Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Mystery Bird Goo Matches Drilling Mud

"Compare the grey on the duck's chest with the color of the drilling fluid..."

Strong indications have surfaced that a type of drilling mud is a likely source of the "Mystery Goo" that killed and injured hundreds of Bay Area seabirds this winter. All five of the goo's chemical components are present in the type of drilling mud described in detail in this patent application.*

Drilling fluid, or "mud," is a concoction of liquids and other materials used in drilling boreholes into the earth. The main function of the viscous liquid is to provide back pressure to prevent other fluids from coming up, to bring cuttings to the surface, and to lubricate, cool and clean the drill bit. Well-drilling involves drilling mud and waste mud must be disposed of. Here's a video illustrating how drilling mud works: Click here for Youtube clip on drilling mud.

Laboratory analysis of the Mystery Goo was reported by California Fish and Wildlife's Janna Rinderneck to contain five types of material: "silicone fluids, tung oils, resins or rosin oils, animal fats, and edible or inedible seed oils from plants." All five of these categories are present in the type of drilling compound described in detail in the above patent application.

One-hundred percent is a pretty strong indication that some form of drilling mud is repsonsible for the Goo.

How did drilling mud get into the waters that surround Alameda where the bird massacre occcured?

Last year, two large drilling contracts were let in Alameda--one by the Department of Public Works for replacement of a sewer line in a lagoon seawall** and the other by Alameda Municipal Power for running conduit across the Oakland-Alameda Estuary to Coast Guard Island. The CGI project began and ended before the October 12 sludge spill.

The project schedule for lagoon seawall sewer line replacement calls for contract award Sept 2, in plenty of time for a hemorrhage of drilling fluid into the lagoons to occur before October 12.

Dredge in Alameda lagoon

Alameda Public Works also conducted major lagoon dredging in the months prior to and including the first two weeks of October, 2014.

Lagoon,showing white and grey foam

The photo at right reveals the apparent use of a white foaming agent and/or a surfactant to clarify lagoon water after dredging.

A well-drilling surfactant matching 80% (4 out of 5) of the Goo's chemical components shows up in a 2007 patent application.***

Duck saturated with "Mystery Goo"

Around the same time the grey and white foam was photographed floating in the lagoons, a plume of foamy grey sludge was reported in San Leandro Bay. The lagoon foam, the San Leandro Bay sludge and the Bird Goo all are grey.

Compare the grey on the duck's chest with the color of the drilling fluid in the top photo.

On October 12, 2014, the plume of sludge was seen entering San Leandro Bay from the direction of a lagoon portal just west of the Otis Street/Bay Farm Bridge. The plume was observed moving from there into and down the Oakland-Alameda Estuary toward San Francisco Bay on the outgoing tide. (See below for a map depicting tidal currents around Alameda.****) By mid-January, 2015, hundreds of seabirds caked with a grey goo of unknown origin were found near Alameda.

Alameda Public Works was in charge of lagoon dredging and water clarity and also of the seawall sewer project that entailed the use of a drilling fluid, possibly the type described in the patent application mentioned in the first paragraph of this page. Did the seawall drilling project expel a ton of drilling mud into a lagoon? Was that covered up by lagoon dredging and then cleaned up with a foaming agent and a surfactant?

Eye-witness observations, visual characteristics, time frames and the lab analysis of the Bird Goo all support a connection between the Goo and Alameda's lagoons and drilling projects.

Public Works has some questions to answer.

*See patent application for drilling fluid containing all five of the Bird Goo's ingredients (silicone, tung oil, seed oil, resin and animal fats): Click here for patent application for drilling fluid

**See bidding notice for drilling contracts: Click here for bidding notice

***A 2007 patent application for a surfactant used in well drilling reveals a combination of materials that include polymeric fluids (e.g., silicone) tung oils, fish oils (animal fat) and various seed oils: Click here to examine patent application for well-drilling surfactant.

****Here is a map and discussion of Alameda's tidal currents: Click here for explanation of tidal movements

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Well-drilling Surfactant Matches the Mystery "Goo"

Progress is being made in identifying the seabird-killing Mystery Goo.

A 2007 patent application (see below) reveals that a surfactant* used in well drilling contains components matching eighty percent (four out of five) of the Goo's ingredients.

Silicone fluids**Tung oil, seed oil, and animal fats (e.g., fish oil) are present in the surfactant and are among the five Goo components in lab results reported by Janna Rinderneck, the Fish and Wildlife scientist who managed the Goo's testing.

As quoted in, Rinderneck lists five probable components of the Goo:
"Scientists at several state and federal laboratories determined after more than two weeks of research that the substance was 'a mixture of nonpetroleum-based fats or oils.' ...'The exact oil- or fat-based product has not been determined, but likely suspects are:1) silicone fluids, 2) tung oils, 3) resins or rosin oils, 4) animal fats, and 5) edible or inedible seed oils from plants,' said Janna Rinderneck, an environmental scientist with the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response."

