EPA Checks for Asbestos at South Bay Area Superfund Site

For the last several days, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been checking the air for asbestos fibers around the Alviso Community in San Jose, California.
Alviso was intended to be the major port city that San Jose eventually became. The oldest town in Santa Clara County, Alviso was the major South San Francisco Bay commercial shipping center until the Southern Pacific Railroad by-passed it in 1865. Eventually, the town was incorporated into the city of San Jose. The source of the asbestos in Alviso came from multiple sources. One was a levee constructed in 1983 by the City of San Jose in response to flooding of the Alviso neighborhood. The material used to build the levee was serpentine rock, which was discovered to contain concentrations of asbestos fibers of up to 40%. Other sources of asbestos pollution included dirt parking lots and fifty-year-old former dump sites. The discovery of this asbestos led to its identification by the EPA as a Superfund Cleanup Site.

Asbestos abatement started in 1986 and was officially completed by 1993. However, the testing at that time was soil-based. Recent information has indicated that such soil-based testing may be inaccurate, failing to take into account asbestos fibers stirred up by people’s everyday activities. Although a five-year review required under federal law showed no threats to human health due to asbestos, in light of the information on soil-based testing, the EPA decided to conduct activity-based testing this week. In activity-based tests, technicians in protective gear measure the air for asbestos fibers while simulating normal, routine activities such as bicycling, driving, and walking. The results of the testing will be posted on the EPA website sometime later this year. Despite the fact that asbestos is a known carcinogen, not everyone is pleased by EPA efforts. Dick Santos, whose family has lived in Alviso since the early 1900s, said angrily: “They have harassed the hell out of that community…no one has ever died in Alviso because of asbestos cancer. The EPA is building a bureaucracy. Alviso should be removed from the Superfund list.” Asbestos pollution discovered in Alviso was encapsulated with asphalt, or buried deep underground.