Board of Supervisors Receive Report on Keller Canyon Landfill, Seek Immediate Testing


On Tuesday, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors received a report from county staff on the allegations that potentially radioactive soil was dumped in Keller Canyon Landfill in the City of Pittsburg.

In response, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors agreed to a series of recommendations by Dr. Marilyn Underwood, Director of Environmental Health. They also encouraged better communication and requested immediate testing.

It was also reported Tuesday by Rick King, the General Manager for the Keller Canyon Landfill, that they have stopped receiving materials from Hunters Point until an investigation concludes.

Marilyn C. Underwood, Ph.D. provided a verbal report to the Board of Supervisors with a more formal report to be delivered in the future. Underwood said she was providing a summary of what her findings were after an April 21 SF Chronicle article came out regarding possible radioactivity trucked from Hunters Point Naval Shipyard to Keller Canyon Landfill.

“Applicable state and federal regulatory agencies have found that there have been acts on the part of the Navy’s selected consultant to misrepresent the radio-logic sampling data that was taken at Hunters Point Shipyard,” said Underwood. “To date, these misrepresentations are tied to potential contaminated materials and soil left on sight instead of being removed.”

Underwood stated that these studies come from the Nuclear Regulatory commission and US EPA reveal the falsification of data at the Hunters Point Shipyard.

“At this point, we have no evidence that radiological material was sent to Keller Canyon for disposal, however, there continues to be investigations by Federal and State Officials of the consultant’s work,” explained Underwood. “Its not done and they are still looking. If it was sent to Keller Canyon, it was because the misrepresented data is the reason why it was accepted.  I think that is an important thing to keep in mind.”

Underwood further stated it was disappointing that neither the county, Keller Canyon, or Republic were notified by either the State or Federal Agencies that they were investigating these allegations at Hunters Point and they became aware from the Chronicle.

She further highlighted that Keller Canyon is not open to the public and may accept Type II Waste such as wood, soils, and wastewater sludge. Approximately 10% of the material they receive is not domestic garbage—meaning municipal solid waste.

“To be able to send Class II waste to the landfill, the responsible party must create an account with the landfill, attesting to the material that they will be sending and send specific information about the waste such as just characteristics and sampling data,” highlighted Underwood. “Keller Canyon Landfill is the most modern built landfill in the state… there is a radiation monitoring system that is on at all times when the facility is open. Each truck moves through the radiation monitoring system as it approaches the scale to weigh the load. The radiation monitor has been treated in the past when higher levels of radiation was detected related to a diaper of a child who had been receiving treatment via a chemotherapy drug. Another instance was a towel where someone going through chemotherapy threw up on, it activated the system, when a driver of a truck set it off after he had undergone a medical diagnostic procedure the day before where he received a radioactive tracer.”

Underwood stated although the system picks up those types of triggers, it may not pick up low levels of soil that would come from Hunters Point—especially if it was a couple of feet under dirt because it would provide a “shield”.

“If the material did in fact come from there that had any level of radioactive soil it is not disposed of and that same shielding effect would be applicable,” said Underwood.

Supervisor Karen Mitchoff asked about the concept of putting dirt in a landfill.

“First of all we didn’t know about it. Nobody told us, nobody told us. Nobody told Republic. So if it is there and there’s this masking or what have you, can you explain to me, and maybe this goes more to Republic, why would we be putting dirt in a landfill to begin with? I do not understand the concept of landfilling dirt,” asked Mitchoff. “If your accepting truckloads of dirt from some location is the only youth for them average daily cover?

Underwood said she would let Republic answer that, but continued by saying Keller Canyon received nearly 223,000 tons of material on site that came from Hunters Point Shipyard—starting in 2011 to 2017.

This material was deemed eligible for pursuant to the companies review and approval of 13 separate special waste applications for this waste. Each one having its own data that was provided in a certification stating it was not hazardous and could go to this landfill.

