Stanford University News Service



CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (650) 723-2558

Stanford taking steps to reduce bay pollution

STANFORD -- As a very large organization with research buildings, hospitals, gas stations, homes and construction projects - and sanitary sewers and storm drains that connect to South San Francisco Bay, Stanford University may be a significant contributor to pollution in the bay, university health and safety officials warn.

In fact, the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) has detected repeated prohibited levels of toxic organic solvents, such as chloroform, phenol, and methylene chloride, in Stanford's wastewater.

Palo Alto has given Stanford until August 1 to eliminate these discharges or face fines of $6,000 per day. (The city operates the Regional Water Quality Control Plant and regulates all local industries and commercial facilities that discharge into the plant.)

"The Stanford community of researchers, residents, students and staff must work together to minimize this water pollution," said Thomas McBride, director of Environmental Health and Safety.

Anything poured down the sink enters the sanitary sewer system and eventually flows to the South Bay. Although Stanford's wastewater passes through an extensive 10-hour treatment at the Palo Alto plant, it does not leave free from toxic contamination. For instance, approximately 25 percent of all heavy metals - such as copper, lead, zinc, nickel and silver - remain in the water after treatment.

Anything that washes into the storm-drain system flows directly into the South Bay through San Francisquito Creek, and the Galvez and Serra Street ditches. The pollutants that enter Stanford's storm-drain system come from a variety of sources, including streets, lawns, parking lots and construction projects. The primary pollutants are oil and grease, pesticides and fertilizers, litter, organic matter and animal wastes.

Effect on water, wildlife

What effect do these pollutants have on water quality and the wildlife in the South Bay?

Health and Safety officials note that the South Bay is a fragile environment due, in great part, to the shallow water and poor tidal action. Currents strong enough to carry contaminated water from the South Bay to the Pacific occur only once or twice a year.

"The South Bay is a sunny, great place to live," said Steven Ritchie of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Bay Region. "However, it is a lousy place to discharge waste; it's just too sluggish."

As a result, the California clapper rail population is declining rapidly in the marshlands of the South Bay. Wildlife biologists estimate that there are barely 500 of these rust- and cream-colored birds left. Heavy metals, detected in the tissues and eggs of the clapper rails and other birds in the bay, are believed to account for a decrease in the number of eggs laid and thus a significant reduction in the number of chicks that survive.

Government agencies have designed a permitting system to detect and minimize pollutants in discharged water. Stanford's Wastewater Discharge Permit requires monthly sampling and analysis at a variety of locations. Stanford must then correct all identified problems - such as the toxic organic solvents - or face fines of $6,000 per day. The Wastewater Discharge Permit also requires several reports, including a "Heavy Metal Use and Disposal Survey." For storm-drain pollutants, Health and Safety has recently submitted a notice of intent to join the General National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit, which will require the university to regulate the discharge of stormwater - primarily through stormwater management controls and elimination of non-storm water discharges.

The NPDES permit requires EH&S to develop a stormwater pollution prevention plan and monitoring program. The pollution prevention plan will involve such things as periodic inspections, spill prevention and response procedures, and maintenance procedures. EH&S is currently targeting construction projects and loading-dock areas. If Stanford fails to comply with the terms of the NPDES permit, fines up to $25,000 per day may be imposed.

Ways to reduce the problem

People who live or work at Stanford can help minimize the pollutants that enter the South Bay by following these suggestions from the Department of Environmental Health and Safety:

  • Properly use and store all hazardous materials, including cleaners, solvents, pesticides and fertilizers. Do not store any chemicals outside. Do not use copper-sulfate-based root control killers.
  • Dispose of all hazardous materials through the Chemical Waste Program at EH&S. Report all spills and leaks to EH&S at 723-0448.
  • EH&S cannot accept household hazardous wastes. Call the Santa Clara County Office of Toxics Enforcement at (408) 299- 6360 for proper disposal information.
  • Capture rinsewater from contaminated equipment and glassware and dispose of it through EH&S.
  • Have cars inspected and maintained regularly to reduce emissions and leakage of oil, antifreeze and other fluids. Bring all used motor oil to a service station for recycling.
  • Volunteer to paint "No Dumping - Flows to Bay" logos on Stanford's storm drains. Call 725-7529 for more information.
  • Use a broom rather than a hose to clean up lawn and garden clippings. Deposit clippings in a trash can or compost pile.
  • Divert rain spouts and garden hoses from paved surfaces onto grass.
  • Visit a commercial car-washing facility or use water sparingly with biodegradable soap.
  • Pick up animal wastes and dispose of them in garbage cans.
  • Throw litter into trash cans and keep cans tightly covered.

For more information on storm water pollution prevention, contact Laura Denenberg at 725-7529. For more information on wastewater pollution prevention, contact Laura Bonk at 723-7420.



This is an archived release.

This release is not available in any other form. Images mentioned in this release are not available online.
Stanford News Service has an extensive library of images, some of which may be available to you online. Direct your request by EMail to

© Stanford University. All Rights Reserved. Stanford, CA 94305. (650) 723-2300.