Decades-old Superfund site still affects Stanford Research Park

Oct. 15, 2010, 3:01 a.m.

Despite ongoing clean-up efforts, contamination from a 30-year-old groundwater leak continues to affect Stanford Research Park, according to a water quality report released Sept. 30.
According to the report released by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) of the San Francisco Bay Area Region, soil investigations began in 1981 after a “leaking 1,000 gallon underground storage tank” was found at the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Superfund Site at 620-640 Page Mill Rd. in Palo Alto. The leak released toxic chemicals and volatile organic compounds into the surrounding groundwater, affecting nearby sites such as the Stanford Research Park, Fry’s Electronics, the Mayfield soccer complex and the Palo Alto courthouse.
In response, HP began a seven-month groundwater extraction and treatment process in 1982, which was restarted in 1987 and expanded in 1988, 1992 and 1996.
According to Ken Torke, Environmental Control Programs manager for environmental compliance for the city of Palo Alto, the RWQCB has issued HP a permit to discharge the contaminated groundwater into nearby creeks after treatment.
“It’s a large plume [a term for contaminated water] that covers several areas, so we have intermittent discharges from people, usually in conjunction with a single building,” Torke said.
RWQCB has had oversight of the clean-up efforts of HP, a ground-lease tenant on Stanford land, since 1986 after identifying it as the responsible party for the contamination.
“The RWQCB required HP to investigate and remediate the contamination, and HP has been complying with the order,” wrote Tiffany Griego, director of asset management at Stanford Research Park, in an e-mail to The Daily. “[HP], as well as other entities within the Stanford Research Park, continue to meet all of their obligations required by Cleanup and Abatement Orders from the regulatory agencies.”
Stanford has been monitoring overall clean-up and cooperating with the RWQCB to ensure oversight by “reviewing all environmental reports and providing technical comments to the RWQCB, HP and HP’s environmental consultants to hold them accountable,” Griego said.
Additionally, Stanford will suggest preventative methods to property tenants and lessees if necessary—including underground systems meant to decrease contamination. To prevent similar problems in the future, Stanford asks its lessees and tenants in modern lease contracts to remediate their properties in order to preserve Stanford land.

“We [ask] our lessees or tenants to provide annual reports of materials they use in their business operations and proof they comply with applicable law and licensing requirements to use such materials,” Griego said. “We have the right to conduct inspections to ensure they are complying with law.”
Lessees must maintain land at conditions that allow for future residential uses. To determine the potential for danger, Stanford employs objective measures to ensure clean-up standards set by regulatory agencies in applicable laws and codes are met.
“Our role is to serve as a check and balance on our lessee to ensure their compliance with law and with what the agencies say they must do,” Griego said.
Palo Alto Water Quality Control Plant and HP representatives declined to comment on the issue.

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