“Keller Canyon has never been notified any of that data was falsified,” stated Underwood. “Along with my staff. We have found the following. The shipyard which was closing, 74 is being cleaned up or chemical and radioactive material. The radioactive material is found at the ship yard because of the radium paint which goes into the dark, was used for ship deck marketing and luminescent dials, gauges and signs. There was an animal testing lab and there was also sandblasting of ships that came back from South Pacific that have been exposed to weapons testing. The sewer drain and storm drain system had been the focus of much of the radioactive investigation because it was went down the storm drains and then we looked around in the trenches around those brains and sewer line to see if any of the soil needed to be removed. The Navy identified in 2012 that there was some suspect soil data from that trenching study and an investigation done by the consultant provides the Navy in 2014 supporting this finding. In October 2006. Report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on that as far back as 2011 and maybe consultant had misrepresented samples used to determine the need for removal,” explained Underwood.

She continued.

“A 2017 letter from the US EPA commenting on a 2017 report from the navy found the quote, data analyze demonstrate a widespread practices that appeared to show deliberate falsification and the Navy is now in the process of designing or radiological studies go back to those areas of the shipyard where they think it was not adequately sampled,” explained Underwood. “Again, this was so far all the evidence is about sampling that was done falsified to allow soil to left on site or it could be actually allow fill to be taken out and put back on site rather than offsite. And the thought is again that it would obviously save them money not to have to remove it.”

Underwood did share that there were instances where everything went right. She highlighted an incident in 2014 where 10 truckloads from Hunters Point was sent to Keller Canyon.

“A Navy engineer at the time, noticed that the trucking company was removing this material and felt that had not been ready for release. Their paperwork was not in order. They contacted the California Department of Public Health who has RAD, radiological experts, and they contacted the owner with the landfill. Over time, they ended up removing not only those 10 truckloads, but they actually took an additional 10 removing all materials around where they had deposited this material and the CDPH, the RAD health people also took samples of the soil they left in place to make sure it was not an issue,” said Underwood. “So again, this is an example I think where everything works right. And the question is, do we have other examples where there wasn’t good oversight by the Navy or agencies that were looking at this data to see if anything did get to the landfills that shouldn’t have.”

Underwood stated most of her recommendations include involving the Navy because they did not have the expertise or bandwidth in Environmental Health to really focus on this issue, but that they should be involved.

Underwood presented her recommendations:

  1. That the Board of Supervisors formally ask the Navy to make itself available for any and all meetings with interested stakeholders so that they can be the experts and tell them what is going on and what investigations are formally going on.
  2. We should formally asked them maybe to investigate what was happening with the material and the quality of the data for any of the materials that left the site. In particular, the ones that came to Keller Canyon at a start, we can ask them to look at the data that was provided to Republic Services and part of those 13 application to make sure that that data was good data.
  3. We should formally asked the navy to conduct a surface survey of the site and you’re ready to logical hazard.

“Again, I think there is a competence that this thing is varied and there’s not a concern, but I think to be in the safe side, we should ask them to conduct this,” said Underwood.  “And again, they do have the best expertise in this area, but I think it needs to be done obviously with good oversight from not only our agency, the county, we have, I haven’t spoken with the California Department of Public Health, they’re very supportive and will assist us in asking the navy conducted a survey and they will make themselves available to help provide oversight as they are radiological experts.”

Underwood also stated that she believed the City of Pittsburg should be involved and that community members are assisting to make sure the plan for the survey is done right, the plan needs to be done correctly. And then also help them with the interpretation of this.

Supervisor Federal Glover agreed saying the Navy needed to be involved because they are the owner of this material and how it got there.

“I guess that problem I am having, this board, me as the Supervisor, had no knowledge of this taking place,” said Glover. “I am very concerned about that and very disappointed that I have to pick up a paper and read that there is activity that supposedly took place that I was not aware of. That needs to be fixed because I have been very clear that anything that takes place within my District I do not want to read about it in the paper. So that is a fix that needs to take place immediately and I think its important this entire board is advised of activities like this that takes place. I appreciate the work that has been done so far, but there is much more work to do.”