As shown below, seed oils, tung oil and animal fats (fish oil) are specifically mentioned in the surfactant's patent application. Silicone, being a polymer, qualifies as the "polymeric additive.":
"...a polymeric additive** coating the powdered solid; wherein the polymeric additive comprises a polymer least one selected from soybean oil, linseed oil, grapeseed oil, cashew nut shell oil; perilla oil, tung oil, oiticia oil, safflower oil, poppy oil, hemp oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, high-oleic triglycerides, triglycerides of euphorbia plants, peanut oil, olive oil, olive kernel oil, almond oil, kapok oil, hazelnut oil, apricot kernel oil, beechnut oil, lupine oil, maize oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, lallemantia oil, castor oil, herring oil, sardine oil..."

Here's the full application: Patent Application for Surfactant with Goo Ingredients (Click Here)

Only petroleum has been ruled out. No item from this non-petroleum list has at this point been ruled out, but the presence of four of the five Goo ingredients points to a surfactant as the source of the Goo.

Now all that's needed to prove the Goo originated in Alameda's lagoons is to find residues of these ingredients there.

Or, maybe a whistle-blower will come forward.

*Definition and discussion of surfactants: What is a Surfactant? (Click Here)
**Silicone is a polymer.

Stagnant Lagoons Cause Problems

"... a mixture of non-petroleum-based fats or oils. Non-petroleum oils include synthetic oils, such as silicone fluids, tung oils, and wood-derivative oils such as resin/rosin, animal fats and vegetable oils."

(Below is my opinion piece from the April 9 issue of The Alameda Sun points an accusing finger at Alameda's finger lagoons as the cause of the Bay Area's Seabird Massacre of 2015.)

Built more than fifty years ago, Alameda's Finger Lagoons that stretch from Court Street to Westline Drive have evoked mystic phrases like, "Venice of California." They border some of Alameda's nicest homes. On Google Maps, they look like a thin blue cutworm crawling across the city's main island.

But beauty and cach'e come at a price. The lagoons can be an attractive nuisance. Recently a man was seen dumping a tub of soiled cat litter over the railing of his second floor balcony.

The Finger Lagoons have aesthetic appeal, but for some they have become an ecological nightmare. Global warming has turned stagnant bodies of water into algae farms. Algae love still water, heat and bright sunlight. Last year was the hottest on record in Northern California, with a record number of sunny days as well.

By contrast, the tree-shaded lagoons on Bay Farm Island were designed with 1970s  technology. No fingers impede flow. An aeration system keeps the water oxygenated. The aging lagoons on Alameda Island are not aerated and have little shade. With no aeration system, algae growth in these older lagoons must be controlled with chemicals. It's these chemicals I have a problem with.

Over the past ten years, signs have been posted at Alameda's beaches warning not to go into the water. Some unknown hazard makes peoples' legs sting. Could the mysterious source of that sting be chemicals released from the lagoons?

Our beaches are covered with sand reclaimed from just offshore. Was that sand tested for toxins first? Are tiny children and  mothers safe in that sand?

Last October I observed someone in a Clean Lakes, Inc. truck taking a water sample from a lagoon. According to its web site, Clean Lakes is a global expert in "clarifying" inland waterways with toxic agricultural chemicals. A city engineer told me the company was essentially a lagoon janitorial service. Good thing I'm not that gullible.

The same engineer said the lagoon dredging solids were dumped "at Alameda Point on a toxic hot spot." Well, what about the liquids? You know the ones that went out that pipe into San Francisco Bay?

Last October I observed a plume of grey sludge and debris in San Leandro Bay that I suspect came from dredging the lagoons. This will be hard to prove, but Cal Fish and Wildlife said they would send someone out to take samples. I filed a complaint with the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

We will get to the bottom of this.

Maybe those 1950s-era lagoons should be filled in, made into a park.

#   #   #

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Alameda's Tidal Curse

The Sludge Could Have Returned Dozens, if not Hundreds of Times

"What I found sent a chill up my spine.  ...Like a toilet flushing backward, the "bad stuff" kept returning. Alameda's Tidal Curse was a death trap for marine life."

Someone asked, "If the sludge you saw in October was the Bird Goo, how could it take from October to January, ten weeks, to kill the seabirds?"

To answer that question I studied tidal charts for October 12, 2014, the day I observed and reported the plume of sludge. What I found sent a chill up my spine.

The sludge took 3 1/2 hours (from 2:40 to 6:10) to transit from the south shore lagoon portal to just beyond the Park Street bridge. It had twice that distance to cover before tide changed at 9:21. It took the entire six-hour tidal cycle for the sludge to arrive at the mouth of the Oakand-Alameda Estuary, then the gooey mess would have been drawn right back up the same Estuary by the powerful ship channel current--BACK INTO SAN LEANDRO BAY WHERE SEABIRDS WERE ROOSTING FOR THE NIGHT!

Then the tide reversed again, and the process was repeated! For weeks, the deadly sludge I saw would have been transported back and forth along the Estuary between San Francisco Bay and San Leandro Bay, dousing hundreds of migrating seabirds again and again with layer after layer of toxic goo. (See illustration below, Image 1fx)

(click to enlarge photo)
Path of Sludge Ploom

Given the strength of the tide in the Estuary and the distance and speed of the tidewaters, whatever is carried out from San Leandro Bay is most likely to return on the next incoming tide. Then the process is repeated, endlessly.

