How the US Navy exposed a Treasure Island mother and daughter to radiation levels higher than humans can tolerate
Treasure Island: mysterious maladies, never-ending nausea
by Carol Harvey
Felita describes her illnesses. To understand why Felita believes that exposure to radiation and chemicals on Treasure Island caused her to be sick, please read the Bay View article, “I am Felita Sample, a Black female whistleblower. LaKrista Jackson is my daughter.”
My name is Felita Sample. My mysterious illnesses and my daughter LaKrista’s strange afflictions developed after we moved from San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood to Treasure Island.
Imagine never-ending nausea and daily dizziness. You can’t tolerate the thought of food. You override this loathing and force yourself to eat. You soon find that anything edible, including water, triggers dry heaves that wrack your chest and abdomen. Or regurgitation makes you throw up your stomach contents onto your plate. Either way, you get no relief.
Lying helplessly on the examining table at your neighborhood clinic, you stare up at your nurse practitioner and her student intern. You tell them your constant upset stomach is accompanied by searing kidney and back pain.
Outside the clinic at a bus stop, you become lightheaded and crumple to the sidewalk. Your male companion lifts you up. You cling shakily to his arm as he helps you to a fast food place and lowers you to a seat. You feel better.
You walk a few more blocks. Crossing the street, you collapse in oncoming traffic. Pedestrians next to you gasp. Your friend catches you just before a car hits you.
In 2004, after my 6-year-old daughter LaKrista and I moved onto Treasure Island, we both got sick. At first I didn’t think anything of it. I imagined we were affected by the colder temperature on an island surrounded by water.
During the first two weeks of elementary school, LaKrista wouldn’t eat. Her stomach hurt so much all she could do was lie in the bed and sleep. Her body burned with a temperature so hot a fan couldn’t cool her down.
I went to LaKrista’s teacher to tell her that my daughter had not been able to attend classes for two weeks because she was ill. The teacher confided that all the kids in LaKrista’s class – and, in fact, all the children in the school – were sick.
It took me years to figure out that LaKrista and I, as well as residents and schoolkids in the immediate area – mothers, fathers and their offspring – got sick from radiation and chemicals buried in at least three places under or near that school’s classrooms and its two playgrounds. One playground lay west of the school at Avenue D and 12th Street, and one lay east in what is now the C3 church parking lot. Next to the school’s second play area (now a church parking lot), the Navy found an extremely “hot object” in a radiation cleanup zone called Bigelow-Halyburton Court. A third radioisotope was recently located beneath our house, a half-block from the school. This concentrated contamination was contained within a mere six blocks.
Students at the former Treasure Island Elementary School sat in classrooms and took recess on two playgrounds – one immediately next to a toxic zone and one which later actually became a toxic zone.
The two playgrounds were part of the Treasure Island Elementary School complex.
At 12th Street and Avenue D, today’s Island kids still shoot hoops through basketball nets on poles poking up from the broken-down asphalt of the former Treasure Island Elementary School playground.
After discovering a wide array of toxins in the soil beneath this old school playground, the Navy renamed the paved recreation area “Site 31” and began excavating the extremely poisonous heavy metals: lead and arsenic; the chemicals DDT, dioxin, PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons), PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and the radioisotope radium 226.
Four years ago, in 2013, Andre Patterson and I led ABC7 reporter, Sergio Quintana to Site 31, where his videographer photographed large plastic bags the Navy was storing there next to our townhouses. The photo documents labels on the bags identifying the contents as radiation-contaminated dirt.
A second large paved space where LaKrista and her classmates played was converted to the C3 church parking lot after this ecclesial community took over the school.
The elementary school facility and its western playground were located 15 feet from 13th Street, which runs through Bigelow-Halyburton Court. The Navy considered this court with its clutch of townhouses so toxic that after 1997, when decommissioning caused military families to decamp, no civilians were ever allowed to rent there.