Glover stated they needed to get in touch with the Navy about what has transpired, and they need to be held accountable. He also wanted to hear from Republic and how they handled their business because they should have been aware of what has taken place and gotten that information out.

Mitchoff asked Underwood in her time talking with the Feds, why they didn’t let the County know this was going on.

Underwood replied they did not indicate why but that was a good question but thought it was their due diligence to tell the county.

Mitchoff stated on top of the recommendations by Underwood, they need to let State and Federal legislators know what is going on via letter and get them involved.

Supervisor Diane Burgis highlighted her concern over the health and safety of the workers at the landfill, the residents nearby, and the environmental impacts that may have occurred.

“We want to know about the source, about the processes of receiving it, in between that time I’d like to know what are the impacts right now. What can we do to know what the conditions are right now,” said Burgis. “I’d like to make that the biggest priority because that is something we can do. I’d like an analysis of the impacts on all those folks.”

Supervisor John Gioia said the county needs to stress that there is an allegation about transport of some materials, yet they have no evidence that there is radioactive material at the site. He also wanted to know the process going forward.

“We have to be very careful,” said Gioia. “We have to say we want to get to the bottom of this, we want to understand for public health purposes, but we don’t know if indeed if there is radioactive material there.”

Gioia highlighted the county understood the concern, but there still is no proof of radioactive material in Keller Canyon. He said they needed to be responsible and double check the system in place.

Rick King, the General Manager for the Keller Canyon Landfill, stated there are allegations implied that would concern anybody and that they were concerned as well.

King provided the processes in place at Keller Canyon to safeguard the asset along with monitors on site which are tested weekly. He also shared state regulators recently came to the facility who said they were doing everything they could in their monitoring of radiation.

“I don’t think people understand the extent it takes to get a load of soil into Keller Canyon Landfill. A generator would contact our company and we would say fine and we send them an application package and a certification package, and we work with them to characterize the material,” said King who says they also request a sample size per cubic yard based on the size of the job.

King said that on Hunters Point, they have 13-profiles they look for based on the application. Once the profile is entered into the system after approval, manifests are then completed for every load.

“It’s not getting in if the manifest if the guy doesn’t open up the computer and see the profile that matches that profile number. He then has the opportunity to inspect the load and verify it meets the characteristics as represented in the manifest and the profile,” explained King. “If it matches everything, its allowed to come in. If it passes the radiation detectors, they are directed where to go dump and we use the dirt on site.”

Mitchoff then verified from staff that Tetra Tech falsified documentation according to two reports, she asked if Keller Canyon did any additional testing.

King explained that the way the law was written, the generator is responsible for characterizing its own waste and analyze and certify their waste as an accurate representation.

Mitchoff then asked if the censors would pick up the radiation.

King replied it depends on what the material is, it would be picked up while citing that the radiation censors have been tested every week since 1993.

Supervisor Burgis asked about the health of employees where King replied that there have been no reported health problems by any of the employees beyond any normal physicals—no one has gotten sick.

Keller Canyon Public Comments:

Laura Wright, Environmental Affairs Manager for City of Pittsburg, said the City of Pittsburg did not receive any notification from the County as required by a Board of Supervisor Order on April 11, 1995. She noted that she reached out to nearly a dozen agencies and some who have yet to respond.

“This is what I have discovered, yes there is an ongoing investigation in regarding the sampling of soil and potential falsification of data. That is ongoing,” said Wright. “But that is a big concern of ours.”

According to wright, on February 15, 2015 that material was removed in an area that had not completed proper screening at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard where material went through the detention portal and then to Keller Canyon – the Navy ultimately discovered this where 10-loads of material came from Hunters Point and 20-loads were later returned as a precaution.  The screening identified 6-large materials had been contaminated.

“My question is why were we not notified?” asked Wright. “I have the report here… and this would be an unusual circumstance and there was no notification,” said Wright.

Mitchoff interjected and asked if the county was ever notified?

Wright responded, “That is a question for all of us to find out.”

Wright continued by saying her concern was around testing and the investigation over the soil at Hunters Point saying if they have soil that is contaminated and its misrepresented is it at Keller Canyon.

