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2002 News Releases


EPA, State Complete Emergency Cleanup of Sonoma Burn Dump

Release Date: 11/12/2002
Contact Information: Leo Kay, U.S. EPA, (415) 947-4306

Worker at Sonoma Burn Dump   Workers Remove 23,000 Tons of Contaminated Soil, Including Radioactive Materials

   SAN FRANCISCO --  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently completed the cleanup of the Sonoma Burn Dump, where private and industrial sources deposited everything from household waste to radioctive materials from the late 1800s through the early 1950s.

During the course of the cleanup, which the California Integrated Waste Management Board began in September 2001, work crews removed and trucked away 23,611 tons of soil contaminated with radioactive materials and other toxins from the two-acre abandoned burn dump north of the town square.  Officials used radiation detectors to look for "hot spots" in truck loads of soil, finding radium fragments as small as a pinhead.   The EPA spent $1.1 million completing the second phase of the cleanup, which ran from July to September 2002.

     Lead and radioactive materials such as radium and uranium found in soils threatened the health of people who were trespassing on the site to dig for antique bottles.  The lead-contaminated soil also threatened Fryer Creek, which runs through the toe of the dump.
Radium dial from Sonoma Burn Dump    "In cleaning this site up, work crews  toiled through 100 degree weather in protective clothing, screened truckloads of soil for radioactive items the size of a pebble and dodged rattlesnakes," said Keith Takata, director of the EPA's Superfund program in San Francisco.  "We enjoyed a strong working relationship with the state and Sonoma Fire Department in eliminating this public health threat."

   "This partnership of state, city, and federal agencies working to clean up the Sonoma City Burn Dump represents the success that can be achieved through a coordinated response in addressing legacy sites that now present serious problems," said Todd Thalhamer, waste management  engineer with the Integrated Waste Management Board's Special Waste Division.                            

      "The Waste Board's commitment of nearly $900,000 in funds and resources to protect area residents and the environment, and the city's and the U.S. EPA's participation in this solution demonstrate the necessary 'can-do' spirit to resolve such matters."

Workers around a truck at Sonoma Burn Dump      "The EPA's techincal and financial assistance during the final phase of the burn dump cleanup was the key ingredient to insure that the project was successfully completed. The city of Sonoma literally could not have accomplished this undertaking without the benefit of our partnership with EPA and CIWMB over the past year," said Mike Cahill, the city of Sonoma's fire chief.

    During the cleanup, work crews found radioactive material levels   including radium and uranium   and high levels of lead in the soil.

    Local residents trespassed onto the site regularly to look for antique bottles from the 1800's that contained wellness remedies from places such as Calistoga and Boyes Hot Springs. Some remedies included radium and other toxic materials.