Bamboo: It’s good for making furniture, setting dramatic scenes in kung fu movies — and now for cleaning up toxic Superfund sites.
The Environmental Protection Agency is considering planting a bamboo fence around the AMCO Chemical Superfund site to help protect the neighbors from dust and the other nasty stuff coming out of the ground during the cleanup. Later, the entire site could be planted with bamboo to make an urban forest in a polluted corner of West Oakland.
The unorthodox idea comes from Brent Bucknum, who lives near the superfund site and makes a living building things like living roofs and gray-water systems. His firm is the cleverly named Hyphae Design Laboratory, a reference to both Oakland’s hyphy hip-hop movement and the part of fungus that branches underground, called hyphae.
“We started looking at mitigating these blights with biological solutions to remediation,” said Bucknum. “Bamboo grows really fast and as screen to odors and noise it’s a really amazing solution.”
Although the EPA was initially skeptical, the agency has since asked Bucknum to come up with a bamboo proposal as it prepares to excavate the site over the next few years, he said. Bucknum estimates that the bamboo project would cost around $200,000.
The site, which right now is a gated concrete lot, was an old AMCO chemical distribution facility. The ground is full of cancer-causing contaminants like vinyl chloride.
The AMCO site has been source of consternation for some neighbors like Manuel Pimentel who moved his family away last week over fears for his children’s safety. But the site has also generated quite a bit of creativity from local environmentalists like Bucknum on how to deal with the mess.
In a report issued earlier this month, the EPA noted that technical expertise could be used to explore other potential benefits of planting bamboo, like cleaning the groundwater at the site and blocking the pollution from nearby Interstate 880. The report also said that the bamboo forest could serve as a demonstration project for the rest of Oakland.
This wouldn’t be Bucknum's first time planting bamboo in Oakland. He co-founded a nonprofit called Urban Biofilter, which looks for ways to use bamboo and other plants to deal with pollution and wastewater in the city. Last year, the group planted bamboo on the old Oakland Army Base with the help of truckers who work there.