Who will stop the Navy?

toxic, Who will stop the Navy?, Archives 1976-2008 Local News & Views

by Willie Ratcliff

Who will stop the “dirty transfer” of Parcel A of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard to the City? It’s on Parcel A that the notorious developer Lennar – the same Lennar that built a whole subdivision in Florida on its own dump – can’t wait to build hundreds of new homes.

Who will demand that the Navy do its duty and really clean the Hunters Point Shipyard of what the Examiner in its May 16 cover story called “a witch’s brew of industrial solvents, heavy metals, petroleum products and radioactive waste” before it is transferred or developed? While the Navy – and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the lead regulatory agency for the Shipyard – makes the unbelievable claim that Parcel A is “suitable for transfer,” the Examiner interviewed neighborhood children who regularly walk through the many gaping holes in the Shipyard fence for a Superfund site adventure. The Navy, commented Michael Stoll in his story for the Examiner headlined “Poisoned playground, “lets the fences deteriorate – tacitly allowing children unfettered access to the area.”

Many government agencies – federal, state and city – have a regulatory role at the Shipyard and therefore the power to stop the Navy from transferring the Shipyard or any part of it until all of it is completely clean.

Many elected officials, too, could stop the Navy. They too have a duty to protect our health and welfare because we are their constituents, and we can call them to account because we elect them.

Lisa Davis reported in “Massing Gas” in the Jan. 2 SF Weekly, “State and local officials fear that methane gas produced in a landfill on the former Hunters Point Shipyard may travel into nearby neighborhoods, and have asked the U.S. Navy to test the site immediately to determine whether remedial action is needed.”

“The scenario at Hunters Point is eerily reminiscent of the situation near the former Hamilton Air Force Base in Novato,” Davis notes, “where construction of new homes was halted earlier this year after methane gas was found to have seeped from an old dump on the base. Army officials have proposed digging a trench around the exterior of the Hamilton dump to stop the gas and other toxic chemicals from traveling outside it.

“There is no gas ventilation or collection system in place at the Hunters Point landfill.”

In November 2000, more than 240,000 San Franciscans – 87 percent of the electorate – stood up and demanded that the Hunters Point Shipyard be thoroughly cleaned to the highest standards before it is transferred or developed. They insisted that the 46-acre landfill, one of the most toxic sites in the nation, be removed – not transformed from an unofficial to an official playground.

They made that demand by voting for Proposition P, which the Board of Supervisors has since made official City policy. Nevertheless, the Memorandum of Agreement signed by the Secretary of the Navy and the Mayor of San Francisco in January to transfer dirty Parcel A from the Navy to the City is still scheduled to come before the Supervisors soon for ratification.

Who will stop the Navy from transferring Parcel A? We will. The same 87 percent of San Franciscans who voted for Proposition P will now enforce it.

Parcel A is not clean. It and the rest of the Shipyard severely threaten the health and the very lives of nearby residents, 90 percent of whom are people of color. We will fight for environmental justice and we will win, just as we won Prop P.

We will call or write our Mayor, our Board of Supervisors, our state Assemblymembers and Senators, our Congressional delegation and our regulatory agencies and tell them, “Parcel A is not suitable for transfer!” Many of their phone numbers are listed in this column.

The following letter, written by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., contains plenty of good information to pass along to our politicians and regulators. It is addressed to Deborah Jordan, Chief, Federal Facilities Cleanup Branch, Superfund Division, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region IX, and to Christine Todd Whitman, Chief, Federal Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Sumchai, an elected member of the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board, chairs the RAB’s Radiological Subcommittee.

Parcel A Finding of Suitability to Transfer

In previous correspondence I have documented my concerns about the adequacy of investigation, remediation and factual disclosure of hazards to human health, safety and the environment on Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco.

The public comment period for the Parcel A FOST (Finding of Suitability for Transfer) has been extended to May 28, 2002. I have submitted to Mr. Keith Forman, BRAC Environmental Coordinator for the Hunters Point Shipyard, formal response to a series of issues that have arisen in my scrutiny of the Parcel A Record of Decision dated Nov. 16, 1995, the Finding of Suitability to Transfer for Parcel A, Revision 2, the Draft Historical Radiological Assessment Volume II dated March 29, 2002, and numerous documents I have reviewed in my capacity as an elected member of the Hunters Point Shipyard RAB and Chair of its Radiological Subcommittee.

