Additional Comments on
Responses to 1996 ATSDR Bioaccumulation Studies

G. Fred Lee & Associates
27298 E. El Macero Dr.
El Macero, California 95618-1005
Tel. (530) 753-9630 Fax (530) 753-9956
e-mail [email protected]
web site:

via e-mail

April 27, 1998

Julie Roth, Exec. Director
Route 2, Box 2879
Davis, CA 95616

Dear Julie:

Following up on Bill Taylor's April 15, 1998 comments on my comments on the propaganda that UCD has been fostering in an attempt to discredit the ATSDR bioaccumulation studies that showed that fish in the summer of 1996 collected from the area near Old Davis Road where UCD's campus wastewater discharges and some of the campus stormwater runoff enters Putah Creek, I want to cover a couple of the points that Bill raised with some additional information. First, Bill's statement on these issues should eliminate any ambiguity about the credibility of UCD's efforts to try to discredit the US EPA - ATSDR studies as showing that fish in Putah Creek at probably the most intensively fished area on the lower part of the Creek did, at the time of sampling, contain excessive lead and mercury. This is another of the deliberate attempts by the UCD L. Vanderhoef administration to try to conduct its waste management activities in such as way as to mislead the public into believing that it has and continues to operate a credible environmentally and public health protective waste management program. A credible institution and certainly a university that claims that it is an environmentally conscious university would not have tried to discredit the US EPA - ATSDR, studies, but would have immediately posted the Creek as recommended by ATSDR to warn people that consuming fish from that region represented a health hazard that needs to be recognized.

I understand that the UCD L. Vanderhoef administration does not want the LEHR site posted so that the public understands that UCD has mismanaged its campus and LEHR site wastes, creating a national Superfund site. This is clearly more of the recalcitrant polluter approach in which public interest ranks lower than the L. Vanderhoef administration's attempts to cover up the repeated and ongoing mismanagement of campus wastes. If DSCSOC cannot gain the support of the RPMs in posting Putah Creek and the LEHR site to warn people not to eat fish taken from the vicinity of where UCD's campus wastewater and part of its stormwater enters Putah Creek as well as warning people about the fact that the LEHR site is a national Superfund site with substantial amounts of hazardous chemical and radioactive wastes present at various locations on the site, then DSCSOC should take this matter to the City of Davis, the local press and others to carry out its responsibility of acting on behalf of the public's interests. We will be derelict of our responsibilities to the public if we do not make a significant attempt to warn the public about the hazards associated with consumption of fish from Putah Creek and contact recreation in the Creek where at times the Creek waters in the area where I have repeatedly observed children swimming can be essentially 100% UCD campus wastewaters which have only been marginally disinfected compared to the disinfection necessary to make such waters safe for contact recreation. I suggest that DSCSOC request the Davis Enterprise to carry a notice at quarterly intervals of the potential hazards associated with eating fish and contact recreating in Putah Creek near Old Davis Road to try to inform the public that eating fish and/or contact recreating in these areas could be detrimental to human health.

Bill Taylor mentioned the issue of disturbing the LEHR site may not change the excessive bioaccumulation problems that have been found and could be found in the future for the LEHR site. In the original ATSDR report, mention was made that the likely source of the mercury in lead for the excessive bioaccumulation found was the wastewater treatment plant, and therefore the implication was that it was not from the LEHR site. Actually, it is not possible to determine the source of the lead and mercury that have bioaccumulated in the fish near where UCD's campus wastewaters and some of the UCD campus stormwater, including some of the LEHR site stormwater, enters Putah Creek. I know from my discussions with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board staff (Sue Yee) that this staff believes that this is the case. This is the reason that Putah Creek in this region was not put on the 303(d) list of impaired waterbodies as it should have been. US EPA regulations do not require listing of an impaired waterbody if the cause of the impairment is an NPDES-permitted source. Since both stormwater and wastewater discharges from UCD and the LEHR site are NPDES-permitted sources, Putah Creek is not listed, even though the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board did not support the action that the public requested of requiring UCD to control lead and mercury in its wastewater and stormwater discharges to prevent the excessive bioaccumulation that was found by the US EPA and ATSDR.

As you know, the public raised this issue of controlling lead and mercury in the wastewater discharges in connection with issuing a new NPDES permit, however the CVRWQCB did not support the public's request on this matter. At the time this was raised, it was not understood that Putah Creek could not be listed as an impaired waterbody and put on the 303(d) list which would require TMDLs to be developed for the discharge of excessive mercury and lead to the Creek in accord with normal US EPA regulatory requirements. I am preparing a set of comments to the Central Valley Regional Board on this issue, requiring that either the Central Valley Regional Board enforce the regulations with respect to requiring that UCD control the lead and mercury that are causing the excessive bioaccumulation or put Putah Creek on the 303(d) list and thereby require that action be taken to protect the public's interests. The continuation of not listing Putah Creek as an impaired waterbody because UCD's NPDES-permitted sources of wastewaters or stormwater are the likely source of the excessive bioaccumulation that has been found without controlling these sources is untenable and cannot be allowed to continue

At the March RPM meeting, DOE contractors presented a discussion of the stormwater runoff monitoring that they plan to undertake to determine whether the DOE part of the LEHR site is responsible for the lead and mercury bioaccumulation problem that has been found. As I commented at the time but was not reflected in the minutes, this program, as proposed, is largely a waste of money. There is no way from the program that was proposed of monitoring for lead and mercury in the stormwater runoff from the area can DOE determine whether the DOE part of the LEHR site is responsible for the excessive bioaccumulation of mercury and lead in the fish that have been found. First, the US EPA stormwater regulations specify that sources that cause or contribute to the use impairment, i.e. excessive bioaccumulation, must be controlled. Without a comprehensive long-term monitoring program, it will not be possible to determine whether stormwater runoff from the DOE part of the LEHR site is contributing to the excessive bioaccumulation. It is likely that it is contributing to this problem and therefore, DOE has the responsibility for controlling this problem, as does UCD.