Like a toilet flushing backward, the "bad stuff" kept returning. Alameda's Tidal Curse was a death trap for marine life.

The sludge's mass gradually diminished over time as some got deposited along the shoreline and bits were carried out into San Francisco Bay. But how long did that take, how many cycles? And how toxic were/are the residues to the seaweed and other marine life (fishes, barnacles, mussels, shrimps, crabs?)

San Leandro Bay's formerly robust marine life is feeding habitat for thousands of seabirds and their entire food chain. As food supply diminishes, so goes the seabird population.

The streaks of foam I saw April 12 (See Continuing Evidence of a Lethal Surfactant), if they are remnants of the initial October 2014 plume, could have returned hundreds of times during the intervening six months.

Migrant seabirds came here to fatten up for their return flight north, only to be drenched daily with a mixture of viscous chemical compounds we now know to be drilling mud (click here for April 19 blog identifying the Goo as drilling mud) and a lethal surfactant that got pushed farther and farther inland with each cycle.

Each successive dousing of surfactant would deposit another layer, to the point where death from hypothermia would result. A surfactant that might normally be considered harmless in a single dose would be lethal. (Click here for a detailed explanation of surfactants.)

Due to this Tidal Curse phenomenon, massive and lasting damage has likely been wreaked on the Estuary and San Leandro Bay as the tides have come and gone and layer after layer of toxic chemicals were deposited on rocks and seaweed and all forms of marine life and habitat, from pilings to bird feathers.

The chemical properties of a surfactant make it the ultimate toxin in a marine environment because surfactant molecules seek always to get between water and on-aqueous matter. Since essentially no marine life or habitat can escape a surfactant, its killing power is incalculable.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Continuing Evidence of a Lethal Surfactant

"When I think of the hundreds of birds killed, it is chilling to see this foam entering San Leandro Bay again, exactly six months later."

New Goo, or Remnants of the October Spill?

Either a surfactant is continuing to be released into the waters around Alameda or the foamy stuff in these photos is the remains of the initial plume I observed October 12, six months ago. Either way, the material needs to be sampled and tested. I have reported it but didn't call 911 because the volume wasn't massive. Should I have, given the previous responses to my calls?

Yesterday, April 12, I spotted this clear evidence of a surfactant along the northern (Oakland) shore of the Oakland-Alameda Estuary. Grey foam on saltwater usually indicates the presence of surfactant. For over a mile from the Fruitvale Bridge to San Leandro Bay, this unnatural-looking material (see Site 3 photo) clung to the shoreline and swirled in eddies on the slow incoming tide.

Using a reclaimed plastic pop bottle, I took a sample of several ounces and will hand it over to a  Hazardous Materials Specialist at Alameda County Department of Environmental Health today.

Following are my photos of yesterday's discovery.

Site 1 faces west and is the spot where I first noticed these new dregs of foam Sunday, April 12, six months to the day since the October spill. Here, a hundred or so yards east of the Fruitvale Bridge, a thin trail of greyish-tan foam drifts lazily in an eddy.

Site 2 is a few yards east of Site 1. It faces east and shows another eddy with foam, and a duck heading right for it.

Site 3 is a close-up of the foam in Site 2. All the sites have identical material--bubbles in a matrix of greyish-tan liquid. With few exceptions, the bubbles are strikingly uniform in diameter and highly resilient. They don't burst easily when touched by a solid object. Instead, they attempt to attach.

Ponder what this material would do to feathers. Repeated exposures would create layer upon layer of gummy film as each successive layer dried in the sun.

Site 4 is east of the High Street Bridge, a few hundred yards east of Site 3.

Site 5 is farther east. The control tower at Oakland Airport can be seen just beyond San Leandro Bay.

Site 6 is near the mouth to San Leandro Bay, facing the tip of Alameda Island.

Seabirds can be seen foraging among the foam.

Site 7 is at the mouth of San Leandro Bay.

That pin at about 1 o'clock is the tower at Oakland airport.

When I think of the hundreds of birds killed, it is chilling to see this foam on the shores of San Leandro Bay again, exactly six months later.

How many times has the tide returned, delivering this deadly foam?

I dropped off my sample at the County Environmental office around 5PM.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Catastrophic Ecological Risk in San Leandro Bay

"...the Seabird Massacre illustrates that greater awareness is needed by everyone."

Clapper rail (c/o Wikipedia)
The Alameda Seabird Massacre of 2015 has revealed the dawning of a new era of catastrophic ecological risk for San Leandro Bay and the birds and marine life that depend upon this habitat for their existence. The endangered clapper rail is among the species that live in this threatened habitat.

My research indicates that the mysterious "Mystery Goo" deaths of three hundred seabirds in January is tied to the plume of greyish-tan sludge I observed the previous October, described elsewhere on this web site (Click here for details), where I present the only plausible theory thus far advanced explaining the cause and source of the so-called "Mystery Bird Goo".

