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U.S. EPA and San Jose reach agreement on cost recovery for asbestos cleanup

Release Date: 09/14/2006
Contact Information: Mark Merchant, (415) 947-4297

(09/14/06 - San Jose) The city of San Jose has agreed in a settlement to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approximately $245,000 to cover costs the agency incurred cleaning up asbestos-contaminated soil at the Environmental Education Center located on the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The cleanup was performed in November 2003 as part of the South Bay Asbestos Superfund Site. The South Bay Asbestos Superfund site has been on the National Priorities List of hazardous waste sites since 1986. The site is located in the Alviso district of San Jose, next to wetlands along San Francisco Bay and the New Chicago Marsh.

During an inspection of the center in July 2003, the EPA discovered that a cap on a berm and levee that had been constructed to protect against asbestos exposure had deteriorated and was beyond repair. The berm and levee were built by the city in 1983 to prevent area flooding, but the soils were later found to contain asbestos in concentrations ranging from one percent to 30 percent In 1986, the EPA capped both areas to control the release of asbestos.

In 1991, the city resealed the cap with a polymer coating. When the cap was found to be deteriorating in 2003, the EPA decided to remove the soil permanently to eliminate the potential for exposure to asbestos.

“Part of the process of a Superfund site cleanup is continuing oversight,” said Keith Takata, director of the U.S. EPA’s Superfund Division in the Pacific Southwest. “Through this cooperative effort with the city, we were able to permanently remove the contamination and protect the public who visit the wildlife refuge.”

Because the project area was located at the Environmental Education Center, a public education program run by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, it receives many visitors, including school children. Public contact with contaminated soil, therefore, was a concern.

The removal action was conducted as a joint effort by the EPA and the city. The EPA excavated and removed 2,500 cubic yards of asbestos-containing soil from the road berm and levee. The excavated soil was transported by the EPA to a city-owned disposal site where it was permanently capped with clean soil. The city then backfilled the excavated areas with clean soil and restored the project area to original conditions, which was successfully completed early in 2004.

Asbestos , which is used in a variety of applications in industry, is made up of microscopic bundles of fibers that may become airborne when disturbed. These fibers get into the air and may become inhaled into the lungs, where they may cause significant health problems, such as Asbestosis Mesothelioma or lung cancer.

Asbestos is not always an immediate hazard. In fact, if asbestos can be maintained in good condition, it is recommended that it be left alone and periodic surveillance performed to monitor its condition. It is only when asbestos containing materials (ACM) are disturbed or the materials become damaged that it becomes a hazard.

A notice of the cost recovery settlement between EPA and the city of San Jose will be published in the Federal Register and available for a 30-day public comment period.

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