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Petaluma High field dust irks neighbors

A cloud has developed over the renovation of the sports field and track at Petaluma High School. A group of neighbors near the construction site say their homes were inundated by a fog of quicklime, concrete and dirt from the construction site during the week of Aug. 28 through Sept. 1.

The biggest problem seems to have occurred the afternoon of Aug. 30 when a subcontractor applied a combination of quicklime and cement as a soil treatment, although at least one resident said there were problems earlier, and others are worried about ongoing problems.

The Petaluma City Schools District is renovating the athletic field at Steve Ellison Field as well as the surrounding track.

In an email to the school district written on Aug. 29, Joe Hutka, who lives on Webster Street across from the football field, wrote, “This morning work began at 5:55 a.m. A cloud of cement, lime and dust were spilling across the street. These are carcinogens, not to mention the years of herbicides and pesticides that went into keeping the turf on the football field.”

Paul Guerrero, who lives on Hinman Street, said the big problem occurred Aug. 30.

“There was a huge dust cloud that was blowing all over the neighborhood,” he said. “I walked out of the house with my 6-month-old daughter and immediately started getting wet. I hurried to get my daughter back inside.”

Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Gary Callahan said when neighbors complained on Aug. 30, Chris Thomas, the district’s chief business official and head of the project, went to the site and met with the contractor who began hosing down the work area.

However, it was discovered that one water truck could not handle the job and, while a second truck was brought in, there were some “equipment challenges,” and hoses had to be used in areas of the field.

Callahan said the problem was compounded by an afternoon wind that blew over the construction site on a very hot summer day.

“I’m sure that if the contractor had to do it over again, he wouldn’t have gone forward on a windy day,” said Callahan.

Hutka remains concerned about health issues.

“They needlessly exposed the neighborhood to what might be more caustic then they thought,” said Hutka, who added that he is having a sample of the substance analyzed.

Callahan said the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has been working with the contractor to monitor any further problems. Guerrero, while upset with the incident, acknowledged that the district did respond to some of the neighbor’s concerns.

“What happened was really a blatant disregard for the neighborhood,” he said. “But they (the district) have taken steps to improve.”

Guerrero, in an email to the district, asked for specific remediation measures, including an advisory letter to households surrounding the project site that there was a potential chemical contamination, professional cleaning remediation to be provided by the district, placement of fabric dust barriers around the perimeter of the Petaluma High field project and increased water truck activity.

Callahan said a dust control plan is in place, that there would be more use of water truck for dust suppression, continued cleaning of streets and the district had asked the contractor to add dust coverings to the fences around the project.

Thomas said the process of mixing the quicklime and cement into the soil lasted “two or three days” and now was complete.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com.)