Palo Alto residents dissatisfied with Stanford’s plan to address toxic vapors

Feb. 28, 2016, 10:58 p.m.

Residents of Palo Alto’s College Terrace neighborhood continue to contest Stanford’s plan to manage toxic substances found in the University’s nearby construction site for University Terrace, a new faculty housing area on the edge of Stanford Research Park.

Residents are concerned that toxics are present in the soil under their homes or will be carried by groundwater during rains, according to the College Terrace Residents’ Association subcommittee, which investigated Stanford’s plan.

In a letter sent on Jan. 26 to the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the association urged California to reject the plan. Residents asked the state to require Stanford to remove the contaminated soil and take other precautionary measures.

The University discovered vapor trichloroethylene (TCE), a hazardous material typically used as an industrial substance, on the University Terrace construction site in December. TCE is a carcinogen that has been linked to kidney, liver, nervous system, immune system and reproductive system toxicity.

The TCE remains in soil vapor only, and unable to contaminate groundwater or rainwater runoff, according to Stanford spokeswoman Jean McCown. McCown insisted that Stanford’s plan was sufficient to maintain the safety and health of residents.

“DTSC, the regulatory agency with the authority to approve the proposed actions, has concluded that given the measures proposed by Stanford, there is no significant exposure risk to future site users,” McCown told the Palo Alto Weekly.

In reaction to the discovery of TCE, Stanford relocated some planned residences to areas of less TCE soil vapor concentration within the same site. The University’s plan proposes laying roads over some TCE “hot spots” and installing vapor barriers in University Terrace residences.

However, the plan offers no measures for the existing College Terrace residences.

Stanford has taken bolder measures to remove toxic material from other Stanford Research Park sites in the past, according to Ed Schmidt, College Terrace Residents’ Association Vice President and retired organic chemist.

“They don’t seem to be putting in the same level of effort to marginalize the TCE contamination,” he told the Palo Alto Weekly.

The University Terrace site is on the 1601 block, just across California Avenue from College Terrace. Schmidt said that although he thinks “vapor intrusion” into College Terrace is unlikely, the University is still not doing enough to prevent that possibility.

 

Contact Katlyn Alapati at katlyn ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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