Betrayal

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., Doctors for Social Responsibility

“In Hunters Point our lives and our livelihoods are tightly tied to the fate of the Hunters Point Shipyard, and we must have a seat at the negotiating table as its fate is decided. Only two parties are now at that table, the Navy and the Mayor’s office, with the EPA and ATSDR off to the side offering advice. Each of them has a role to play, but none of them speaks for our community.” –Willie Ratcliff, San Francisco Bay View editorial, March 21, 2001

Betrayal! No one word better describes the shocked response by many to news that the San Francisco Mayor’s Office and the Department of the Navy entered into an agreement last week to accept transfer of the contaminated Parcel A segment of Hunters Point Shipyard from the Navy to the City with a provision for its fast track development — an agreement that stands in clear violation of Proposition P, a mandate expressed by 86.4 percent of the San Francisco electorate in November of 2000 and adopted unanimously as official City policy by the Board of Supervisors.

The Parcel A segment of the deactivated Hunters Point Naval Shipyard consists of approximately 88 acres that were used primarily for military housing. In 1987, the Navy began conducting studies that confirmed contamination at several Shipyard locations. These findings resulted in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placing Hunters Point Shipyard on the National Priorities List in 1989, which designated the Shipyard as a federal “Superfund” site.

In 1991, the Department of Defense listed the Shipyard for closure under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.

The BRAC Cleanup Team is charged with being the primary forum for assessing cleanup priorities and progress to protect human health and the environment.

In January 1992, the BRAC Cleanup Team, comprised of the Navy, the U.S. EPA, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, entered into a Federal Facility Agreement (FFA) to coordinate the environmental investigation and cleanup of the Shipyard. The FFA divided the Shipyard into six parcels, Parcels A through F, to more effectively manage the cleanup effort and expedite the restoration and transfer of Shipyard to the City of San Francisco.

After extensive investigation of soil, groundwater and surface water at the Shipyard, the Navy compiled considerable data for use in human health and ecological risk assessments.

The Parcel A segment of Hunters Point Shipyard — according to the June 2000 Environmental Cleanup Newsletter published by the Southwest Division of Naval Facilities Engineering Command — consists of four sites that were assessed for chemical contamination. Chemical contaminants detected in soil and groundwater include semi-volatile organic compounds, pesticides, diesel, motor oil and metals.

According to this same newsletter, in November 1995 the BRAC Cleanup Team signed a Record of Decision, stating that “no further action is required at Parcel A.” The only steps completed in the review process were a preliminary assessment, site inspection, remedial investigation, feasibility study and proposed plan. There is no documentation or indication that a cleanup action plan at Parcel A was ever implemented or completed!

In the November 2000 general election, 241,456 San Francisco voters said yes to the adoption of Proposition P.

The United States government should be held to the highest standards of accountability for its actions. San Franciscans can, under federal law, express their preference in this debate. The National Contingency Plan, the regulation that governs the cleanup of a toxic site, established community acceptance as one of its nine principal criteria. The community wants the Hunters Point Shipyard to be cleaned to a level which would enable the unrestricted use of the property — the highest standard for cleanup established by the EPA.

On March 27, 2001, District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell held a historic City Hall hearing to implement Proposition P. At that hearing, San Francisco city officials and Navy representatives fraudulently misrepresented the status of Parcel A to facilitate its transfer to the city, stating publicly that Parcel A was clean and “had never been contaminated.”

The expressed need for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Report conducted by the City and funded by the Navy prior to the transfer and development of Hunters Point Shipyard has never been more pressing and urgent. Surreptitious efforts by the Mayor’s Office to fast-track the development of both Parcels A and B have gone “full-steam forward” this year, despite the following facts:

1) The Parcel A segment of Hunters Point Shipyard is immediately adjacent to and landlocked by the Parcel E segment where, in August of 2000, a toxic landfill burned for months, emitting high levels of neuro-toxic benzene gas. The Parcel E industrial landfill, according to the Remedial Investigation Report, includes an estimated one million cubic yards of debris. The debris zone is estimated to be 15 feet thick. It is estimated that 21,000 gallons of liquid waste were disposed of in the landfill, including solvents, paint sludge, oils and greases. The Navy disposed of an estimated 26 tons of paint scrapings in the landfill. Prior to 1960, all paint contained lead, which is now known to have dangerous effects on human health, especially children.

Additionally, the remedial investigation reports the landfill to contain domestic garbage, construction debris, industrial debris, domestic refuse, asbestos, chlorine gas and radium dials.

2) In 1994, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal public agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — created by 1980 Superfund Legislation to evaluate human exposure to hazardous substances — published a public health assessment for Hunters Point Annex (the Shipyard). ATSDR identified the potential for exposure to numerous hazardous substances at that time. Methane pockets within the landfill were noted as a public health concern to be further remediated by the Navy. According to the ATSDR Health Consultation Summary, dated January 2001, the Navy continued to collect methane samples from the landfill through the Spring of 2001. Three weeks ago, an article appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, in which ATSDR official Chein Kao expressed continued grave concern over the potential for flammable methane gas emissions from the Parcel E landfill. Such emissions could be the source of fire or explosions during development efforts on the neighboring Parcel A segment.

3) The Navy has delayed the release of a document called the Historical Radiological Analysis until March of 2002. Originally scheduled for publication in November of 2001, this document provides previously undisclosed evidence as to sites of radiation hazards at Hunters Point Shipyard, from operations of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratories to the Triple A Machine Shop and the docking and decontamination of radiation-exposed ships and submarines.

It is known that Parcel A was the site of NRDL operations, and many believe the delay in release of the HRA is a deliberate attempt to facilitate the quick transfer of Parcel A to the city.

4) Arc Ecology scientist Chris Shirley chairs the Technical Review committee of the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board (RAB). She applied for a technical assistance grant to fund an independent consultant to review high levels of a neuro-toxic element called manganese, which has been detected in dangerously high concentrations throughout the Shipyard, including Parcel A.

5) Dr. Peter Palmer, a San Francisco State University chemist, conducted independent air monitoring studies outside the gates of Hunters Point Shipyard on Parcel A, where he detected two gases, benzene and toluene, in levels known to cause irritation of the respiratory tract, depression of the central nervous system, and cancer.

In his intellectually-impoverished attempts to force speedy development of Hunters Point Shipyard, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown demonstrates an inhumane disregard for the health, welfare and safety of Bayview Hunters Point residents; the voices of 241,456 San Francisco voters; and the ratification of Proposition P by the Board of Supervisors. Rumors abound that Mayor Brown harbors both a personal political agenda and a financial conflict of interest in his current move. In the prophetic words spoken by the president of a local Black political organization last fall, “The Mayor is going to develop that Shipyard before he leaves office!”

Equally ominous are the famous words spoken by an emancipated slave named Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has … it never will.” It is time for a concession. It is time for a demand!

Reach Dr. Sumchai at (415) 835-4763 or asumchai@hotmail.com.