Navy cleanup teams discovered and documented a third radioactive source, a cache of violently toxic radiation inside the Halyburton-Bigelow court fence abutting school classrooms and the play area. This radioactivity emanated from beneath unit 1101B Bigelow Court.
In a 2013 NBC “We Investigate” report, health physicist Don Wadsworth told reporter Vicki Nguyen that a Navy photo of a geiger counter reading at 1101B Bigelow Court documented radiation at a million times over the EPA’s human tolerability limit. The 1101 Bigelow Court townhouse and its unit, 1101B, stretched for about 50 feet next to the playground on the other side of a thin chain link fence from kids running around during recess.
The rapidity of the atom stream emanating from 1101B Bigelow Court allowed radiation to easily penetrate human bodies, altering the DNA of children playing and residents living nearby, making them vulnerable to cancers and other diseases.
[Reporter’s Note: When Felita told medical health professionals she was exposed to radiation a million times above human toleration, she was referring to this cache of radioactive material that sits 50 feet away from her townhouse and next to one of the two elementary school playgrounds. The fact that Navy environmental coordinator Keith Forman denies the very existence of this radioactive cache, suggests – in fact, ensures – that the Navy has made no attempt to remove it.]
The doctor gave me no medications or diagnoses for LaKrista’s illness. Even though LaKrista didn’t want to eat, I fed her a strong antacid which eased her stomach pain. She felt better, got hungry, and started to take food. This told me the problem was located in LaKrista’s stomach, not elsewhere in her body.
LaKrista seemed all right after that. The next semester the San Francisco Unified School District closed the Treasure Island school, and the kids had to be bussed to the city, where they were no longer exposed to radiation. Removal from radiation ground zero could have explained LaKrista’s improved health.
In 2015, nine years after our 2004 move-in date, when she was 17, LaKrista developed a mysterious dark-purple rash on her left arm that spread out from her elbow. Two years later, in March 2017, this persistent blemish looks like a bruise.
Andre and I thought we could have isolated LaKrista’s exposure source after meeting a veteran resident in the Treasure Island Swords to Plowshares housing program. Cleanliness was this community-minded Coast Guard reservist’s “thing.” He made voluntary daily rounds to bus stops wiping down the display cases and seats.
He showed us a dark purple patch of skin like LaKrista’s that had spread over his trunk, arms and legs. Doctors considered this eruption so potentially dangerous that they surgically removed the tissue on one arm down to the tendon. This vet warned us never to sit in the bus shelters, which he believed were the source of these rashes.
The vet’s surgery made us worry that LaKrista had contracted the same rash at her nearby Avenue B shelter, where her school bus dropped her off. This bus shelter incidentally sits across Gateview Avenue from the entrance to the West Side Solid Waste Disposal area, one of the most toxic cleanup sites on the island, where the Navy found 600 radiological objects.
The purple color has faded, but years later the lesion remains. LaKrista applies tea tree oil and cocoa butter which makes the skin less dry and flakey.
My mysterious illnesses
In 2007, some of my back teeth began cracking, and the sharp edges cut my tongue and the insides of my cheeks. Several apparently healthy side teeth broke off at the gum line.
One tooth simply crumbled when I was eating chicken. The root stayed embedded in the gum. Nothing had seemed wrong with the tooth. There was no pain or infection.
The nurse practitioner told me to visit a dentist. I said, “But, I’ve been exposed to radiation.” She ignored my justifiable worries. “I’m going to set you up for a dental appointment,” she ordered. I didn’t go. I feared what would happen if they exposed my mouth to more x-rays in an area so close to my brain.
In 2004, my first year on Treasure Island, I started feeling ill. Thirteen years later, as I write this autobiography, I am lightheaded and nauseous. On a day-to-day basis, I feel dizzy and as if I need to throw up. But, like my daughter LaKrista years ago, I simply can’t eat.
I said, “But, I’ve been exposed to radiation.” She ignored my justifiable worries.
