Sunday, July 25, 2010

Play ball! ...on a radioactive site. Or, denial is a river in Egypt

On a recent visit onto a usually-closed-to-the public former naval station - now a Superfund site - I snapped the picture, below. And remembered the aphorism, "denial is a river in Egypt"!

Lonesome basketball hoop on a radioactive field along Oakland Estuary and San Francisco Bay. Insets: gate leading into the site; notice on a fence surrounding the site. What does it say about human beings who disregard the well-posted area to play ball? Yes, denial is alive  and well...(Photo Susan Galleymore, July 17, 2010)
I live on the landfill section of an island that is the transitional zone to the former US military base, Naval Air Station, Alameda. It is beautiful here...humane, 'downscale' enough to maintain the homey feel lost when sterilized by class consciousness...families gather here and children play in the park beyond the trees on the my fence line...and music from every culture in the world wafts through the trees: salsa and mariachi, reggae, dastgah, rai, blues, rock 'n roll, occasional drumming circles...
This spot once sported 'public baths' and roller coasters.  Once known as Coney Island of the West, Alameda is the birthplace of the Kwepie Doll, Skippy Peanut Butter, the Doors' Jim Morrison, and other notables. Today Fish and Wildlife staff introduce kids to the miraculous critters that live in water and upon and around the beach.

...a short distance away is a Superfund site. These 1600 acres of dry land and 1000 acres of submerged land have been under CERCLA clean up for over a decade at a cost, according to an EPA official's estimate, of $428 million; the clean up is just more than 50 percent complete.
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of benzene, naphthalene, and jet fuel pool underground. Among other chemicals and substances such as PCB, pesticides, VOC, and PAH there is evidence that radionuclides were flushed into drains -- and into the bay -- back in they heyday of war-time airplane manufacture.
And it is not just fallout from the US military. "Marsh crust" derives from the days of Standard Oil (precursor to Chevron), a borax plant, coal energy generation across the estuary, and other industries operating before the city sold this land to the Navy for $1.00. (Today, the City of Alameda's Marsh Crust ordinance requires a home-owner in the marsh crust area to obtain a permit to dig into the marsh crust. This permit requires that a home-owner spend about $5,000 in professional services, and hazardous waste disposal fees and taxes, for simple tasks like planting a tree. Right now, not too many of us live in the worst marsh crust zones but with plans to develop residential housing, a VA facility, etc, things will change rapidly.)

Recently, Alameda's active and effective Restoration Advisory Board (CERCLA mandates a RAB interface between Navy, local residents, EPA, and other regulatory groups) requested the Navy's Base Environmental Coordinator - "BEC" - arrange a tour of a few key areas. Accordingly, a bus load of interested and affected parties spent Saturday morning  learning more in the field about the clean up.
For some on the filled-to-capacity bus, it was the first visit ever onto closed sections of the base.

The edited basketball picture of the basketball hoop was taken at Installation Restoration Site 1, a former dump site and burn pit. Among the cocktail of "usual suspect" chemicals found on the base (some listed above) this 36-acre patch is contaminated with radium. I took the picture through the fence before we climbed aboard the bus to tour Site 1. Once on the site, we were not allowed to disembark the bus. A Geiger counter measured radiation exposure on the tires before we departed Site 1.

While I noticed a few healthy -- acclimated? -- black bunny rabbits hopping here and there, no one on the bus knew about the basketball hoop: when it was erected; if it was ever used; why it is still there.

I am as susceptible to denial as the next woman. Denial can be comforting. But a basketball hoop on a radioactive site? This indicates powerful denial...or someone is not forthcoming about the chemicals wafting from the site... and the mystery basketball players are dangerously incurious; the site's EIRs and other assorted documents present information about the site that should keep the most ambitious basketball player away.

Can't miss these signs, yet...

Last November the Dubai Star spilled a few thousand gallons of fuel oil in the San Francisco Bay. It contaminated our island and, for a week or so, clean up crews were deployed. (Pictures and more on that spill.) What remains today are a few signs...and warning about potential illness.

Warning signs at Crab Cove. (Photo: Susan Galleymore, 2010)
Close ups of two of these signs.
Sign in effect immediately during and after the fuel oil spill remains almost a year after the event. (Photo: Susan Galleymore, 2010)
 The most recent sign, posted in early summer.

"Swimmer's itch"?

Yet, people disregard these signs and enter the water anyway... and allow their children to do that same.

Then again, when I look at the beach, the water, the beauty of the area, I realize that We, the People, should expect to enjoy this natural bounty...we should be able to go into this water, play basketball, plant a tree, make a garden, and revel in our surroundings without fear of toxic contamination, environmental illness, or radiation poisoning.

How has it come to this that we cannot? How did we allow such devastating environmental contamination of  water, air, and even our food?

No comments: