by Carol Harvey
Bring it back home
Environmental expert and Bayview resident, Francisco Da Costa, asked, “The City and County of San Francisco has so many environmental organizations that give awards to people all over the world. Why don’t they focus on something that is in their backyard?”
“The answer,” he stated, “is that they (The City and Mayor Ed Lee) are beholden to the politicians, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Richard Blum, Willie Brown.
“They don’t care about Lennar building homes on contaminated soil. They just care that they get a piece of the action. Rose Pak and Willie Brown will call some of these contractors. A golf tournament will be organized. Contractors write checks. People come and tell me, ‘This is amazing! They collected $5 million!’”
In a Wednesday, May 13, 2013, meeting, Navy Environmental Coordinator Keith Forman told a worried Treasure Island resident about newly discovered radiation, “We didn’t know then what we know now.” Da Costa poo-pooed this lame excuse. “The Navy has never been truthful,” he said. “Everybody knows it.”
Da Costa recalled in the ‘50s, the Navy didn’t tell Bayview resident workers who were promised a month’s salary to bury the carcasses on overtime pay at night that the animal bodies had been subjected to radiological experiments.
He reported people paid a month’s advance salary developed cancer after clenching radioactive canisters between their knees on aircraft bound for East Coast bases.
Treasure Island whistleblower Kathryn Lundgren agreed: “Everything that (the Navy) needs to keep quiet, they hide.”
Hunters Point-Treasure Island history
According to Da Costa, 95 percent of what we know as the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, like Treasure Island, is landfill. In the late ‘40s, early ‘50s, the Navy demolished two huge hills. That dirt expanded the shipyard.
Navy policymaking was conducted at Treasure Island, the Navy’s official headquarters. Command staff enjoyed magnificent views of the City and the Bay from their homes on Yerba Buena Island, high above.
Engineers and scientists worked at Hunters Point, known for shipbuilding and experiments. During World War II, depleted uranium was first tested there. Prior to moving to Lawrence Livermore, the National Defense Lab was located at the shipyard, where Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, was assembled.
Ships present at Bikini Island bomb tests returned to Hunters Point and Treasure Island. Sandblasting at Hunters Point sprayed much of the radioactive residue into the Bay and scattered it through shipyard soil.
Da Costa describes “intense” and “serious” lab experiments and scientific tests. In close proximity to the seven-story National Defense Lab was the UCSF lab at Palou and Navy Road. The National Defense Laboratory, the UCSF Lab and Lawrence Livermore Labs collaborated on experiments.
During World War II, the 10-story above-ground, four-story below-ground Naval Radiological Laboratory was used for testing and building bombs, missiles and other weapons.
Canisters containing cesium and radium were transported through half- and quarter-mile underground tunnels.
Large animals – horses, cows – were brought to the shipyard, experimented upon and tested, then their radioactive carcasses buried all over the shipyard.
Da Costa reports that, in distinction to the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, most of Treasure Island’s radioactive contamination came from spills. For example, aircraft carriers would jettison a spent capsule contaminated with nuclear fuel residue from the vessel onto the ground and into the water.
No safety on either site
Hunters Point whistleblowers indicated that San Franciscans can’t be comfortable that soil driven away or left on-site at Hunters Point is free of contamination.
Most Hunters Point trucks, however, appear covered, while at Treasure Island, on-site soil is moved in open trucks from highly contaminated areas. Dust flies everywhere around homes and businesses.
Lundgren witnessed recent episodes of radioactive dust trucked and dumped on the island. She verifies that trucks bearing toxic materials do drive off-island.
A pattern repeated by Tetra Tech’s contract trucking companies is to move toxic soil from known hot areas and cart it around the island to “clean” locations.
In one instance, Kathryn reported workers ground up vegetation for mulch. While walking the perimeter of radiologically impacted Bigelow and Halyburton Courts, Kathryn heard earth-diggers. She videotaped a man inside Halyburton Court reducing a tree to wood chips, then later observed him while he drove through the island dumping toxic chips in her neighbors’ yards.
On Tuesday, May 19, 2014, Kathryn and two friends observed contract workers in a small unmarked Volvo truck removing material from unremediated Site 6, then driving it to the island’s midsection. They dumped the toxic dirt into Site 31’s 10-by-40-foot hole so poisonous it probably forced the Boys and Girls Club nearby completely out of their facility and off the island. In an April 2014 RAB meeting, Keith Forman announced, to our horror, that Site 31 was now so clean he was in negotiations with the club director to return the facility to the island.
Just as at Hunters Point, there is a failure to keep the public from Treasure Island’s radioactive areas. Tetra Tech-associated businesses pay small contracted companies to bring people desperate for jobs onto island worksites. They come without protective gear or knowledge they will clean dangerous toxins.
Tetra Tech’s sloppy remediation renders both sites radioactive
Bert Bowers, former Tetra Tech radiation safety officer at the Hunters Point Shipyard, told reporter Vicki Nguyen, “It has to do with the proper disposal of radioactive material. I wouldn’t feel comfortable living there having a yard where I could grow a garden. Absolutely not.
“I wouldn’t go there, I wouldn’t take my grandchildren there, I wouldn’t walk my dog there,” said Susan Andrews, a former radiation safety technician and, like Bowers, a whistleblower. . “It’s a beautiful area and it can be beautiful once it’s cleaned up, but it’s not being cleaned up right.”
At both Hunters Point and Treasure Island, apparently corners are being cut, and public health is at risk.
In Nguyen’s earlier report, New World Environmental’s Don Wadsworth stated he was hired to survey Treasure Island’s radioactive areas. “My job is to protect people and the environment, and it’s just not getting done.”
Kathryn Lundgren currently does not live on Treasure Island. John Stewart moved her temporarily while they detoxify her house in an attempt to remove toxic molds and asbestos. Because her children are sick, she doesn’t want to be forced to return.
Lennar, the developer given the right to develop both the shipyard and Treasure Island, tried to drive out Hunters Point residents to build on land too radioactive for human habitation. The Navy, city-state-federal power brokers and TIDA officials, with intent, poisoned countless residents including the current population of over 2,000 low- or no-income renters they enticed to Treasure Island.
Many believe these predator power brokers should use their billions to repay all rent invested over the course of their tenancy by residents at Hunters Point and Treasure Island, especially those that they made ill. Additionally, these opportunistic financial carnivores should provide to the people they misled equal or better residences where they and their children can build equity. They should be encouraged to pay for past and future medical bills and to fund future medical coverage for the adults and especially the children whom they may have permanently damaged.
The City: Do what I say, not what I do
Both Lundgren and Da Costa have pointed out that in San Francisco, the precautionary principle is the law – specifically, Chapter 1 of the San Francisco Environment Code.
The Environmental Code for the City and County of San Francisco, City Ordinance 115-05, which was written and championed in 2003 by San Francisco Board of Supervisors former President Aaron Peskin, states in Section 101, “All officers, boards, commissions, and departments of the City shall implement the Precautionary Principle in conducting the City and County’s affairs.” It affirms San Francisco’s leaders’ and citizens’ duty to prevent harm with anticipatory action.
Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., during her years as the Bay View’s health and environmental science editor, in her copious reporting and analysis on Hunters Point Shipyard contamination and corruption, noted that conflict of interest is illegal in California. California Government Code Section 87100 states: “No public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a government decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial interest.”
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at email@example.com.