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Community welcomes agreement to reexamine radiation risk at Hunters Point Shipyard

September 25, 2016

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai MD

“The arc of the moral universe bends towards (environmental) justice!” – Theodore Parker, Unitarian minister and abolitionist, 1810

When this photo was taken in 2007, these “Caution” signs were everywhere, warning people that the area is radioactive. Yet construction of new homes that families are already living in went on unabated. – Photo: Bob Nichols

When this photo was taken in 2007, these “Caution” signs were everywhere, warning people that the area is radioactive. Yet construction of new homes that families are already living in went on unabated. – Photo: Bob Nichols

In a breakthrough for environmental health and justice, on Sept. 13, 2016, Angeles Herrera of the Superfund Division of the Region IX U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in alliance with Janet Naito, branch chief of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, directed a letter to Lawrence Lansdale, Environmental Director of Naval Facilities Engineering Command stating: “(T)he Navy will not propose any further transfers of Navy property at the HPNS (Hunters Point Naval Shipyard) without results of investigations necessary to clarify the actual potential public exposure to radioactive material at and near the HPNS.”

According to Wikipedia, the Hunters Point Shipyard is a redevelopment project by Lennar Corp. – now FivePoint, a new entity whose major shareholder is master developer Lennar Urban – on the 702 acres at Candlestick Point and the former naval base designated a federal Superfund site, calling for 10,500 residential units, a new stadium at Candlestick, 3,700 square feet of commercial and retail space, a 10,000 square foot arena, artists village and 336 acres of waterfront park and recreational areas. In September 2011, after receiving approval of an environmental impact report from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the courts denied the transfer of property to Lennar Corp. prior to clean up of contamination.

This letter confirms the Navy’s agreement with the regulators not to transfer any more of the Shipyard to the City pending a re-examination of the soil samples fraudulently declared clean.

This letter confirms the Navy’s agreement with the regulators not to transfer any more of the Shipyard to the City pending a re-examination of the soil samples fraudulently declared clean.

The SF Bay View newspaper applauds the strength and integrity of state and federal regulators who have taken the ultimate stand in protecting the health and future of the Bayview Hunters Point community. In so doing you have joined the “Forest of Mighty Oaks” planted in Bayview Hunters Point who have stood in open defiance against the tyranny and onslaught of political corruption and for-profit development operating in San Francisco.

But we hate to say we told you so … for over 15 years!

Let’s take a moment to remember the environmental justice vanguard who, for over two decades, served as community protectors and defenders crippling the dangerous cleanup and development practices designed to convert one of the nation’s dirtiest properties into a sparkling clean residential neighborhood and commercial hub at the Hunters Point Shipyard.

Let’s begin with the people of San Francisco who, on Nov. 8, 2000, voted overwhelmingly in support of the citizens’ initiative Proposition P calling for a full cleanup of the Hunters Point Shipyard to residential standards spearheaded by the Community First Coalition:

“Community acceptance is one of the nine major criteria which federal law says must be considered before a cleanup plan is accepted. Prop P puts the citizenry on record as wanting the shipyard to be clean enough for residential use, which is the highest standard.” – Comment on Proposition P, Hunters Point Shipyard Remediation, in SPUR Voter Guide, Nov. 1, 2000

Names and organizations like Espanola Jackson, Marie Harrison and Greenaction, Raymond Tompkins, Lynne Brown, Maurice Campbell, Francisco Da Costa, Leuren Moret, Carol Harvey, Minister Christopher Muhammad, Alicia Garza and POWER, Literacy for Environmental Justice and Arc Ecology are engraved in the historical monument of the environmental health and justice movement in Bayview Hunters Point.

