NOAA Study: Contaminant Levels Near Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet Similar to Other Parts of San Francisco Bay Area

March 12, 2009

NOAA scientists measuring contaminants in the vicinity of the National Defense Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay, Calif., during a year-long environmental study found metals, PCBs and other compounds at levels comparable to those at other locations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Their findings are detailed in a new report.

NOAA researchers collect sediment samples near National Defense Reserve Fleet vessels in Suisun Bay, Calif.

NOAA researchers collect sediment samples near National Defense Reserve Fleet vessels in Suisun Bay, Calif. 

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Based on an analysis of contaminants found in sediments and shellfish near the reserve fleet, NOAA is not recommending specific cleanup actions at this time.

NOAA conducted the environmental assessment at the request of Congress in response to state and local concerns about the potential release into Suisun Bay of hazardous materials from the reserve fleet, which includes more than 70 decommissioned or obsolete federal ships.

“NOAA is pleased to provide scientific expertise and guidance to help answer questions about potential impacts the reserve fleet vessels may be having on the natural resources of Suisun Bay,” said Rob Ricker, regional manager for NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. “We greatly value the involvement of the federal, state and local organizations that provided input on the design and implementation of this study.”

During the 2008 study, NOAA researchers examined more than 200 sediment samples from 72 locations in the bay and tested mussels and clams collected from 15 sites near the fleet and into Carquinez Strait.

Scientists analyzed the samples for a suite of metals and other compounds sometimes found in vessel paint, including polychlorinated biphenyls. They also measured levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are found in petroleum products. The researchers compared their findings with contaminant data collected from other bay area locations.

Sampling locations were selected based on an analysis of areas in the vicinity of the fleet where water currents were most likely to transport and deposit sediments and fleet-related contaminants. Sampling close to the fleet enabled scientists to determine with a greater degree of confidence whether the contaminants originated from the vessels.

The final report is available online.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.