The necessary monitoring program to show that DOE is not a contributor would involve extended monitoring over several years, i.e. not a one-shot operation, as is apparently planned. The monitoring would have to be done not only of the stormwater runoff from the LEHR site but the stormwater runoff from other areas that mix with the LEHR site runoff, as well as the upgradient Putah Creek water. If it can be shown that the LEHR site stormwater runoff dilutes the bioavailable concentrations of lead and mercury, rather than adding to them, then DOE could possibly justify claiming that the problem is strictly UCD's.

It is important to emphasize that the monitoring of total concentrations of lead and mercury in runoff is not a reliable approach since it has been known for many years that total concentrations of either of these constituents is not a measure of bioavailable forms. Further, as discussed previously, the issue may not be the discharge of mercury that leads to the excessive bioaccumulation; there may be enough mercury in the region from natural or other sources to lead to excessive bioaccumulation if the other environmental conditions are right for methylation of the mercury. This is the sludge problem that I have discussed previously where UCD's inadequate treatment of its wastewaters is leading to sludge deposits which could promote the conversion of bioavailable forms of mercury to methylmercury in the vicinity of the Old Davis Road area.

At the March RPM meeting, and as reflected in the minutes of that meeting, I indicated that there was no point in DOE's proposed measurement of aquatic life toxicity in the stormwater runoff associated with its attempts to define whether lead and mercury in the stormwater runoff from the DOE part of the LEHR site was a cause of or contributor to the excessive bioaccumulation that was found. As I indicated at the meeting, but was not discussed in the minutes, the reason I indicated that there was no point in conducting the toxicity testing as proposed is that the bioaccumulation study issues are not toxicity issues. As I discussed, this does not mean that there is no need to monitor for toxicity in the stormwater runoff; it should be done in all stormwater runoff. Further, as I have repeatedly pointed out, but as both UCD and DOE have repeatedly chosen to ignore, measuring toxicity with adult fish as proposed is a waste of taxpayers' money. The standard US EPA three species toxicity test should be used in which chronic endpoints are used to determine whether toxicity is present in the stormwater runoff.

As discussed in previous correspondence, both DOE and UCD must by the first storm of the fall of 1998 have in place a credible toxicity monitoring program using the standard US EPA three species test. In accord with conventional regulations, if toxicity is found, then TIEs must be initiated to determine the cause and TREs developed to control it.

On the issue that Bill Taylor raised in his comments of the site disturbance may not be a source, this comment should not be interpreted by UCD and DOE or anyone else that this does not mean that LEHR site disturbance during remediation could not cause water quality problems in Putah Creek due to stormwater runoff from the site. The wastes at the LEHR site have been so poorly characterized with respect to their potential to cause water quality problems in stormwater runoff so as to mandate that a highly conservative - protective approach be used to protect Putah Creek from further damage by UCD's mismanagement of its campus and LEHR site wastes at the LEHR site. As I have discussed, it will be necessary for UCD and DOE to continue the comprehensive monitoring program of stormwater runoff until three to five years after the site has been stabilized with respect to remediation activities.

One of the issues raised by Dr. Bill Taylor in his recent letter was that of translocation of waste materials through plant roots up through the trunk and out to the stems, flowers, etc. Those familiar with agriculture and geochemical prospecting as well as Superfund site investigation and remediation are well aware of this situation. Certain types of plants are well-known to take up certain types of constituents from soils and concentrate them in their leaves and flowers. I had graduate students working on this topic in the early 1960s relative to sources of phosphorous in urban stormwater drainage where we found one of the most significant sources of phosphorous in urban stormwater drainage were the flowers and leaves from flowering trees and non-flowering trees. There have been symposia held and books written covering remediation of hazardous waste sites using bio-uptake by terrestrial plants. As mentioned in my previous correspondence where I discuss this issue, the American Society for Testing Materials held a special symposium on this topic last January in San Diego at the ASTM Third Superfund Risk Assessment Conference. While at this point, insufficient work has been done to be able to make quantitative predictions for a wide variety of plants and various types of constituents, certainly any Superfund site investigation and remediation that does not consider this issue as a means of transport from subsurface soils to the surface and thereby contaminating surface soils and stormwater runoff is significantly deficient. This is another of the numerous examples of where the science that is well established on issues is not being used at the LEHR site for site characterization and remediation. What is even more disconcerting about the level of technical competence being used at the LEHR site is that this issue was raised by me three years ago as an issue that needed to be addressed. It has not been addressed yet. While the proceedings of the San Diego ASTM conference are not yet published, they should be out later this year. Next time I see reference to a book devoted to this topic, I will bring it to your attention.

If there are questions about these comments, please contact me, and please pass them on to the RPMs and PRPs.

Sincerely yours,


G. Fred Lee, PhD, DEE


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