The times when I was really sick and had food in front of me, it was smelling good, I tried to eat it, but I couldn’t get it into my mouth. I love to eat. I would take one bite but couldn’t bring myself to chew or swallow. Until I found out about the radiation, I thought it was all in my head.
According to a Mayo Clinic website, “The initial signs and symptoms of treatable radiation sickness are usually nausea and vomiting,” as well as “dizziness and disorientation within one week (of exposure).” Though nausea, vomiting and dizziness are just the first signs, my symptoms have continued every day for years.
I know that kidney failure can be caused by exposure to radiation and chemicals. Over the years, along with daily nausea, I have developed extreme kidney pain that also prevents me from keeping down food.
Twice I was unable to eat or drink for weeks and fell ill with severe dehydration.
According to a Mayo Clinic website, “The initial signs and symptoms of treatable radiation sickness are usually nausea and vomiting,” as well as “dizziness and disorientation within one week (of exposure).”
We moved onto Treasure Island in 2004. Six years later, in February 2012, my constant nausea took a very serious turn. For 10 days, I didn’t drink water or eat anything. I went to St. Luke’s Hospital where I have been a patient since 1999.
After running blood tests, the doctor said he did not know what was wrong. I said I thought it might be food poisoning, but he told me, No. It was not that.
St. Luke’s gave me no medicine. I stayed sick.
Two months later in April 2012, I got ill again. I didn’t eat or drink anything for 14 days straight. Andre Patterson feared I would die. He cooked food for me. He made ice water and tea for me – anything to get me to drink.
I would not eat or drink. He believes the warm baths he drew for me saved my life. If Andre hadn’t helped nurse me back to health, I most certainly would have died.
I returned to the hospital, this time to San Francisco General. When I showed up, I was emaciated. They admitted me because I looked like bone with skin on me. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t eat while I was in the hospital. I just couldn’t do it.
The General Hospital nurse practitioner was good. She made sure the staff cared for me, and that I got my medications. They ordered tests and ultrasounds. Andre and I waited hours to find out what was wrong. The doctor said they didn’t know what it was.
I suspected that, because this nurse saw a lot of Treasure Island patients, she recognized toxin exposure symptoms in me.
After my admission, they kept saying, “It looks like it’s your kidneys.” I still couldn’t eat, so they gave me some medicine and sent me home.
I suspected that, because this nurse saw a lot of Treasure Island patients, she recognized toxin exposure symptoms in me.
In the five years since 2012, after my release from General Hospital, I regularly visit and receive medications for nausea and an enlarged heart at San Francisco South of Market neighborhood clinic. I believe radiation exposure caused my enlarged heart.
They prescribe Omeprazole to decrease my stomach acid so I can eat. Omeprazole is also supposed to stop me from feeling nauseous and throwing up. But it isn’t working. My nurse practitioner doesn’t want to give me strong pain medication. I ask her why, and she just won’t say. I’ve been a loyal client at that clinic for 17 years, so I ought to be able to get my medical records to find out what they think is wrong.
Two or three times without warning in the clinic’s exam room I fell into a cold sweat in front of the student nurse. I began freezing, then burning. During one visit, I told the nurse and the student intern, “I live on Treasure Island, a former Navy base, and I have been exposed to radiation a million times higher than humans can tolerate.”
Seeing rivers of perspiration flooding my face, the intern proceeded to inform me that these cold sweats were caused by radiation exposure. She explained that poisons leaching vitamin B from my body were making me perspire. “The toxins you are exposed to on Treasure Island – radiation or chemicals – are causing you to lose vitamin B. Loss of vitamin B is bringing on your high sweats.”
I told the nurse and the student intern, “I live on Treasure Island, a former Navy base, and I have been exposed to radiation a million times higher than humans can tolerate.”
The intern’s supervisor, nurse practitioner Kathryn Burchell, turned pointedly away, unwilling to verify her student’s diagnosis. She wouldn’t admit officially that my proximity to radiation sources was causing the vitamin B loss. Andre Patterson and I agree that if it’s got something to do with admitting Treasure Island is the culprit, medical professionals will draw back from committing themselves.
