Sonoma County

Coming Rain Could Cause Toxic Runoff in Urban North Bay Wildfire Zones

Rain is on the way to the Bay Area this weekend, and that is causing some concern over toxic runoff from the North Bay fires.

Runoff from any significant rainfall could wash a toxic soup of chemicals into storm drains that lead into San Francisco Bay.

Runoff prevention efforts are underway but appear to have a long way to go.

On Mark West Springs Road in Santa Rosa, the remains of burned homes can be seen along the hillside. Below are straw-filled nets that help prevent runoff from reaching a creekbed.

Experts say there are all sorts of contaminants in the ashes of urban fires, including lead, mercury and arsenic, that could pollute the bay and be harmful to sea life. Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin is asking questions.

"With the rains coming, can we get enough containment straw waddles and bales of hay to keep the ashes and the runoff from entering into our creek system?" she said.

Crews with the Environmental Protection Agency are collecting household hazardous waste from burned sites, but clearing out the poisons in the ash that could wash downstream in the next rainstorm is not part of their task.

"We’re aware that it’s going to rain in the next couple of days, and you know, that’s not really going to change our process," said Tom Dunkelman, EPA coordinator. "We’ll be out rain or shine, collecting hazardous waste."

Cal Fire has set up a task force for stream protection, but officials were not immediately available for comment. Gorin said she ran into the same problem.

"Sometimes I’m kept in the dark just as you are, even though I’m a supervisor," Gorin said. "I asked the questions, and I get the 'I don’t know.' I don’t know what the timeline is other than the assurances that we’ve been given by EPA and FEMA that we hope to have the cleanup done by December."

EPA officials said the weather service is predicting 1 to 2 inches of rain in Sonoma County, and they don’t feel that amount of rain will create a serious runoff problem.

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