The same seismic, social and economic forces that shaped Northern California in the 20th century formed the Brisbane Baylands.
In the aftermath of the Great '06 Quake, San Francisco dumped rubble from the resulting firestorm in the upper part of the Baylands. In 1914, Southern Pacific Railroad began using the filled area on the west side of the Baylands for freight rail operations and continued using the site until 1960.
Beginning in the 1930s, San Francisco used the area to the east of the Southern Pacific railroad tracks as a municipal landfill for household waste. The State of California built Highway 101 next to the landfill in the 1950s. Since the closure of the landfill in 1967, the Baylands has been used as a clean fill operation for dirt and fill from Bay Area construction sites.
These uses left Brisbane with a partially contaminated site that is blighted, underutilized and inaccessible to the public.
Cleaning up the Baylands site will be challenging and very costly but, unlike some brownfield sites, manageable with existing techniques and technologies. While the cleanup of the entire site is under the regulatory oversight of San Mateo County and the State of California, the site has been divided into three areas to manage differing types and severity of contamination.
West of the Caltrain tracks, the 180-acre former Southern Pacific railyard site was contaminated from years of use as a locomotive maintenance and railcar rehabilitation center. In 1995, regulators divided the railyard into two sections for management of the cleanup:
The first area - the northern portion - is Operable Unit 1 (OU-1), under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).
The second area - the southern portion - is Operable Unit 2 (OU-2), under the jurisdiction of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB).
Parts of these two areas are contaminated with petroleum, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds. According to the DTSC, North Area (OU-1) has VOC groundwater contamination, while South Area (OU-2) has soil contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons.
The third area, to the east of the Caltrain tracks, is the former Brisbane Landfill, which was contaminated by 35 years of use as San Francisco's primary disposal site for household waste. This area is under the jurisdiction of the San Mateo County Health Services Agency - Environmental Health Division and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB).
According to a study of the landfill commissioned by the Regional Water Quality Control Board's Community Advisory Committee, the landfill doesn't contain hazardous waste. Instead, San Francisco used the site primarily to dump demolition rubble, sewage, household, commercial and shipyard trash. After the landfill was closed in 1967, the landfill was covered in up to 30 feet of clean dirt. Since then, the site has been used for cleanfill, accepting clean construction dirt, gravel and concrete from Bay Area construction sites.