In September 2002, the University of California, Berkeley, began remediation work at the Richmond Field Station (RFS) to clean up pollution from industrial activities that occurred prior to UC ownership of the land. The University expects to spend an estimated $30-35 million for the entire cleanup and restoration project. The ultimate goal of the remediation project is to enhance and restore the shoreline and habitat property, known as Western Stege marsh and to clean upland soils for safe commercial/institutional occupancy.
- Beginning in1950, the University of California purchased 170 acres of land along the Richmond shoreline which is now known as the UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station (RFS). The property includes uplands — facilities and open prairie grasslands — tidal mudflats and marsh. The marsh area, approximately nine acres inboard of the Bay Trail, is now known as Western Stege Marsh. The University also owns 62 acres of tidal salt marsh and mudflats, and some submerged Bay outboard of the Bay Trail.
- Much of the property, located at 1301 South 46th Street in Richmond, belonged to the California Cap Co. from 1870 to 1950. Up until 1948, the California Cap Co. manufactured explosives on the site. Mercury fulminate was manufactured on-site for blasting cap production.
- From 1897 to 1960, the Stauffer Chemical Company (later Zeneca Inc.), whose property neighbors the RFS to the east, manufactured sulfuric acid and other industrial chemicals. These production activities created pyrite cinder waste. Large quantities of cinders were deposited on the current RFS site prior to 1950, as well as on the Zeneca property. Pesticides were also manufactured at the Zeneca site until 1997.
- Since its purchase, the RFS has been used by UC Berkeley as an academic research and teaching facility for large-scale research projects, and by the UC Office of the President as the site for the Northern Regional Library Facility. The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regional laboratory is also located at the RFS.
- In 2014 the RFS and neighboring 3200-3300 property (23 acres purchased in 2007) were combined as the Richmond Bay Campus with entitlement (as described in the RBC Long Range Development Plan and EIR) approved by The Regents of the University of California in May 2014.
- On the western side of the RFS there are ~ 20 acres of remnant coastal terrace prairie, the largest remaining relict adjacent to San Francisco Bay. This rare prairie provides an example of the type of landscape that existed throughout the Bay Area edge prior to modern development. It provides habitat to many plants and animals, some of which are regionally rare.
Cleaning up the Past
- In 1999, by request from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (hereafter referred to as “the Board”), UC Berkeley hired environmental consultants to investigate the extent of the pollution in Western Stege Marsh and the RFS uplands. The investigation began after the Board identified the marsh as an environmentally contaminated area.
- Clean up and restoration work is being managed jointly by UC Berkeley’s Construction and Design (formerly Capital Projects) and the University’s Office of Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S).
- After extensive sampling of soil, groundwater and sediment on the UC Berkeley property, including Western Stege Marsh, the consultants found areas contaminated with mercury, as well as other heavy metals – including arsenic, lead, zinc, selenium, cadmium and copper – that are associated with pyrite cinder waste. Elevated levels of mercury have been discovered in Western Stege Marsh and portions of the adjacent RFS uplands. The consultants confirmed that most of the contamination is the result of industrial manufacturing operations dating back to the late 1800s. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) of unknown origin were also found in the marsh.
- Working under an order from the Board, UC Berkeley established an aggressive plan for cleaning up historical pollution at the RFS. All of UC’s remediation plans required the Board’s approval as well as permits and access agreements from numerous other agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), the East Bay Regional Parks District, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the City of Richmond. The project’s environmental impacts were assessed through a University-led CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review process.
- In May 2005, the California Environmental Protection Agency announced that the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) would be the new lead regulatory oversight agency for remediation and wetlands restoration work at the RFS. In September 2006, DTSC Site Investigation and Remediation Order was issued to UC Berkeley and Zeneca.
- Cleanup at the RFS has entailed excavation and removal of contaminated material from the RFS. All cleanup activities are being performed under stringent health and safety protocols to ensure the protection of remediation workers, RFS employees, visitors and the surrounding community. Monitoring during cleanup work is done by UC Berkeley Environment Health & Safety staff, project consultants, the contractor, and the lead oversight agency.
- The cleanup work in the marsh is prohibited during the months of February through August due to the presence of the endangered Ridgway's rail (formerly California clapper rail) in the marsh.
