UC Receives Violation Letter Over Its Remediation Work at RFS

July 3, 2007

In a letter dated June 29, 2007, the University of California, Berkeley, was notified by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal EPA), of allegations that it acted improperly by performing remediation work at its Richmond Field Station without hazardous waste permits or authorization from the DTSC.

The cleanup and wetlands restoration work at the field station, located in Richmond about five miles from the UC Berkeley campus, was initiated by a 2001 order from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, another branch of Cal EPA. The order followed voluntary site assessment work that UC Berkeley began in 1999.

UC Berkeley proceeded with the remediation project with the close oversight and approval of the regional board, as well as with regulatory approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. UC Berkeley also consulted with the East Bay Regional Parks District and the city of Richmond, and prepared documents under the California Environmental Quality Act that then were distributed to state agencies through the Governor's Office of Planning and Research.

The environmental cleanup work was required to address contamination resulting from industrial activities at the field station and its neighboring properties that dated back to the late 1800s and before the University of California purchased the property in 1950. The contaminants included mercury and other heavy metals – including arsenic, lead, zinc, selenium, cadmium and copper – that are associated with pyrite cinder waste.

In the letter to UC Berkeley, the DTSC primarily referred to the treatment and transport from October 2002 to November 2004 of contaminated soil between the field station and an adjacent property owned at the time by Zeneca, the corporate successor to Stauffer Chemical Co.

UC Berkeley began working with the DTSC after May 12, 2005, when Cal EPA announced it was assigning the DTSC as lead regulatory agency in place of the regional water quality control board for the remaining cleanup and restoration at the field station.

Campus officials are currently reviewing the letter and plan to meet with the DTSC within the next few weeks.

"We believe we have a strong track record of cooperating with regulatory agencies on the Richmond Field Station remediation project, which is why we are taking this notification from the DTSC very seriously," said Mark Freiberg, director of UC Berkeley Environment, Health & Safety, which has helped manage the project. "We are eager to meet with the DTSC in the near future so we can better understand the agency's letter."

For background about the Richmond Field Station remediation project, visit the online fact sheet.