsenic levels below detection limit of 0.03µg/m3.
  • Dec. 6, 2005, Building 478, four locations: Arsenic levels below detection limit of 0.03µg/m3. (On this date, remediation activities were occurring at the neighboring Zeneca property).
  • Dec. 9, 2005, Outdoor Monitoring Station at Building 175: Arsenic levels below detection limit of 0.03µg/m3. (On this date, remediation activities were occurring at the neighboring Zeneca property)
Are there harmful levels of solvent vapors in Building 478?

No. On Dec. 6, 2005, the campus Office of Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) sampled the air in Building 478, the largely vacant former Forest Products Laboratory building. Monitoring was conducted for perchloroethylene (PCE or perc), trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride and arsenic. None of these chemicals was detected.

Recent plans to reoccupy Building 478, have led to concerns being expressed about residual PCE contamination in soil and groundwater from an area known as Lot 1 located on the neighboring Zeneca site. Lot 1 was an area of historic industrial operations of the Stauffer Chemical Company and Zeneca. Cleanup actions were completed by Zeneca in 2001. In November 2001, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the regulatory agency overseeing the cleanup of Lot 1, approved the cleanup and issued a No Further Action letter.

The Department of Toxics Substances Control, the state agency currently overseeing cleanup of the Zeneca site, has required additional soil and groundwater sampling. This website will be updated with new information as it becomes available from DTSC.

Are children being exposed to toxic mud in the marsh?

No. The activities of children and adult volunteers assisting in plant restoration – including transplanting sprouts and weeding – at Stege Marsh are closely monitored by the campus Office of Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) to ensure a safe and productive educational experience.

In 2003, the University entered into a collaborative effort with The Watershed Project, an independent, local nonprofit educational organization focused on the San Francisco Bay estuary, to provide high quality, field-based education and research programs for UC Berkeley students, K-12 students from traditionally under-served segments of the local community, and community partners (such as Kids for the Bay, Earth Team, Save the Bay, Friends of the Estuary and the East Bay Regional Park District). While working in Western Stege Marsh, children have been restricted to working in imported clean soils and Bay mud in an area known as the ecotone (the transitional zone between the marsh and upland grasslands) or in upland grasslands. All imported soils were sampled extensively to ensure they were free of toxic contaminants.

By agreement with the Department of Toxics Substances Control, the University restricts the work of children to clean, non-tidally influenced areas of the marsh and uplands. Adult volunteers can work unrestricted in tidally influenced portions of the marsh that can contain pollutants such as bacteria and urban runoff. The University requires use of gloves and boots for work in these areas.

Risk to an adult or youth working in the marsh was addressed by the California Department of Health Services (DHS) and Contra Costa County Health Services Department (CCCHSD) in their June 2005 Provisional Joint Health Statement Summary for the Zeneca and UC Richmond Field Station sites. At the June 22, 2005 hearing on the Provisional Health Statement held at the Richmond Field Station, Dr. Wendell Brunner, Public Health Director for CCCHSD, stated that the CCCHSD and DHS were "confident" that the chemical concentrations in the remediated portion of the marsh do not pose a current public health hazard and that it was "not inappropriate for adults or kids to be working there".

Future Plans answers

What are the university's plans for the site after cleanup is finished?

Restoration of the wildlife habitat and marshland is very important, so the University plans include work and monitoring to return the area to one that is friendly to migratory birds and other flora and fauna. Future plans would maintain the environmental integrity of native grasslands and wetlands.

In addition, the University has completed a Long Range Development Plan approved by The Regents of the University of California in May 2014 and will develop the site as the Berkeley Global Campus. Site development will include completion of removal actions described in the July 2014 DTSC approved Remvoal Action Workplan and implementation of the Soils Management Plan.

Staying in the Loop answers

How can I keep up to date on what UC Berkeley is doing?

Keep checking back with this website

How is UC Berkeley communicating with the public?

The RFS project management team has been giving presentations to the RFS staff at Town Hall meetings and to the Marina Bay Homeowners Association, local businesses, and other interested parties since remediation began in 2002. The Bay Trail was posted with a descriptive signs beginning in 2002, and an updated sign was installed in 2010. Written materials are also distributed to interested parties, and a website is maintained to provide project information and updates.