Pacific Environmental Resources Center proposal would cleanup Navy base while developing new environmental cleanup technology

August 20, 1993

By Jeffery Kahn (

Building a major new industry while cleaning up the environmental contaminants left over from the cold war -- that's the mission of the proposed Pacific Environmental Resources Center (PERC).

With the impending closure of scores of military bases, the federal government must clean up billions of dollars in contamination before this real estate can be used for civilian purposes. Concurrently, new jobs must be found to replace those lost as the military downsizes.

The East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission is charged with dealing with these challenges. The commission is examining a wide range of alternatives for defense conversion in Alameda County. The immediate focus is to identify opportunities for rapid employment of affected personnel. According to Pentagon estimates, the base closings will eliminate one of every 20 jobs in the East Bay.

The PERC proposal addresses the goals of the commission through a program that would expedite the cleanup of bases slated for closure while simultaneously nurturing an industry that could grow into an international leader.

Scientists at LBL, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Sandia National Laboratories California, and the University of California system would field-test new environmental remediation technologies they have been developing at the Alameda Naval Air Station. The Navy has designated the NAS a National demonstration Site for Environmental Cleanup. As the cleanup proceeds, the successful new techniques that emerge could be used to reduce costs for cleanups throughout the nation. The initial focus of PERC would be on environmental restoration technologies. Later, the emphasis would expand to pollution prevention technologies, including air and water treatment systems, resource recovery, energy efficiency, and clean manufacture technologies.

The project has a complementary goal of building a robust U.S. environmental industry that can thrive internationally. It teams world-class research institutions, the nation's leading environmental engineering firms, and local environmental regulators contributing the knowhow and experience they've gained.

The commercial market for environmental technologies is vast and continues to grow. In North America, more than $85 billion a year is being invested in environmental activities, from air pollution control to solid waste management to environmental restoration. Globally, for all environmentally-related activities, the figure approaches $200 billion per year.

The cleanup and technology-development project would be located in an area that is both hard-hit by military cutbacks and rich in technical resources.

According to the Alameda County Economic Development Program office, closures of naval facilities in the Bay Area will result in direct and indirect job losses for nearly 40,000 people. Regionally, this amounts to a billion dollar loss in wages, salaries, and profits.

Northern California is a prime candidate for this defense conversion project because of the resources located in the area. The region is a leader in the development and demonstration of state-of-the-art environmental remediation methods. LBL, Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, and the UC Berkeley and San Francisco campuses are within an hour of each other. Additionally, Northern California has one of the nation's greatest concentration of environmental engineering firms. This gathering of research and engineering resources and the ease with which they can collaborate is unmatched by any other region of the country.

In a complementary effort sponsored by the Alameda Naval Air Station, several innovative technologies will be tested at the NAS, including a system that would inject steam into the ground in order to flush fuel contaminants out of the soil. The process was pioneered by UC Berkeleys Kent Udell and was demonstrated recently at the LLNL Superfund site. Other demonstration technologies include techniques that use microbes to chemically transform contaminants into benign or immobile compounds. Rolf Mehlhorn, Terry Leighton and Bob Buchanan of LBL's Energy and Environment Divsion will demonstrate techniques to bio-remediate metals.