Twenty years after the first radiological surveys indentified radium contamination in Buildings 5 and 400, the work to remove contamination from floors, walls, and ceilings is about to begin.
According to the Navy, the final work plan will be issued in December and begin shortly thereafter. It will continue the interior cleanup work that began after a 1992 radiological survey showed contamination of surfaces, pipes, and the presence of waste materials.
Prior work in these two buildings that sit across from each along West Tower Avenue has included removal of interior drain pipes (not the pipes under the building slab), and reportedly a drum of radium paint waste that was stored in Building 400. Building 400 is where the radium dial painting was moved to during the mid-1950s.
Prior investigations of these two buildings have required the removal of ventilation duct work and floor tiles in order to accurately scan the surfaces. Most of the contamination areas that were identified in the most recent scanning surveys a year ago are small spots. Some of the window sills, for example, contain elevated radium levels because painted parts were often placed there to take advantage of air flow to aid drying.
The radium painting operation and subsequent contamination investigation was described in the Winter 1999 edition of the Restoration Advisory Board newsletter (no longer published) called, “Milestones - Navy Progress in the Environmental Cleanup Program:”
“Historically, radium-226 was mixed with phosphorous-based paint to create a glow-in-the-dark effect on the dials and instrument panels in planes and ships. Use of radio-luminescent materials at former NAS Alameda began in the 1940s in Building 5 and ended between the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“The radium-based paints were prepared and applied to equipment in painting shops in Buildings 5 and 400. Waste paint was disposed of in the sink drains in both shops. In Building 5 the drains lead to the storm drain system, while in Building 400 they lead to the industrial sewer system.”
The interior paint contamination work is performed under the guidance of the Navy’s Radiological Affairs Support Office (RASO) and is not part of the EPA’s Superfund program. Documents related to RASO’s work are not presented to the Alameda Point Restoration Advisory Board (RAB).
Documents related to the underground storm drain pipes that are contaminated with radium, on the other hand, are part of the Superfund process and discussed at RAB meetings. Both the RAB and the city have recently criticized the Navy’s plans for leaving certain underground drain lines in place under Building 5. Buildings 5 and 400 are in the cleanup area called OU-2C (Operating Unit – 2C). In 2010 under the Superfund program, the Navy completed the removal and replacement of several thousand feet of radium-contaminated storm drain lines leading to the Seaplane Lagoon under the tarmac pavement outside of the buildings.
Building 5’s paint contamination is in the center section known as the mezzanine, or the Breezeway, that runs west to east between the two hangars that comprise most of Building 5. Building 5 is nearly one million square feet in size and is directly east of Rock Wall Winery. Building 5 is not slated to be transferred to the city until 2019 due to cleanup issues with storm drain lines under the building and leading northward toward the Oakland Estuary.
For more on this story, including a photo gallery, visit the Alameda Point Environmental Report.