This mass execution of seabirds is under investigation by California's Department of Fish and Wildlife, but it is clear the material that killed them is of human origin. Laboratory analysis shows the gooey grey material matches drilling fluid used in earth-boring municipal projects such as laying conduit and sewer line.

But there is a bigger picture. The Bird Goo deaths are symptomatic of a systemic threat to Bay Area marine habit. Drought, dredging, street run-off and the use of toxic chemicals to control algae in Alameda's lagoons are all involved, but ignorance and indifference also play a role. This blog seeks to shed light on all these elements of threat to Bay Area marine life and habitat, not just "Bird Goo."

Rowers on Oakland-Alameda Estuary

The Role of Ignorance and Indifference
If you are taking a rowing class in the Oakland-Alameda Estuary, do you notice that flock of black birds you've been plowing through? Yes, the ones that make that whistling sound as their wings pump the air, scrambling to get out of your way. Those are  migrating surf scoters.

by Alan D. Wilson - NaturesPicsOnline
Surf scoters come to San Leandro Bay every year to escape the cold and fatten up for their return flight home: See Wikipedia on Surf Scoters. They're not yet endangered, but their numbers have been cut in half, thanks to human disregard and carelessness like the 2007 Coso Busan oil spill. (Click here for details on the Cosco Busan Oil Spill.)

Rowers need to avoid disturbing the waterfowl, but the Alameda Seabird Massacre illustrates how greater awareness is needed by everyone, not just rowing crews.

Tidal Currents
Tidal currents determined where the plume of sludge I observed last October was carried. A review of the currents surrounding Alameda zeroes-in on the magnitude of the problem.

Refer to Image 1fx below. The colored arrows show the direction of currents around Alameda Island. I know this from 13 years of observation during walks around the Island and from my ongoing research using NOAA* tidal charts. The red arrows indicate my observations of the sludge plume on October 12, 2104, from about 3:45PM until about 6:30PM. The blue arrow is the presumed flow of the sludge prior to my first observation, and the green arrows are my prediction of flows after it got dark.
Path of Toxic Plume

Naively, I had initially thought the sludge plume was carried all the way out through the Golden Gate Bridge after I left, but the NOAA charts indicate the tide reversed at 9:21PM. There wasn't enough time for the sludge to make it much farther than the mouth of the Estuary. From the speed of the plume and the distance to San Francisco Bay, not much of it could have cleared the western tip of Alameda Island before the tide reversed.

As indicated by the green arrows, around 9:30 the plume could have gone in three directions: a) south toward San Leandro and Hayward, b) south, then east along Alameda's south shore or c) due east, right back up the Oakland-Alameda Estuary. The strong current where the Estuary meets the San Francisco Bay would have pulled the vast majority of the plume right back where it came from--to San Leandro Bay.

Then, because of the strong Oakland-Alameda ship channel current, the bulk of the sludge kept going back and forth in the Estuary between San Landro Bay and San Francisco Bay, day after day, week after week, until hundreds of birds were saturated with the goo and began to die.

If, as I maintain elsewhere in this blog, the goo is partially a surfactant, it would have taken repeated exposures for the material to accumulate sufficiently to be lethal. The "goo" is not a one-time exposure event, but an accumulation of months of repeated exposuresa, layer upon layer, of some clarifying foming agent, drilling mud and surfactant imbeded with the various dissolved and undissolved solids that is was designed to adsorb**.

Water depth and volume determine the strength of these currents. Several years ago the Oakland ship channel was deepened from 42 feet to 50 feet. As would be expected, the tide in the Oakland-Alameda Estuary rips along much faster than anywhere else along Alameda's shoreline. The unintended consequence: an ecological death trap for endangered species in San Leandro Bay.

According to a city engineer, the discharge from Alameda's finger lagoons had always gone due south, toward the Hayward tidal flats. On the day my friend and I saw the plume, that certainly was not the case, and I suspect this is a permanent change in tidal currents because of a build-up of sediment off Alameda's southern shoreline, as illustrated by Images 1w, 1z? and 1zk.

The shallow areas are tan to beige and the deepest areas are dark blue. The shallowest area is just west of the Otis Street Bridge, where the portals for two lagoons empty into the Alameda-Bay Farm Island channel.

Note also the shallow areas in San Leandro Bay, where two deltas have been formed by effluent from the four natural estuaries. Sediment is being delivered to San Lenadro Bay daily from nearby streets and neighborhoods when people water lawns and wash cars. When it rains, the high volume flushes these sediments farther out, into the estuaries and into San Francisco Bay. During drought, this flushing doesn't occur, and sediment accumulates. Deltas grow larger.

As shown in Images 1z? and 1zk, A man-made delta appears to be forming in the Alameda-Bay Farm channel. This delta is man-made because the sediments come primarily from the two nearby lagoon weirs. The lack of spring rains would naturally accelerate this accumulation of sediment, and it is logical that this build-up would play a key role in offshore tidal currents and could help in accounting for the shift that surprised the city engineer.

An Alarming Conclusion
The alarming consequence of this shift in prevailing tidal currents is that toxic effluent from Alameda's finger lagoons is being drawn by the strong Estuary tidal current through San Leandro Bay, causing an unprecedented, potentially catastrophic threat to the marine ecosystem there and particularly to endangered species such as the clapper rail. In a separate post I have enumerated a list of birds I have personally observed in San Leandro Bay. There are many, many more.

