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Worst People of the Week
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the following in Contra Costa Times article on PCBs in San Francisco Bay:

“A coalition of business and industrial groups argued that rather than requiring costly cleanups, the water board should focus more on warning anglers not to eat too much fish.”

This sounds a lot like, “Let them eat cake.” Remember what happened to the author of that famous line? I don’t know who that coalition is, but I give them my “Worst Person of the Week Award” for their callous disregard for not only sport fishermen but also those who depend on fishing for subsistence.

Plan to clean up Bay heads to pollution agency

By Denis Cuff


Article Launched: 02/12/2008 03:08:14 AM PST


A state water pollution board this week will consider a cleanup plan to rid San Francisco and Suisun bays of PCBs, one of the industrial chemicals that make Bay fish unhealthy to eat more than once or twice a month.

Even though their manufacture was banned nearly 30 years ago, polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, persist in soil and air, and in Bay water and its shallow muddy bottom.

Pollution engineers predict that their plan would cut PCBs entering the Bay by 70 percent over 35 years, primarily by requiring cities' and counties' storm runoff agencies to track down and contain or treat PCBs in soil that can wash into the Bay.

City and county leaders and some business leaders are concerned with the potential cost even as environmentalists complain that the plan is too weak.

Homeowners in the nine Bay Area counties currently pay fees that range from $18 to $46 a year to clean urban runoff -- rainwater that absorbs pollutants as it flows into storm drains and into the Bay.

Those fees could go up as much as four times in two decades to pay for all the measures that could be required to clean PCBs, according to estimates by the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board.

"We all want to have a clean Bay, but we are concerned about the cost," said Don Freitas, chairman of the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association, a coalition of cities and counties. "We can live with the plan as a starting point, but we remain deeply

the ultimate cost."

Environmentalists say the plan looks good on paper but lacks firm benchmarks and deadlines to clean up runoff.

"There is no 'there' there in this plan," said Sejal Choksi, director of programs at San Francisco BayKeeper. "I worry that in 10 years the cities and counties can check a box on a form, and say, 'we tried' but not really do anything meaningful to clean the Bay."

Most at risk, she said, are low-income people who make up a high proportion of those who regularly eat fish from the Bay.

The plan to reduce PCBs is the second of what could be several federally mandated plans to set limits on pollutants that have damaged the Bay. Regulators adopted a mercury limit last year, and they plan to consider other limits for the banned pesticides DDT, dieldrin, and chlordane as well as selenium, a natural element.

The limits, called total maximum daily loads, are supposed to reflect what the Bay environment can tolerate.

The plan is aimed at cleaning up the Bay enough to lift a 1998 health warning to limit consumption of many fish, including surf perch and white croaker. But the measures also will help reduce other pollutants as well.

Pollution experts say that PCBs challenge them with a toxic legacy of a once-popular industrial chemical.

PCBs were widely used for cooling and insulation in electrical transformers, industrial equipment and caulking in building materials until their manufacture was banned about 30 years ago because of health concerns about cancer, liver damage and effects on unborn children.

The chemicals break down slowly.

The board says that PCBs entering the Bay should be limited to 10 kilograms per year, a 70 percent reduction from the 34 kilograms per year currently entering the Bay from storm water, sewer plants, Central Valley runoff, and fallout from the air.

Under the proposal, the bulk of the reductions must come from cities' and counties' storm water, the biggest source of PCBs entering the Bay.

Rather than demand all cities and counties take expensive actions immediately, the board plan requires a series of pilot projects of cleanup measures to see which yields the best results and should be required widely.

"We're taking a phased approach to gives us time to figure out what works best in a doable amount of time," said Tom Mumley, the regional board's assistant executive officer.

Under one pilot program, inspectors will target building demolition sites to determine if PCBs are present in caulking and other materials. "Will PCBs be the next asbestos?" Mumley asked. "We don't know."

In another test, cities and counties will jointly study five drainage areas to track down PCB hot spots and test cleanup methods such as sand filters.

In the potentially most expensive technology, the plan also calls for cities and counties to divert storm water from 10 places in the region into sewage plants for treatment.

Treating urban runoff could be expensive, incurring hundreds of millions of dollars for new pipes and equipment, Freitas said.

Regional board engineers say that it may turn out that treating runoff from a few industrialized areas could be enough.

A coalition of business and industrial groups argued that rather than requiring costly cleanups, the water board should focus more on warning anglers not to eat too much fish.

"The ostensible benefits of the Total Maximum Daily Load are minimal and speculative," said the statement signed by 14 groups, including Chemical Industry Council of California and the Home Builders Association of Northern California.

Mumley said that a relatively small percentage of Bay Area residents eat Bay fish, but the waterway is a public resource that should be protected for all.

If no cleanup is done, it would take more than a century for PCBs to break down enough naturally to make the fish healthy to eat, board engineers estimated.

"We believe we have a doable plan to make that happen much faster," he said.


PCBs: Polychlorinated biphenyls are a large group of industrial chemicals with a similar structure that was used widely for insulation and cooling. Manufacturing of PCBs was banned in 1979, but they persist in soil, water, air, plants and animals.

HEALTH ADVISORY: Because of PCBs, mercury and other chemicals in fish in San Francisco and Suisun bays, adults are advised not to eat more than two meals a month of many fish, including surf perch and croaker. Salmon, anchovies and smelt are not covered.

Children and pregnant women are advised not to eat more than one meal a month of the fish.

IF YOU GO: The San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board will hold a hearing 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Elihu M. Harris Building auditorium, 1515 Clay St., Oakland, to consider limits on PCBs in Bay.

Reach Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267 or dcuff@bayareanewsgroup.com.