Gas-blast cleanup moving swiftly

Crews are on pace to finish clearing toxic rubble from homes destroyed in the gas line explosion by mid-October, even though a handful of homeowners have been reluctant to sign up for the government-led cleanup program, officials said.

As of late last week, 31 out of the 35 home-owners whose houses were destroyed in the Sept. 9 blast that killed eight people agreed to let San Mateo County and CalRecycle, its contractor, remove hundreds of tons of burned debris from the properties. Ten properties had been completely cleared down to the soil, said Dean Peterson, the county’s director of environmental health.

While officials have emphasized the importance of cleaning the sites before rain can wash any asbestos or heavy metals into local waterways, they have yet to receive word from the other four homeowners on their cleanup plans.

Some homeowners were still discussing options with their insurance companies, mulling whether they want to hire their own cleanup crew, Peterson said. Others had not signed up because of “personal, sensitive issues,” which Peterson declined to
elaborate on.

Peterson said there is no time crunch yet because no rain is in the forecast, though homeowners who go it alone would have to take on responsibilities that the county is currently shouldering, such as soil testing and working with air- and water-quality monitoring agencies.

“By us taking that burden on right now, working with those agencies, I think is a big load off of those individuals that have signed up for the program,” Peterson said. “We just want to make sure they’re well-informed.”

The county has pledged that it will do the removal at no out-of-pocket cost to the residents. Peterson said the county will work with insurance companies to be reimbursed for debris removal and will “look for other funding to cover what’s left.”

Peterson said the main concern for keeping the cleanup on schedule is wind, which could force crews to stop work earlier in the day. So far, Peterson said relatively mild winds have allowed crews to work until about 6 p.m., and they have used water to keep dust down.

Mobile air monitors set up in San Bruno by the California Air Resources Board have reported moderate levels of particulate matter, though it’s not clear whether it is the result of the blast-site cleanup or the recent warm weather, board spokesman Dimitri Stanich said.

“These are still levels we’d like to get down, but compared to other emergencies these are comparatively good numbers,” Stanich said. “We would suggest people in the area that are sensitive to these kinds of things try to limit their exposure.”

Picking up the pieces

Materials hauled away by cleanup crews at the San Bruno natural-gas explosion site included:

575: Tons of debris
10: Tons in one truckload of metal recycling
277: Tons in 12 truckloads of concrete recycling
128: Tons in seven truckloads of debris and soil for disposal
160: Tons of ash for disposal

Where it goes

Metal:
Standard Iron and Metal, Oakland
Ash and soil: Recology Hay Road Landfill, Vacaville
Concrete and brick: Recology Pier 96 facility, San Francisco

Sources: City of San Bruno, San Mateo County Health Services Agency

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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