- UC Berkeley is restoring the native marsh and upland environment in the newly cleaned areas of the RFS through active vegetation management, including invasive weed removal and the reintroduction of native plants. Future plans may include the creation of additional coastal terrace prairie habitat along with the creation of more open space between the RFS facilities and the marsh.
- Current cleanup activities at the RFS are expected to be completed in 2020, with follow-up monitoring of the marsh restoration anticipated to continue at least through 2025 (based on DTSC's required five-year reviews commencing from the 2014 Removal Action Workplan).
Work Completed to Date
- During the first three years under RWQCB oversight, remediation and restoration project at the RFS was done in phases, due to the limited season during which work can take place and campus budget constraints. The following provides a brief description of project progress made since 2001.
- Phase 1: August 2002 to January 2003. The first phase of the project entailed the cleanup of an area at the RFS that was contaminated with pyrite cinder waste and mercury, bordered by Zeneca on the east and the East Bay Regional Parks Bay Trail to the south. The remediation during Phase 1 involved digging up and removing from the site approximately 28,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and marsh sediment.
- Phase 2: August 2003 to March 2004. The cleanup in Phase 2 involved removing approximately 31,000 cubic yards of contaminated material. Phase 2 also included removal of the PCB hot spot at the outfall of a storm drain in Meeker Slough, which is located on the western edge of Stege Marsh. Restoration of the marsh in areas renewed with clean bay mud also began in fall 2003 as part of Phase 2.
- Phase 3: August 2004 to November 2004. Phase 3 activities included excavating approximately 3,300 cubic yards of soil from upland areas contaminated with metals and PCBs for transport to State approved off-site landfills. Restoration of areas cleaned in the first two phases of work also continued.
- In 2005 jurisdictional oversight transferred to DTSC and more of the RFS, including all of the uplands became subject to field investigations and remediation. Five phases of Field Sampling Plan (FSP) investigations were developed to determine if there were any additional undiscovered upland sources of pollution. Four of five FSP phases have been completed including installation of a network of 51 groundwater monitoring wells. The fifth phase will be completed in fall of 2019 with the investigation of the Western Transition Area.
- In 2014 along with completion of the Richmond Bay Campus (RBC) Long Range Development Plan and EIR, the campus completed a Removal Action Workplan, approved by DTSC in July 2014. The RAW addresses remediation actions needed in three soil areas (Corporation Yard, Mercury Fulminate Plant, and PCB transformers) and one groundwater (Carbon Tetrachloride east of B280B) area of concern in the upland Research, Education, and Support area (RES) and one portion of the Natural Open Space (NOS) of the RBC.
- In 2017 excavation of contaminated soil in the Corporaton Yard and B150 transformer areas was completed.
- 2018 marked two separate studies in the Mercury Fulminate Area to better understand (1) the degree and extent of contamination, and (2) controls that are effective at maintaining mercury vaport levels below worker and perimeter health and safety action levels. The information from these two studies informed the design and timing of the MFA removal action in January 2020.
- In 2019 the potholing field investigation of the "Bulb" and western transition area adjacent to the marsh was completed in November as part of the Field Sampling Plan Phase V. Given the proximity to endangered rail habitat, additional investigations in this area were delayed until the end of rail breeding season to Fall 2020.
- In 2020 two large excavations occured. (1) The excavation of mercury contaminated soil in the Mercury Fulminate Area was completed in January, and (2) PCB contaminated soil in the EPA North Meadow was excavated in November. Both removal actions excavated and disposed of approximately 2,000 cubic yards of soil.
- The B112 transformer area removal of PCB contamindated soil was completed in December 2021 and February 2022.
- Data gaps from all phases of field sampling and removal actions will be addressed in the following years if necessary.
- Richmond Bay Campus areas not being specifically addressed by the 2014 Removal Action Workplan are subject to the Soil Management Plan (SMP, latest version is Revision 1, April 2017). The SMP requires soil and groundwater sampling for all soil or groundwater disturbance in areas not already cleared through previous sampling and will be the guiding document for construction project soil management. The SMP also addressed sampling requirement for soil imported to the RFS.
- Information about current and future cleanup and restoration activities at RFS is available on the Current and Future Activities section of this website.
- EH&S staff maintain an office at the RFS and can provide access to project records upon request. EH&S can be contacted at (510) 642-3073.