By: Waterkeeper Alliance
A suit by San Francisco Baykeeper under the Clean Water Act has yielded an agreement with the Granite Rock Company to prevent contaminated rain water from running off its concrete plant into San Francisco Bay. This legally binding agreement marks the 37th victory in San Francisco Baykeeper’s Bay-Safe Industry Campaign, launched a little over four years ago, to require industrial facilities to implement controls to keep illegal, heavily polluted storm water from draining into San Francisco Bay.
Recent tests from Granite Rock’s Redwood City facility showed that the site was releasing storm water with elevated levels of iron and suspended solids (a measure of small particles of silt and industrial waste). The runoff was also highly alkaline, a common problem associated with concrete manufacturing, which can have negative effects on marine life and overall water quality.
In a legally binding settlement with San Francisco Baykeeper, Granite Rock has agreed to install an extensive filtration treatment system to remove both total suspended solids and heavy metals from storm water flowing off the plant site, and the company will closely monitor and report on site runoff. Baykeeper will keep tabs on the company’s outflows and require more stringent measures if necessary.
The previous 36 victories included cleanup of toxic pollution by:
- the West Coast’s largest dry-dock
- the nation’s fourth-largest steel foundry
- the Bay Area’s only coal bulk-shipping terminal
- fourteen waste collection facilities
- three concrete-production plants
- three electronics-recycling facilities
- four auto dismantlers
Their locations range across the Bay Area, from Napa and Benicia at the bay’s north, to San Francisco, Marin, East Bay, and to the south in San Jose and Sunnyvale.
There are over 1,300 industrial facilities in the Bay Area, most of which are not doing what’s required to keep high concentrations of dangerous pollutants, such as heavy metals and petroleum hydrocarbons, from being washed into San Francisco Bay by rain. Such contaminants harm people and wildlife. And in Baykeeper’s experience, this threat has become amplified during the current California drought; when rain is less frequent, pollution can be more concentrated.
Documenting pollution often means collecting samples of runoff from the facility for laboratory analysis. This provides evidence for filing a Clean Water Act lawsuit, which is necessary to reach an agreement that legally requires the company to reduce pollution. San Francisco Baykeeper’s legal and scientific staff then visit the site, discuss operations with facility owners, and recommend controls that will be most effective and cost-efficient at reducing pollution. Once Baykeeper and the company agree on the actions the company must take, the parties sign a legally binding agreement that specifies required pollution reductions, actions and deadlines. For the following three to five years, Baykeeper monitors the progress of the pollution reduction.
One facility that is well on its way to cleaning up is the Levin Bulk Shipping Terminal in Richmond, currently the Bay Area’s only coal export facility. Levin also handles toxic petroleum coke, a byproduct of nearby oil refining, and shredded metal for shipment overseas. After a two-year legal battle—during which the company denied contributing to significant water pollution despite sampling data showing otherwise—Baykeeper secured a clean-up agreement with Levin requiring over $1 million in facility upgrades to keep coal and petroleum coke out of San Francisco Bay. The facility closed a number of storm water outfalls, installed advanced treatment filtration, retrofitted their conveyer systems to be fully enclosed, sealed storage docks to eliminate cracks that had allowed pollution to directly enter the bay, and implemented new protocols to restrict loading activities in windy weather. The facility is now on track to stop releasing pollution into San Francisco Bay via storm water and direct discharges by next year.
Eighteen of the 37 facilities that have signed agreements have already concluded their required cleanups and have stopped polluting the bay. Baykeeper continues to investigate and discuss cleanup plans with more industrial facilities.