Burgis asked about the February of 2015 incident

Supervisor Candace Andersen asked Republic Services if the contaminated dirt in 2015 radioactive that the sensors did not pick up, or did they determined it was other material that had some form of contaminants.

Mr. King said he was aware of two related instances to the Hunters Point Project. The one just discussed in 2015… his understanding was it did not set off the radiation detectors because if it had they would have pulled the load over and not admitted it into the landfill and called the state to investigation.

“If it didn’t, I would like to see the results that Ms. Wright referred to of the detection’s by the Navy,” said King. “Look, we are still in the data gathering phase to and we want to participate in all of It because if something happened on our watch and we needed to do better than we are going to learn from that. But I know our protocols in place our solid and effective. But obviously not infallible and perfect.”

King further highlighted this happened once before where they had some dirt dropped off that they yet had used for anything and a day later, were notified that the material should not have came to them and it was removed.  Twice as much dirt was removed as delivered as a precaution.

Mitchoff asked if Pittsburg was notified about this incident whereas Andersen again pressed King about whether or not the load was radioactive or had some other toxins.

“We just want to know in those two incidents did the censors fail and radioactive material was brought to Keller Canyon or were these other issues with the soil that had nothing to do with radioactive activity but other toxins that should have been handled in a different way,? Asked Andersen.

King said the material was later tested and found not to be radioactive, however, there are all types of levels of radioactive activity.

“If I was given wrong information, that is one thing. If Ms. Wright has other information, then obviously we need to see that as well. But my understanding was it was not radioactive,” said King. “If it had been, our censors would have presumably gone off.”

Mitchoff highlighted that what Ms. Wright was complaining about was that County Staff did not notify the City of Pittsburg per the Board Order.

“Quite honestly, if they were not notified, shame on us because we should have called them,” Said King.

Burgis asked King if he was notified of the February 15 incident. He replied yes.

Pittsburg City Manager Joe Sbranti spoke during public comments saying he appreciated the Board of Supervisors expressing their concerns because they have many of the same concerns.

“Will it happen again. We do have some concerns about what we heard today as well. One of the things that I heard your staff say that they were disappointed that this occurred in the first place. I also heard them say this project was an example of everything working right because it got correct,” said Sbranti. “We don’t necessarily think those two statements work together. Everything could have worked better. We were not made aware this occurred. Your staff was made aware within 24-hours, the City of Pittsburg was made aware 3-years later and only because of the newspaper article.”

Sbranti highlighted they have a great number of concerns and urged the board to move forward with public meetings and hearings.

“First and foremost is the safety of the residents of Pittsburg, particularly the residents who live nearby this particular location,” said Sbranti. “This is a concern for us and we want to work with the county and want to communicate better.”

Wolfgang Croskey said the system had failed and the County is the LEA yet the county is the one doing the investigation and the reporting.

“After hearing the comments today and now this is the third time that there is an issue. I have no faith, the system is broken,” said Croskey. “Pittsburg is a great community and its tired of being dumped on. No pun intended. This is potentially the third time and both times prior the city was not even notified? It seems like the case is until it hits the paper, then it’s a big deal. Then it’s embarrassing, then it’s painful. It’s not any one person’s fault, it’s just a failure in the system.

Croskey called for testing and they closed Keller Canyon Landfill until this was straightened out and systems were in place to protect residents—until then, he proclaimed no more trash. Croskey also introduced a new fear of not having third party investigators.

“I want to introduce a new fear, the fear of not having third party investigations called you have got to be kidding me phobia,” said Croskey.

Nancy Parent, spoke as an individual, stated 25-years-ago she led the charge not to place this dump so close to resident’s homes.

“One of the things that was chosen was the local enforcement agency, your predecessors chose the wrong people,” stated Parent. “The people who have a real interest in this are the officials of the city of Pittsburg and as you heard we have a very competent staff person and we can have more if we had all the money you guys get to do the enforcement and pass onto your staff who are busy doing a lot of other things.”

