City commissions request report on campus diesel spill

A worker places absorbant plume onto oil in Strawberry Creek.
Derek Remsburg/Staff
A worker places absorbant plume onto oil in Strawberry Creek.

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Two city of Berkeley commissions requested a report Tuesday on the effects of the diesel spill that took place on the UC Berkeley campus last December.

The spill, which originated at Stanley Hall on Dec. 10, resulted in approximately 1,290 gallons of fuel being released into the environment, with a portion of the fuel flowing into Strawberry Creek.

The request, issued by both the city’s Community Health Commission and the city’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission, was brought before the Berkeley City Council at its meeting Tuesday night.

“All our recommendations moved forward onto the consent calendar, meaning that unless someone had a major disagreement with the recommendations, they would stand as is,” said Community Health Commission chair Pamela Speich.

According to the recommendation, the request involved “asking UC Berkeley to provide the City with an implementation timeline and the revised UCB Contingency Plan for Hazardous Waste Releases and Threatened Releases” and “requesting that UC map all sump pumps and piping diagrams on campus.”

The recommendation also requests that UC Berkeley consider alternative uses for water discharges, such as irrigation, rather than direct discharge into the creek.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the campus will be removing the Stanley Hall underground storage tank and replacing it with an above-ground tank, which will provide additional protection against future leaks. Additional spill safeguards and alarm systems will also be installed.

Gilmore confirmed that an outside consultant has reviewed fuel storage at various campus locations and the campus is currently reviewing suggested changes.

“Following the spill, UC Berkeley and its contractors took action to install absorbent materials in Strawberry Creek, and to remove contaminated vegetation and rocks,” Gilmore said in an email.  “Regulatory agencies, including DFG and federal EPA, signed off on the final creek cleanup. We do not believe there will be any lasting effects of this spill on Strawberry Creek.”

The commissions requested the campus fulfill the commissions’ requests by Sept. 1.

According to commission chair Brian McDonald, the goal of the Community Environmental Advisory Commission is to advise the council and, in this case, to recommend precautionary measures to prevent this sort of incident in the future.

UC Berkeley held two “lessons learned” sessions with the city, according to the recommendation, in order to improve response to incidents such as the spill. The “lessons learned” documents, which covered communication and training, were supplied to the Community Environmental Advisory [commission] *Commission* on May 3 and to the Community Health [commission] *Commission* on May 9.

“We are very grateful that (the campus) has a timeline of how fast they are going to implement their own suggestions about lessons learned from these sorts of accidents,” Speich said.

Still, the commissions are not content with UC Berkeley’s current contingency plans. McDonald said his commission would like to see the campus be more active in updating its “lessons learned” sessions as well as its contingency plans for emergency response.

“The neighbors don’t want this to happen again, and (the campus) needs to revise its current plan to make it more realistic,” Speich added.

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