Not only was the Hunters Point Shipyard the headquarters for U.S. study and experimentation with nuclear radiation for decades, but it was also covered with the irradiated sand used for sandblasting irradiated ships in an effort to clean them of radiological contamination. That sand, called “Black Beauty” sand by neighborhood children for its shiny black iridescence that shone like diamonds in the sun, was used to pave side roads and pathways on the Shipyard. Children loved to play in it. Now children are living on that land. – Photo courtesy TimePix-2

Not only was the Hunters Point Shipyard the headquarters for U.S. study and experimentation with nuclear radiation for decades, but it was also covered with the irradiated sand used for sandblasting irradiated ships in an effort to clean them of radiological contamination. That sand, called “Black Beauty” sand by neighborhood children for its shiny black iridescence that shone like diamonds in the sun, was used to pave side roads and pathways on the Shipyard. Children loved to play in it. Now children are living on that land. – Photo courtesy TimePix-2

Let’s remember the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury that in June of 2011 issued a ruling citing the plan to build more than 10,000 new homes at the shipyard could prove to be San Francisco’s “worst ever development disaster.” That courageous report determined the Department of Public Health was not keeping residents informed of health risks and that Lennar was paying DPH to monitor possible health impacts. “The Jury found the City has placed itself in a potentially compromising situation with Lennar where in essence the wolf is paying the shepherd to guard the flock.”

In 2014 the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit first exposed Navy contractor Tetra Tech’s internal report documenting deliberate and orchestrated fraud in the collection of 2,500 anomalous radioactive soil samples collected at multiple sites on the base. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined Tetra Tech $7,000 after confirming the soil samples had been falsified.

According to a 2016 KQED review of federal court filings and 3,000 pages of documents obtained from the San Francisco Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, new details were revealed about business relationships between Lennar Urban and individuals investigated by the FBI. Court filings show former School Board president and political consultant Keith Jackson was charged with bribery and money laundering in January of 2016.

Jackson was paid $496,000 by Lennar Developers in 2010 according to court filings. Jackson met with crime boss Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow in June of 2010 on behalf of Lennar to help “resolve the conflict” over the public health dispute with the Nation of Islam at the Hunters Point project, according to a sentencing memo by Jackson’s attorney.

Families are now living in the Hunters Point Shipyard, which Lennar developers call the San Francisco Shipyard, presumably because “Hunters Point” suggests the Black people who have called the neighborhood home for generations. Only a stone’s throw away are the docks where radiation was sandblasted off ships for many years, and other radiation impacted sites are all over the Shipyard. Now the safety from radiation of the very land under the new condos is in question because a Navy contractor, Tetra Tech, falsely reported the soil samples they tested were clean. – Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small, KQED

Families are now living in the Hunters Point Shipyard, which Lennar developers call the San Francisco Shipyard, presumably because “Hunters Point” suggests the Black people who have called the neighborhood home for generations. Only a stone’s throw away are the docks where radiation was sandblasted off ships for many years, and other radiation impacted sites are all over the Shipyard. Now the safety from radiation of the very land under the new condos is in question because a Navy contractor, Tetra Tech, falsely reported the soil samples they tested were clean. – Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small, KQED

A clear threat of violence against the leadership of the Nation of Islam is documented by court filings. Jackson plead guilty to racketeering in federal court and was sentenced to nine years in prison in February of 2016.

But we hate to say we told you so … for 15 years! The SF Bay View has stood like a beacon of truth – tall, alone and steadfast in determination to disclose the hazards of the dirty development of the Hunters Point Shipyard.

In August 2001, as an elected member of the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board, I founded the Radiological Subcommittee, simultaneously serving as the Health and Environmental Science Editor of the SF Bay View newspaper. In this role, I contributed input to the Hunters Point Shipyard Historical Radiological Assessment (HRA), the most comprehensive overview of radiological activities at the naval based designated a federal Superfund site by the EPA in 1989.

My professional background as 1997 head of the Palo Alto Environmental Health Registry and the personal experience of the death of my longshoreman father, George Donald Porter, afflicted with pulmonary asbestosis, helped prepare me for my activist role.