“They’ll balk. This is a big coverup,” observes Andre.
A pattern of kidney disease
A pattern of kidney problems has emerged in my townhouse and in the other houses along Sturgeon Street, where I live.
I met my friend Maddy in a San Francisco shelter. By coincidence, Maddy moved into my townhouse to an apartment just below me. For four years, she lived in a ground floor unit closer to the radiation.
Maddy always felt sick. She was nauseated and most days couldn’t get out of bed. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance repeatedly. She would be admitted and stay a week at a time. The last time Maddy left in the ambulance, I ran downstairs to the street because I could hear her calling. She kept repeating, “Felita, Felita, I want to tell you something.” After that last hospitalization, Maddy died. I never found out what my friend wanted to tell me.
There were other people in my building who were sick. A wheelchair-bound woman moved into Maddy’s apartment and endured a series of hospitalizations just like Maddy. She would stay in the hospital longer than Maddy – months at a time. A year later, she also died.
I thought whatever problem existed in that apartment was getting worse until a new discovery was documented in a story entitled, “I am Felita Sample, a Black female whistleblower.”
Through official documents that she and another researcher unearthed, the investigative reporter discovered that living in our apartment LaKrista and I are likely exposed to not just one, but two radiation sources. The first originates inside the Bigelow Court fence and radiates 50 feet from its point of origin below the demolished 1101B Bigelow Court townhouse directly into our living quarters.
Documents show that a second radiological object was detected by radiation scanning conducted by the California Department of Public Health. This source is buried under the thin concrete pad supporting our townhouse. Its deadly rays most likely impacted the two women who resided in the first floor apartment immediately over it.
These women were more directly exposed than LaKrista and I by proximity to the radiation. Both died of kidney disease after suffering many hospitalizations.
Living on the second floor places my daughter and me farther away from the radioactive object and more protected from it. This may explain why, though I am very sick from constant kidney pain and nausea, I am still alive.
Another symptom of radiation sickness
I developed another symptom of radiation sickness, dizziness and disorientation.
I am not normally a person who faints. Eight years after my 2004 Treasure Island move-in date, in October 2012, I fainted three times in one day, back-to-back. I was walking down Market Street. When I got to Jones, I felt lightheaded and sat down at the bus stop. I blacked out, fell forward, and woke on the ground.
I fainted twice after that. With Andre’s help, I was able to reach the Subway restaurant on Powell and Market. There I felt better. I got up and left Subway. Just as the light turned green, and I started to cross the street, I fainted again on the sidewalk. A group of people was walking behind me. Everyone got scared. Andre caught me just as I was about to fall in front of the oncoming cars.
Please continue to Felita Sample: Part Three. Read how, after the U.S. Navy dumped radiation and chemicals in the soil and didn’t warn us about it before we were steered onto Treasure Island, HUD violated its own rule 24 CFR 50.3, which prevents it from housing people on or near toxic land.
Learn how the “authorities” responsible for illnesses that my neighbors and I share avoid moving us to safe subsidized housing or compensating me and my fellow islanders and our children for medical care we now require.
Be advised that, after forcing us into their townhouses and poisoning us where we live, they use our rents to maintain and redevelop the island for its fabulous views complete with lucrative highrise condominiums and an insufficient number of affordable units for the present community, many of whom are sick.
The perpetrators who bear responsibility for this massive human rights abuse include the U.S. Navy, the politicians who run the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA), aka the City of San Francisco, the nonprofit that enrolled us into their island treatment programs, Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative (TIHDI), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and HUD’s Shelter Plus Care subsidizers, Catholic Charities and Community Housing Partnership (CHP), housing providers who dispense HUD subsidies, the John Stewart Corp. that provides both subsidized and market rate housing and finally Five Point Holdings Inc., the shell entity controlled by the developer, Lennar, which specializes in conversions of military bases to civilian use for unprecedented profit.
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.