State Fines UC, Zeneca for Richmond Toxics Disposal
Thursday June 11, 2009
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Fund for Local Reporting! The state has fined UC Berkeley and an
international agropharmaceutical corporation a total of $510,000 for
illegally disposing of toxic waste in Richmond, prompting outrage from
Sherry Padgett, the woman who has spearheaded the battle to clean up the
sites, because the total penalties for illegal disposal of more than
3,000 truckloads of soils contaminated with deadly organic chemicals and
poisonous metals work out to less than $170 a load.
According to the settlement agreement signed by officials of the
university, Zeneca Inc. and the state Department of Toxic Substances
Control (DTSC), Zeneca will pay a total of $225,000 while the university
will pay $285,000.
The funds will be evenly divided between the DTSC and Richmond BUILD, a
city-sponsored program which trains young workers to install solar
The fines stem from the illegal disposal of contaminated earth—most of
it from the university’s Richmond Field Station—at the adjacent site
where a former Zeneca chemical plant complex had existed for a century.
Richmond BUILD provides construction job training for high school
graduates and GED recipients, with a focus on installation of solar
“It’s a wonderful program,” said Padgett, who has spearheaded the drive
to clean up the university’s Richmond Field Station and the adjacent
Zeneca site where a complex of chemical plants operated for a century.
“But it’s an outrageous settlement,” she said. “Who decided on $510,000
as an adequate settlement for an illegal toxic waste dump on the San
Francisco Bay shoreline?”
Padgett, the late Ethel Dotson, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and
other activists led the successful battle to force the state to hand
oversight of the cleanups to the DTSC.
The illegal dumping was conducted during the period when the site was
overseen by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board,
an agency without any staff expertise on hazardous chemicals and metals.
But state Sen. Loni Hanock, who had led the legislative fight to replace
the water board with the DTSC, praised the settlement.
“We’ve come a long way since the Contra Costa County Division of Public
Health called me to say that an unsafe cleanup was being conducted by
the wrong state agency,” Hancock said
“After public hearings, discussion and enforcement by the Department of
the Toxic Substances Control, I am pleased that this settlement will
provide money to an outstanding program that is giving the youth of
Richmond job skills that prepare them for careers in the green economy,”
she said. “It is important that resources go back to the impacted
“There is still much work to do to ensure that these two sites are
cleaned up to the required standards,” she added. “I will continue to
work closely with the community, state and local agencies and the
property owners to make sure that all the toxic issues are addressed.”
According to the notices of violation issued by the DTSC in 2007,
violations committed by the university and the Swiss corporation
• Treatment of hazardous waste without a permit.
• Disposal of hazardous waste at an unauthorized point.
• Shipment of hazardous waste to an unpermitted facility.
• Storage of hazardous waste without a permit or authorization.
• Transfer of custody of hazardous waste to an unauthorized trucking
Two other allegations were lodged solely against AstraZeneca:
• Failure to submit hazardous waste shipment manifests within 30 days.
• Failure to properly characterize hazardous wastes, including organic
compounds—PCBs and perchlorethylene (PCE)—as well as the hazardous
metals mercury, cadmium, arsenic, zinc, copper and selenium.
Acting DTSC Director Maziar Movassaghi also praised the settlement.
“The payment to Richmond BUILD fulfills one of Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger’s environmental goals of investing enforcement
settlements in the communities where the alleged violations occurred,”
But at the same time as funds are flowing to the building programs,
monies supporting the DTSC Community Advisory Group have been cut off by
Cherokee Simeon Ventures, the would-be developers of the former Zeneca
site, where 350,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil remain under a
With hired scientific consultants, a transcriptionist and a program
facilitator, members of the CAG had been able to challenge the
developer-paid cleanup consultants, prompting the state to order
additional testing which had uncovered still more contamination and
extended the estimated cleanup time and effort.
“The DTSC had said they would look out for our best interests, and this
does not represent the community’s best interests,” Padgett said.
“Every scientist who has examined this site has said it is one of the
most complex sites they have ever seen, and it still hasn’t been
properly characterized. We still don’t know everything that’s beneath
the surface. And there’s still no cleanup plan,” she said.
Padgett said she was also astounded that the state had only released two
2008 investigation reports on the violations at the same time as the
settlement. “We have been asking for these for almost two years, and
we’re only seeing them now that the settlement has already been signed.
Padgett said the CAG, which has repeatedly and futilely asked the DTSC
about the violations, had been given no notice that settlement
negotiations were under way.
One long-time veteran of the toxic regulatory front expressed surprise
that the settlement hadn’t mandated removal of the toxic material, a
condition usually imposed in such settlement agreements.
“Illegal dumping is the biggest violation they’ve got,” the expert said.
For this newspaper’s initial story on the violations covered by the
settlement, see the July 3, 2007, issue. A story on the hearing that
lead to the change of oversight is in the Nov. 9, 2004, issue. Padgett’s
own story is also in the Nov. 9, 2004, issue.
Summary of Violations issued to Zeneca, 6/29/2007
Summary of Violations Amended issued to Zeneca 9/28/2007
Summary of Violations issued to UC, 6/29/2007
Complaint Investigation Report issued to Zeneca, 11/13/2008
Complaint Investigation Report issued to UC, 7/18/2008
Complaint Investigation Report Amendment issued to UC, 11/7/2008
Agreement, signed by Zeneca, UC and DTSC, 6/5/2009