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topic 26620

Cooling tower run off at old Navy site, soon to be a school


My kids' elementary school is considering moving to an old Navy building that was used for vocational training. There is a cooling tower on the site that will be removed, along with its concrete pad. Someone suggested that we ought to drill down under where the tower was, into the surrounding asphalt, to see if there is any hexavalent chromium from cooling tower run off. Does anyone know if the Navy used hexavalent chromium in galvanized cooling towers?

I'm thinking that since the space will be repaved with asphalt that we don't need to go looking for trouble. The new asphalt area will be used by children but since there is no surface groundwater and little rainfall it seems that there is little chance for exposure even if there are low levels of hex chrome in the soil. Does anyone have any experience with this concern?  Any supporting documentation would be a huge help.


Brenda Anderson
home owner, parent - San Diego, California, USA


Yes, chromates probably would have been used in cooling towers 20+ years ago.

Who is we? I ask because in most areas some sort of environmental audit is routine anyway--no one can buy or sell the property until the basics have been accounted for. So I would neither pooh-pooh the possibility of chromates in this situation, nor worry myself to death about whatever is the most popular toxic hobgoblin of the day. Rather, I'd treat the location as routine, and do the routine audit.

Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"


The we responsible for making the decision to drill or not is a group of parents trying to use limited monies responsibly. We could study this building and the surrounding areas until there is no money to remove the asbestos pipe insulation we know is inside. The school is a public charter so we have to find our own site and come up with the answers ourselves (or hire consultants to read and tell us what the mountains of documents about this site say), this site is "free" but is a fixer upper. The decision to drill will cost us $5K at least. The property is part of a former Navy Training Center that the Navy believes it has cleaned up appropriately, it has been signed off by numerous government agencies as safe, is currently open to the public but the Navy says they could have missed something so we're going the best we can to evaluate a variety of possible bogeymen. I'm trying to find out the relative importance of this runoff issue, if most people let their cooling tower water go down the drain when they decide to flush it then it probably isn't a big deal.

Brenda Anderson
- San Diego CA USA


Okay then, if I were in your position my personal take would be that if drinking well water from such a site were involved, I wouldn't dream of it without having commissioned someone who is responsible to me to check it; no matter how many government people signed off, I wouldn't trust it because they're serving too many masters. But if it's a matter of kids playing on asphalt above it, I wouldn't give it another thought: the concentration used in a cooling tower (if any) is quite low, it's probably long gone down into the aquifer, and it's not likely to migrate back up through asphalt. This is not an airtight guarantee, just practicality--we all live a life of, and in a world of, limited resources.

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"

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