The depth of the ship channel isn't going to change, and, short of a series of torrential storms, the sediment build-up isn't going away. So, to prevent catastrophic damage to the marine ecosystem of San Leandro Bay, we must STOP USING CHEMICALS IN ALAMEDA'S FINGER LAGOONS.

*National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
**Merriam-WebsterDefinition of ADSORPTION :the adhesion in an extremely thin layer of molecules (as of gases, solutes, or liquids) to the surfaces of solid bodies or liquids with which they are in contact — compare absorption

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Meet the Victims of the Mystery Goo Seabird Massacre

Empty Air

Beautiful creatures
caked with sludge,
unable to forage or fly,
shivering among the rocks and reeds
for hours until they die.

In the winter months, San Leandro Bay becomes a haven for thousands of migrating flocks, from Canada, Alaska, wherever the compass needle points north. They come because it's warm and wet and there's food. They must restore body fat for their return in spring.

Imagine these beautiful creatures threatened by careless or uninformed municipal workers whose focus is only on keeping lagoon water clear and safe. "Those birds are really pretty resilient," one recently said.

This is the scenario that I believe led to the toxic spill I and a friend witnessed and tried to report. Week's later hundreds of waterfowl like these were dead or injured. This blog attempts to link these two events and show how it happened, to help guide the efforts of investigative agencies like California Fish and Wildlife, Cal-EPA and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Most of the affected birds were surf scoters, buffleheads, coots and grebes, all of the birds pictured frequent the areas where the lethal "grey goo" did its damage--concentrated in the waters surrounding Alameda Island.

We must find out who did this and hold them accountable. For if we don't, it can happen again.

(click photos to enlarge)

Great blue heron (click to enlarge)




Surf scoter

Greater scaup

Snowy egret

Horned grebe

Western grebe

Night Heron



Snowy plover

Black-bellied plover

Brown pelican
Common tern

Clapper rail (c/o Wikipedia)
Surf scoter (male)

What is a Surfactant?

"Think laundry detergent, dish soap."

A mysterious Grey Goo killed or injured five hundred beautiful seabirds in early 2015, many of them from the north on their annual migratory stopover .My research suggests the goo is an emulsion or colloidal suspension* created by the use of an industrial surfactant in Alameda's aging finger lagoons to clarify the water after dredging.

SURFace, ACTive and AgeNT
The term "surfactant" comes from the words, SURFace, ACTive and AgeNT. A surfactant is a chemical substance, usually a liquid, that, among other things, changes the surface tension of water. Common examples would be laundry detergent and household dish-washing soap, which emulsify oils and fats so they can be carried away down the drain.

Surfactants are used in some municipal sewage plants to clarify contaminated water. Surfactants can be used in oil spill clean-up. Oil and water do not mix, but oil can be emulsified by adding a surfactant. It's similar to dunking a greasy skillet into soapy dishwater. Emulsification occurs when surfactant molecules break the oil (or grease) into tiny particles by tightly surrounding them.

A foaming industrial surfactant uses a chemical binding process called "ionic attraction" to attach in a similar way to particles suspended in dirty water. The remaining emulsion or colloidal suspension* can then be skimmed off.
Water Treatment Skimmer

Drill-down with Google Maps on a sewage treatment plant. Those open round vessels with arms extending across are skimmers. (See example at left.)
In the photo at right, it looks as if the lagoons have been turned itno a gigantic laundry tub.

The grey areas (see arrows) denote interaction of the foam with targeted particles (contaminants) stirred up by dredging. This grey material, technically an emulsion or colloidal suspension, is what I suspect to be the bird-killing Grey Mystery Goo reported in the news.

If I am right, the Mystery Goo is essentially an emulsion or colloidal suspension* created by interaction between an industrial surfactant and the contaminants (dissolved and undissolved solids) clouding the water due to the mechanical disturbance of dredging.

The contaminants could also include drilling mud (a fluid used in earth-boring), a form of which was found to match the laboratory analysis of the Bird Goo.

Harmless, but Lethal
Most surfactants are normally harmless to humans, but they can be lethal to waterfowl, especially when dosed repeatedly (See "Continuing Evidence of a Lethal Surfactant" ), because they cut through (emulsify) natural body oils that allow feathers to insulate them from the cold.

When those natural oils are stripped away, the birds die of hypothermia. It is a slow, hideous way to die because of the lengthy suffering it entails.

The chemical properties of a surfactant make it the ultimate toxin in a marine environment because surfactant molecules seek always to get between water and on-aqueous matter. Since essentially no marine life or habitat can escape a surfactant, its killing power is incalculable.

The world's favorite emulsion is ice cream. This was not ice cream.

Breaking News:
It is revealed in an April 19 blog post here that the Goo matches a viscous solution used in well-drilling generically called "drilling mud." (Click here to read the blog about drilling mud matching the Goo 100%.) The drilling mud and the surfactant are comprised 80% of matching materials (tung oil, seed oil, animal fats and silicone.) A foaming agent would emulsify the surfactant and drilling mud, creating a sludge that would float through the lagoon portal out into San Francisco Bay.