Parent says the system has now failed several times and its time to re-evaluate the system and appoint the City of Pittsburg as the LEA.

“This has happened from Hunters Point several times, you have a report that it didn’t get picked up. You didn’t hear Republic say we are not taking any more of this from Hunters Point, period!” said Parent. “Why, because its money. This whole thing is about money and was about money when you dumped this on the City of Pittsburg and forget the money, it needs to be done right. Get it done!”

AJ Fardella thanked Supervisor Federal Glover for his leadership on this issue and without it they would be hard-pressed and behind where they need to be as well as thanking Laura Wright from Pittsburg who will get to the bottom of this.

“This case is going to involve a lot of different agencies which scares me because the time it takes for those agencies to come to conclusions is going to be time consuming,” explained Fardella. “We are talking about the Navy Inspector General, we are talking about the FBI, the APA, NRC, the main culprit here is Tetra Tech, they are producing the NRC to be fraudulent certificates that unfortunately all of the solid waste management companies like Keller Canyon are depending on to be accurate when they talk about generator statements and what the contents are.”

Fardella said they needed to close the facility in the interest of health and encouraged a third-party to do the testing which included deep-core samples and radiation is added to the water well analysis.

Frank Aiello stated that Keller Canyon has violated 25-conditions of the land use permit and the LEA has known about it and done nothing about it.

Board Discussion

Supervisor Mitchoff made a series of recommendations for when Staff comes back in 30-days including what would be the impact if they chose to make Pittsburg the LEA.

“I know there are ramifications, this is the third time we have been asked, but I have concerns about our capacity to do some of the things, so I would like an analysis brought back to this board to consider whether we should consider to make Pittsburg LEA,” said Mitchoff. “I’d like Keller, Republic, to consider refusing anything from Tetra Tech until the investigation is finished.”

Mitchoff also requested that staff bring back ground testing costs and see if the vendors could pay for it. She also supported the recommendations by Dr. Underwood.

Supervisor Federal Glover added that staff create a letter to assist in getting the Navy involved as soon as possible.  Mitchoff stated Glover was being “too kind” and said it should be immediate intervention due to the concerns.

Supervisor Burgis stated she would like to see the County put a hold on Keller Canyon receiving anymore land fill from tetra tech and from Hunters Point.

“I would like to hear from Tetra Tech, we haven’t heard anything from them,” said Burgis. “Initially I was disappointed that Pittsburg was not notified but then I am looking at this letter that was attached to the letter from Pittsburg that shows interaction in February of 2015. So if it wasn’t appropriate, if we weren’t giving the full information, I’d like to know what it is we weren’t.”

Burgis added that she also wanted to know more about the censors and how long they had been at the landfill with data on how often they go off. She also requested information on the impact of 9,000 loads of dirt being transported on our roads and the impact on commuters.

King stated that as soon as he heard concerns about Hunters Point, he expired everyone of their profiles and no more materials from Hunters Point was allowed at Keller Canyon—that was done last week.

King also said the censors have been in place since 1993 and they were currently reviewing the test data.

Supervisor Glover stated he appreciated Mr. King’s response and reaching out to him when the news broke while being proactive.

Supervisor Andersen said that here hesitancy was the Navy and waiting for them to come in to decide what can or cannot be done/

“I think its important that we as a county hire a consultant, someone who is knowledgeable in this,” said Andersen. “I’d like to see us do something proactive while we seek the Navy’s input. I would love to have someone, a third-party, to come in and say this is what we really need to ensure the current safety of the landfill to ensure the safety of the workers and ensure the community is not being exposed to any environmental hazards.”

Andersen stressed she wanted answers sooner rather than later so they have answers of where they stand. She also didn’t believe they needed to switch the County away from being the LEA.

Supervisor Gioia expressed this needed to get done as quickly as possible and a need for an independent testing. He also explained he believed they didn’t need to give up being the LEA.

Supervisor Glover stated he thought the County could continue to be the LEA and was more than capable of doing the job—but may need to look at practices to ensure security.

To watch video of this discussion, watch the May 1, 2018 meeting by clicking here.