Stege Marsh, a 100-acre plot of land part in Richmond, Calif., has been one of the 10 most polluted “toxic hot spots” in the Bay Area since 1998. Now the University of California and Zeneca Corporation, which each own part of the land, will have to clean it up.

The University purchased the land on the eastern part of the marsh almost 40 years ago and discovered acid and mercury toxins there approximately three years ago. The UC and Zeneca, an agrochemical manufacturer that contributed to the toxic waste, will begin a cleanup program this summer.

“When UC bought this land they were not aware of the toxins in the area,” said Fiona Doyle, director of the research institute for environmental science and engineering at UC Berkeley.

The problem the UC and Zeneca face can be traced back over a century, said Will Bruhns, a senior engineer for the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. The plot of land originally housed a munitions factory in the late 1800s and toxins in the ground eventually flowed into the marsh. Although the UC did not pollute the land, it is still responsible for cleanup.

“They bought the land as it was – contaminated,” Bruhns said. “Whatever is involved is junk left over.”

The University and Zeneca are still negotiating the terms of their shared cleanup efforts.

“UC is facing some tough times ahead in terms of budget, so there is still discussion on what work is going to be done when. UC has to find the money for this project,” Doyle said. “The University is not trying to follow the cheapest course of action. They are anxious to do a good job so that there will be no future problems.”

The UC plans to retain its research facilities after cleanup efforts with Zeneca are complete, but the project’s plans have not been finalized. The deadline for implementation of the cleanup is scheduled for 2003-2004, said Cecil Felix, a representative of San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“The land is divided into the upland area and the marsh area. We have organized the cleanup tasks by the different areas effectiveness and feasibility … which is why we’re taking a more aggressive stance with the upland area,” Felix said. “It’s going to take more time and planning with the marsh area because of the laws and endangered species.”

Project organizers have already taken some precautions to ensure the inhabitants of the land remain safe. In order to protect endangered species such the clapper rail, a type of bird, a permit will ban cleanup activity three hours before or after sunset. Researchers hope this will prevent any harm to the bird’s daily activity patterns.

The UC is currently taking samples of the marsh that will determine the extent to which new habitats and ecosystems may be studied in the future. The University will also demolish surrounding sheds, storage areas and facility buildings to create a more open space in the field station. New facilities will be constructed for research purposes at a later date.