Below are several web links to sites that explain surfactants and the process of emulsification.

Web Sites: 
Key Center for Polymer Colloids

Youtube Videos:
"32-6 surfactant energy...":

"What are emulsions":

"Surfactant. How does a Surfactant Work?"

"How Surfactants Help You Clean":

"Warning: Dispersant/surfactant eats through...":

*Wikipedia: "An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally immiscible (unmixable or unblendable) ...colloid is a substance in which microscopically dispersed insoluble particles are suspended throughout another substance.Sometimes the dispersed substance alone is called the colloid;[1] the term colloidal suspension refers unambiguously to the overall mixture,,."

"A foaming agent is a material that facilitates formation of foam such as a surfactant or a blowing agent. A surfactant, when present in small amounts, reduces surface tension of a liquid (reduces the work needed to create the foam) or increases its colloidal stability by inhibiting coalescence of bubbles."

Other References:
Bätje, M., and H. Michaelis. 1986. Phaeocystis pouchetii blooms in the East Frisian coastal waters (German Bight, North Sea). Marine Biology 93:21-27.
Courtemanch, D. 2004. Foam—A cause for concern?

Eckhardt, B.W., and T.R. Moore. 1990. Controls on dissolved organic carbon concentrations in streams, southern Quebec. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 47:1537-1544.

Fact Sheet: Foam. 2004. Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Office of Water Quality Assessment Branch.

Fendinger, J.J., D.J. Versteeg, E Weeg, S. Dyer, and R.A. Rapaport. 1994. Environmental behavior and fate of anionic surfactants. In, Environmental Chemistry of Lakes and Reservoirs, L.A. Baker (ed.). American Chemical Society, Washington D.C.

Fuller, D. 2003. The occurrence of foam on lakes and streams. Great Lakes Environmental Directory, 394 Lake Ave. S. Suite #222, Duluth, MN 55802.

Gergel, S.E., M.G. Turner, and T. K. Kratz. 1999. Dissolved organic carbon as an indicator of the scale of watershed influence on Lakes and Rivers. Ecological Applications 9:1377-1390.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources. 2004. Harmful Algae Blooms in Maryland.

Wegner, C., and M. Haburger. 2002. Occurrence of stable foam in the Upper Rhine River caused by plant-derived surfactants. Environmental Science and Technology 36:3250-3256.

Friday, April 10, 2015

How a Toxic Spill Can Be Invisible

Two different fire departments responded to my 911 call, and neither one saw anything requiring action. What was I to make of that? I thought I had done everything right in phoning 911, giving my cell number and hanging around a couple of blocks away. How could they not see what I had seen? I thought Alameda FD was a no-show, but learned later from the fire chief that wasn't the case. After dark, Oakland FD came, but all they had were flashlights. It would have taken a floodlight aimed down the estuary to make out what was left of the plume.

I owe an apology to Alameda's firefighters for doubting them. After meeting with Acting Chief Doug Long, I now have a clearer picture of the mechanics and limitations of their procedures and equipment.

Even under ideal conditions, there was almost a stealth nature to the material in the plume. The grey color of the material made it difficult to distinguish from the water.

Examine closely Image 1kc, at right, taken within Alameda's lagoon community sometime after the lagoons were dredged and before November 20, 2014, when the photo was posted on Facebook.

The white foam and adjacent grey floating material I believe to be the unknown surfactant mentioned above.

The grey areas dispersed among and bordering the white foam are what I believe was the plume I reported in my 911 calls.

Note how hard it is to make out the grey areas because they are so similar to the surrounding water. Note the low light and the textured nature of the water caused by wind or light rain. In such low/flat-light textured conditions the "grey goo" is almost indistinguishable from the water.

Why was I able to see the plume so clearly? Because the conditions at the time were ideal. It was bright and sunny and there was not even a breeze when I first noticed the plume of sludge. The water's surface was like a mirror except for the plume, which I only noticed because there was a texture to it and it was moving directly toward me at a snail's pace for over an hour before I got a good look at it. I had plenty of time to study it, to track it on foot and ponder the significance of what I was seeing. Even so, it was two months later before it sunk in that what I had seen was likely the toxic spill that killed three hundred seabirds.

The conditions for AFD were entirely different. During the two-and-a-half hours that passed since I first spotted the plume hundreds of yards away, the wind had come up, the tidal current had strengthened creating ripples, and the plume was in the shade that had crept out along the north shore of Alameda Island as the afternoon wore on.

Why didn't AFD call me? Because the driver didn't have my cell number. Either it wasn't passed to the driver or the truck wasn't equipped with a wireless monitor. For firefighters, time is critical. They rush to get out the door and on site as fast as possible. A piece of paper with a number on it doesn't always end up in the right hands. Arriving on site, the responders expected to "see something" that was almost impossible to see. And there was nobody around, or so they thought, to point anything out.