The people of Bayview Hunters Point, aware that the Navy’s cleanup of the Shipyard was supposed to benefit them first and foremost according to federal regulations, demanded the contracts and jobs generated by the cleanup project, which has cost taxpayers $1.1 billion as of 2014, and will cost another $400 million or so before it’s complete, the Chronicle reported in 2014. Only a sliver of that money has been paid to local workers and businesses. And when nearby residents are hired, they are often disrespected; for example, this worker, pictured in 2008, was provided no safety gear to protect him from one of the most contaminated places in the U.S. – Photo: Lennar

The people of Bayview Hunters Point, aware that the Navy’s cleanup of the Shipyard was supposed to benefit them first and foremost according to federal regulations, demanded the contracts and jobs generated by the cleanup project, which has cost taxpayers $1.1 billion as of 2014, and will cost another $400 million or so before it’s complete, the Chronicle reported in 2014. Only a sliver of that money has been paid to local workers and businesses. And when nearby residents are hired, they are often disrespected; for example, this worker, pictured in 2008, was provided no safety gear to protect him from one of the most contaminated places in the U.S. – Photo: Lennar

The HRA itself chronicles a history of concealment and negligence in oversight of radiological activities at the shuttered naval base, site of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratories and the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. From 1939 through 2002, radiological operations are chronicled, including the homeport docking of radiation contaminated Operation Crossroads ships towed back to the Hunters Point Shipyard following nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946.

Additionally, berthing and dry dock facilities at HPNS were used for work on nuclear powered ships between 1985 and 1989. The HRA documents a Van de Graaff nuclear generator was sited on Parcel A in Building 816, which exists to this day near Crisp Avenue adjacent to residential development activities!

Amidst furious protest, Parcel A of HPNS was transferred to the city and county of San Francisco in 2004 for residential development. Today, the shipyard is an ambitious development project with plans for over 12,000 homes, some of which are now occupied.

You can search the chronology of my editorials and investigations on the radiation contamination and health risks at the Hunters Point Shipyard published in the SF Bay View newspaper beginning 16 years ago on any search engine. They include prophetic titles including “Challenging the Shipyard-Candlestick Environmental Review”  in 2010 and the Oct. 21, 2004, article, “Parcel A Is Not Suitable for Transfer!”*

Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai accepts her award on Black Media Appreciation Night 2015. – Photo: Malaika H Kambon

Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai accepts her award on Black Media Appreciation Night 2015. – Photo: Malaika H Kambon

“Parcel A is not suitable for transfer and may never be suitable for residential development. The Navy and the City and County of San Francisco and the environmental regulators charged with the protection of human health and the environment have abandoned their mandate and violated provisions of the federal Superfund law and the Proposition P voter initiative calling for the cleanup of the shipyard to residential standards.”

The acclaimed article “Shipyard Workers Demand Environmental Justice” appears in the February 2015 edition of the SF Bay View newspaper and chronicles shipyard workers who have contracted rare cancers linked to radiation exposure and the suspicious death of Radiation Control Technician Ray Roberson, who was incriminated by the Tetra Tech internal investigation in the collection of the fraudulent soil samples and died during the course of the investigation.

Additionally, I met this month with a former Navy engineer and firefighter who was recently diagnosed with a rare cancer called multiple myeloma linked to radiation exposure.

SF Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., founding chair of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board’s Radiological Subcommittee and contributor to the 2005 Draft Historical Radiological Assessment, can be reached at asumchai@gmail.com.

*Unfortunately, many thousands of stories were lost in a 2006 hacking of the Bay View website, so unless they were reposted elsewhere, they are no longer available online. They have survived, however, in print.

Greenaction’s demands

Let’s make sure the government does its job to protect peoples’ health and the environment, not corporate polluters and developers.

We demand:

  • The immediate firing of Tetra Tech
  • New comprehensive testing with independent community oversight and co-monitoring of the entire Shipyard and adjacent areas
  • Expansion of the cleanup of toxic and radioactive contamination
  • No homes or parks on toxic and radioactive land

Learn more at www.greenaction.org.

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2 thoughts on “Community welcomes agreement to reexamine radiation risk at Hunters Point Shipyard

  1. Patrick Monk RN

    According to the chronicle the city is also 'exploring approaches' to mitigate the predictable effects of rising sea levels. What a joke, that horse left the barn when Lennar was given free rein.

    Reply

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