Baykeeper Update

Sunnyvale Waste Facility Agrees to Keep Polluted Runoff Out of the Bay

In the latest legal victory for Baykeeper’s Bay-Safe Industry Campaign, the city of Sunnyvale recently agreed to install controls to protect San Francisco Bay from polluted runoff from its waste transfer facility, which handles 1,500 tons per day of trash and recyclables from Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Palo Alto. Sunnyvale will also protect the Bay from polluted runoff from an adjacent concrete recycling plant. Toxic runoff from these facilities drains into nearby Bay wetlands and Guadalupe Slough.

The two facilities are located at the 97-acre site of the former Sunnyvale Landfill, which was closed and capped in 1994. The waste transfer station receives trash and recycling materials from businesses and residents; then it all gets sorted and shipped out to recyclers or landfills. The transfer station includes a curbside recycling separation area, a materials recovery area, an outdoor buy-back center, a solid-waste transfer area, a maintenance facility, and office buildings.

The concrete recycling plant processes bulk loads of concrete and asphalt construction debris. It is has a storage area for incoming concrete and asphalt, a material segregation area, and finished rock stockpile areas.

Baykeeper sued the city after finding that the Sunnyvale facilities’ own tests showed that runoff from the site was contaminated with high levels of iron and total suspended solids (a measure of small pollution particles in water). High levels of these two pollutants are a sign that the runoff may contain other toxic metals, such as lead, copper, and zinc. The runoff also may contain dust, trash, vehicle fluids such as oil and antifreeze, hazardous wastes, phosphates from truck washing, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals.

During Baykeeper’s investigations, we found dirt and debris on the premises, materials being stored and processed outdoors, and contaminated tracks being left by truck tires, all of which were exposed to rainfall. Rainwater from the site flows through canals and pipes to a nearby drainage ditch. From there, the contaminated water is pumped into wetlands connected to Guadalupe Slough, which flows into San Francisco Bay.

Baykeeper's 3-year settlement agreement will improve pollution control at the two facilities by immediately requiring:

  • Testing of samples of runoff from the facilities for all toxic metals suspected to be present;
  • Tarps or other covers over all exposed trash, electronic waste, and construction debris before forecasted rain;
  • Doubling of sand or gravel bag barriers around storm drains to slow the flow of runoff; and
  • Increased mechanical and manual sweeping of the sites.

If pollution levels continue to be high after the first year of these new practices, additional measures will be required, including:

  • Permanent roofing over some or all of the waste transfer station to keep trash and other materials from being exposed to rain;
  • Segregation, pretreatment, and/or diversion of runoff to Sunnyvale's wastewater treatment plant, located next door; and/or
  • Treatment of runoff onsite to reduce pollutants before the water reaches the Bay.

Baykeeper will monitor Sunnyvale’s increased testing of the facilities’ runoff for pollutants over the next three years and will continue working with the city to ensure that pollutant levels are being adequately reduced.

To help mitigate the damage caused by its past pollution, Sunnyvale will provide funds to the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment for projects by other nonprofits to benefit the San Francisco Bay watershed. The city will also put $17,000 toward an anti-litter campaign designed to reduce trash and decrease contamination of the Bay from citywide rain water runoff by 2015.

Keeping toxic runoff and trash out of the Bay should bring the waste facility and concrete recycling plant more in line with Sunnyvale’s policies for the public’s use and enjoyment of the surrounding natural environment. Rolling green hills nearby have vast Bay views and are open to the public for jogging, dog-walking, and bicycling. Monthly birding tours showcase the wide variety of birds living on the adjacent Bay wetlands. Reducing pollution from the Sunnyvale waste facility will help improve the health of the entire surrounding ecosystem.