Meantime, another hour passed before Oakland FD was on site. By then the plume had broken up substantially and the conditions had worsened. The outgoing tide was ripping along, making the water choppy. They would had to have aimed a floodlight down the estuary to see what was left of plume, but by then the water was choppy. I was beginning to feel dumb for even calling them because there was so little evidence.

The next day I wanted to do something, but I was short of time. I had heard that the lagoons were being dredged, and it clicked in my head that the lagoon portal was just west of the Otis Street Bridge, where I'd first seen the plume. So I squandered what time I had on driving around looking for a dredging crew. One of the workers said the dredgings were carried away on a truck. Where, he didn't know.

So I dropped it. I figured the plume was from some other source, and what evidence there was was out floating in the Pacific Ocean by then. I wrote a rant on Facebook and dropped any notion of folowing up. I had plenty going on in my life to sweat over some junk that was out past the Golden Gate Bridge. Was I wrong!

As I said, only after I heard about the bird-killing grey good did I realize what an opportunity I had missed to prevent hundreds of beautiful seabirds from death and misery.

Again, my apologies to Alameda's firefighters. After I heard about the goo and that there was no record of my 911 calls, I assumed someone was covering up for someone at City Hall. I was angry about the birds. Angry that I might have been fooled. Angry that someone who didn't care about a few hundred birds was getting away with an environmental crime. Nobody thinks clearly when they're angry.

I'm sorry guys. It won't happen again.

There's still work to be done, though, to find out what happened and how to correct it. Maybe we can all learn from this. Next time, even if I have to run to my car and back for my phone and a coat. Even if I have to see a lady safely to her car and run back. I'm going to return to where I made the call so I can direct the responders right to the problem.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

From Dredging to Bird Goo: How Does It Happen?

I live on a seawater lagoon in Alameda and for some reason they are doing dredging this week all around the lagoon. Never seen boat traffic like this on the water here ever. Usually it is kayaks and paddle boats. So I shot this timelapse of the dredging. In case you have never seen it yourself. Choose to ignore if you want. I thought it was kinda cool. Posted to Facebook "Peeps" Group by Kevin Rockwell on Thursday, October 23, 2014

What could link the dredging of a lagoon to the San Francisco Bay Area's Mystery Bird Goo and Alameda's October 2014 Invisible Spill?

It is not the dredging itself but a side-effect--the post-dredging clarification of cloudy lagoon water with a foaming surfactant* which can create a plume of sludge that morphs over time from exposure to the sun and elements into bird-killing goo.

The mechanical disturbance of the lagoon floor necessitated by dredging clouds the water, referred to as turbidity.

Turbidity is unsightly and can be smelly, and it won't go away quickly. Not without help. The particles the turbid water contains can be toxic to marine life and damage habitat. Many municipal sewage plants routinely use surfactants for clarifying contaminated water, but their use is controversial and many surfactants are restricted throughout the world.

Evidence of the apparent use of a foaming surfactant appears in the photo at Image 1kc. The grey fringe around the white foam suggests a chemical reaction is occurring between the foam and the water's contaminants (undissolved and dissolved solids, in technical terms.) This photo was taken from within Alameda's finger lagoon community and posted on Facebook by Kevin Rockwell.

The photo shows many splotches of the same grey as the foam's fringe. It's the same color as the bird goo, and it floats like the bird goo. The reported chemical content of the goo ("silicone fluids, tung oils, resins or rosin oils, animal fats, and edible or inedible seed oils from plants") is not inconsistent with surfactant-laced post-dredging lagoon contaminants.**

Lagoon dredging stirs up decades-old deposits, throwing them into suspension. The surfactant "grabs" these particles, clarifying the water, but the residual composite "grey goo" must be accounted for.

I maintain that it is this mobile post-dredging composite of surfactant-contaminants that hitched a ride on the outgoing tide through the lagoon portal on October 12, 2014 and is the very material that I and my friend observed that afternoon.  I maintain that such a clarifying agent IS the source of the grey bird-killing goo. reports that even California Department of Fish and Wildlife specialists aren't sure what, exactly, is in the "goo" that's harming the birds. International Bird Rescue describes the contaminant as a "viscous substance that destroys feather waterproofing, which can cause hypothermia and death;". This is precisely the effect a surfactant would have. (I have contacted International Bird Rescue about my surfactant theory.)

Look closely and note how hard the grey is to discern from surrounding water. This may be why neither the Alameda nor Oakland Fire Departments could act on my 911 calls. To the untrained eye, the goo can be practically invisible. 

The next step is proving it. This photo is the closest I have come to finding a "smoking gun" for the Mystery Goo and the October plume of sludge I reported.

*An acronyn for SURFace-ACTive AgeNT. See Wikipedia explanation of surfactants A surfactant can be lethal to marine flora and fauna, stripping away protective slime and body oils, exposing these plants and creatures to parasites, disease and noxious or poisonous elements such as herbicides, leading to an often hideous death.

**Reference SF Gate's article about Cal Fish & Wildlife's lab analysis of the goo: Scientists close in on IDing bird-killing mystery goo.

City Council Presentation - April 7, 2014

Below is a link to the six-minute presentation by April Squires and I to the Alameda's City Council on our concerns about the October toxic spill. Our presentation begins about 6:28 into the clip.

