On Nov. 10, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District unanimously approved the environmental analysis and granted a permit to Union Pacific Railroad for cleanup of the former G&R Metals property on the Eureka waterfront. The site, located at 701 First Street, has been fenced off for years while being monitored and assessed in preparation for the cleanup.
Both the upland portion of the site and the adjacent intertidal mudflats in Humboldt Bay are contaminated by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), metals, and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) from decades of use as a metal salvage yard, which included metals reclamation from transformers, automobile dismantling and wrecking, storage of batteries, radiators, etc.
The District incorporated limited dioxin sampling in response to Humboldt Baykeeper’s comments on the project. Although this site is not a known or suspected source of dioxin contamination, sediment sampling conducted by the Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2007 found elevated levels adjacent to the site. The sampling conducted as a result of the Harbor District’s actions will provide valuable information on dioxin levels in this portion of Humboldt Bay.
Humboldt Bay was listed as Impaired by PCBs under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act in 2002, based on levels of PCBs found in fish tissue. PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a variety of serious health effects, including cancer and serious effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system.
The manufacture of PCBs was banned in the U.S. in 1979. Due to their non-flammability and electrical insulating properties, PCBs were widely used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications including hydraulic equipment, paints, plastics, dyes, etc.
Once in the environment, PCBs do not readily break down and may persist for long periods of time, cycling between air, water, and soil. PCBs can be carried long distances, and have been found in snow, sea water, and wildlife in areas far from where they were released into the environment.
PCBs can accumulate in the above-ground parts of plants, including food crops. They are also taken up into the bodies of small organisms, which are then consumed by birds, mammals, and other fish. People may be exposed to PCBs that have bioaccumulated in the fish or other contaminated materials they are ingesting.
The property and the surrounding waterfront are zoned “waterfront commercial,” and the City of Eureka’s redevelopment plans for the G & R Metals property include a parking lot and open space/park along the waterfront. Once complete, the cleanup will clear the way for the to connect the portion of Waterfront Drive between G and J Streets—the final link to a continuous transportation corridor along 2.4 miles of the city’s waterfront. In 2008, the City was awarded a $450,000 grant from Caltrans’ Division of Local Assistance to help build a bikeway along Waterfront Drive between G and J Streets.
Pending other agency approvals, work will begin in spring. Sediment excavation will be done at low tide between July and September to avoid impacts to fish in Humboldt Bay.
For more info on the health effects of PCBs, click HERE.