We also supplied a .pdf file containing my photo essay and a Powerpoint file with many other details. This file is available free upon request.

With this formal presentation, the city staff and council members are on record as having been duly and thoroughly informed of a serious environmental threat affecting not just a few hundred birds, but the community served by the council and the entire Bay Area populace whose lives are potentially affected by toxic emissions into our delicate ecosystem.

Below is a full transcript of our six minute presentation:

APRIL 7, 2015

Section 1 - Comments by April B. Squires

 Around 4 o'clock on the afternoon of October 12,  2014, I watched a floating expanse of grayish-brown sludge enter San Leandro Bay from the direction of Alameda's Otis Street Bridge. The plume moved slowly and curled around the eastern tip of Alameda Island, then entered the Oakland-Alameda Estuary. Mr. Heying and I continued watching, following the plume from a footpath on the Oakland side of the estuary. Around 5:30PM we observed the plume from directly above on the Fruitvale Bridge. 

By that time the plume extended from San Leandro Bay westward past the Park Street bridge.  It was greyish-brown and had a thick, gel-like, almost foamy consistency unlike anything I had ever seen. The plume was about fifteen feet wide and maybe 20 foot long segments, imbedded with some clumps of grass with roots attached and other debris, including straws, paper cups and pieces of wood. There were occasional breaks in the plume where there was a thin oily sheen.

Around 6 PM Mr. Heying borrowed my cell phone and called 911. I listened as he was first connected with CHP, then the Alameda Fire Department. I heard him describe the sludge and tell the other party that he would remain in the area at the Nob Hill parking lot and be available by cell phone if he was needed. I heard him give his cell phone number so he could be contacted. Mr. Heying told me, "They said they would send a truck.”

Because it was getting dark and cold, Mr. Heying and I had coffee at Peet's at Nob Hill Grocery, sitting where we could see the Fruitvale Bridge, expecting to hear a siren. After about an hour, when there was no siren or fire truck, I left and Mr. Heying said he would return to the bridge and try again.

Issues that concern me going forward:

  1. The insufficient response resulting from two 911 calls.  I learned that it is likely that response is inadequate because there is no protocol in place for first-responders in pollution cases that are not petroleum-based.

  1. That the City of Alameda should establish its own protocol to protect the marine life we all enjoy as well as public safety of residents and visitors who enjoy the beaches.  The mayor should create a commission and a citizen advisory committee.

  1. That the proposed SB 718 by California state senators Mark Leno and Lori Hancock delineates procedures to report pollution events, identify causes, hold accountable polluters and create and promote citizen reporting and involvement.  The mayor should ensure that the City’s protocol is integrated with the senate bill.

Section 2 - Comments by Monty J Heying

 I investigated the plume that Ms. Squires and I observed, and here some of my facts and conclusions.


  1. Alameda's finger lagoons underwent extensive dredging during the first two weeks of October, 2014.
  2. Dredging solids from these lagoons were dumped in a toxic "hot spot" at Alameda Point, and the residual liquids were released through the lagoon portal into San Francisco Bay.
  3. Two months later a "Grey Mystery Goo" killed and injured hundreds of seabirds along the shores of Alameda, San Leandro and Hayward, and a bird rescue non-profit's budget has been drained.
  4. Chemical analysis by Cal Fish and Wildlife has not ruled out lagoon dredgings as the source of the Mystery Goo.*
  5. Cal Fish and Wildlife took samples from near the lagoon portal to test and compare with the Mystery Goo.
  6. I saw an employee of Clean Lakes, Inc.* taking a lagoon water sample.
  7. Per their web site, Clean Lakes uses toxic agricultural chemicals to "clarify" inland waterways. One such product is “…absorbed and trans-located by aquatic plant foliage, interfering with plant metabolism." Another is "…a contact herbicide effective against a broad range of aquatic plants." Clean Lakes also uses surfactants, which are chemical compounds that can emulsify dissolved and undissolved solids and render them floatable. (Image 1kc)
  8. Degradation of marine habitat near the lagoon portal is evident. (Images 1y & 1zz)
  9. Here is a photo showing a foaming agent, a possible surfactant, in the lagoons. Notice the grey fringe where the white foam meets the water as if a chemical change is taking place. (Image 1kc)
*Rinderneck quote: "...  silicone fluids, tung oils, resins or rosin oils, animal fats, and edible or inedible seed oils from plants"


  1. The timing, flow direction and content of the October sludge plume are consistent with Alameda's lagoon dredging and the Mystery Goo.
  2. Additional sampling and analysis are required to prove linkage between the Goo and the lagoons.
  3. Further investigation is needed to determine the extent of environmental damage and the  risk of relying on toxic chemicals to maintain the aging finger lagoons.
  4. We need further study to determine the extent to which a new era of catastrophic environmental risk to the marine ecosystem of San Leandro Bay has been brought about by changes in tidal currents due to drought-related sediment build-up.
#   #   #

*Clean Lakes, Inc.'s web site.

 ARI is another company specializing in inland waterway clarification: ARI's web site