In careful review of these real hazards to public health, safety and the environment, I have requested that representatives of agencies and organizations involved in the Hunters Point Shipyard environmental cleanup program refrain from signing off on the Parcel A FOST until such time as these issues have been given competent redress. The principle matters of concern are as follows:

1. On Parcel A and in its geographic proximity are at least two buildings not cited in the Parcel A Record of Decision or in the Radiation section of the revised FOST that are documented sites of radiological operations and radioisotope contamination by the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratories.

Building 815 qualifies under the Navy’s Phase V Radiological Investigations categorization as a Class I impacted area. That is, an area with the highest potential for radiological contamination by virtue of the fact that it was the historical site of 1) remediation actions 2) leakage or spills 3) isotope storage 4) use of material with high specific activity and solid contaminants.

Building 815 was surveyed by the Navy’s Radiological Affairs Office in 1978 after an independent survey by LFE Environmental Analysis Laboratories, Inc., earlier that year identified several locations where contaminant levels exceeded recommended final clearance standards. According to the Historical Radiological Assessment, in April 1979 RASO performed additional surveying, and areas that exceeded the revised cleanup levels were decontaminated. Results of the 1979 confirmation survey met established BuMed and AEC guidelines for unrestricted occupancy at that time.

Building 815 has not received a formal clearance letter from the California Department of Health Services, and according to information granted to me at the May 8, 2002, meeting of the RAB Radiological Subcommittee by Cmdr. Vincent DeInnocentis of RASO, in 1997 more stringent nuclide specific standards were published in the Federal Register which could significantly change clearance standards for both Buildings 815 and 816 on Parcel A.

Building 821 on Parcel A was not inspected or investigated in the Parcel A ROD and has not been investigated under Phases I through V of the Navy’s radiological investigations. Building 821 is not cited in the Radiation section of the Parcel A FOST. It is described in the HRA as being a “two story concrete building used by the NRDL as an X-ray facility. Machines producing ionizing radiation were used to conduct irradiation experiments.”

The Navy confirms that the building is not a FUDS (formerly used defense site) and had not been leased to private tenants; therefore the Navy is fully responsible for the investigation and remediation of this building. The BRAC team argues that because the building housed machines producing ionizing radiation, no risk of radioisotope spillage exists.

This argument is weakened by the fact that Building 816 on Parcel A housed NRDL’s high voltage Van de Graff accelerator, a 2 million electron volt generator used to accelerate electrons and positive ions. This “machine producing ionizing radiation” was found in a 1969 NRDL radiation survey of Building 816 to be contaminated with tritium even though general monitoring of work areas in 1955 had shown no readings above maximum permissible exposure areas.

Building 821 on Parcel A must be investigated under the Navy’s 2002 NWT Phase V Radiological Investigation and a formal clearance letter from the California Department of Health Services releasing it for unrestricted use must accompany the Parcel A FOST before it can be signed off by the EPA as the lead regulatory agency.

Building 816 on Parcel A was cleared in 1993, and the 1997 nuclide specific standards must be applied to its release by current clearance standards.

2. Michael J. Gough reported in an email message dated April 12, 2002, that in March the Navy began an investigation to collect more information about the Parcel E landfill. The preliminary data indicates that flammable, explosive methane gas, commonly generated by landfills, was detected in the area of the railroad tracks at Crisp Avenue within 100 feet of Parcel A and at the site of a proposed UCSF construction project where demolition and deconstruction might conceivably ignite methane gas present at ground level.

Methane gas is volatile, migrates, and serves to convey other volatile compounds, like benzene, toluene and organochlorines that are cancer causing, and neurotoxic and respiratory irritants.

In 1994 the ATSDR published a public health assessment for Hunters Point Annex and identified the potential for exposure to hazardous substances. Methane pockets within the landfill were noted as a public health concern to be further addressed by the Navy.

It is the legal duty of the EPA to refrain from expediting the release of Parcel A with the expressed intent of facilitating its “speedy transfer and development” as is stipulated in the Memorandum of Agreement, given the knowledge that toxic, explosive, migratory methane gas has been detected within 100 feet of the Parcel A boundary.

3. I have directed to Michael Rochette, RAB representative from the Regional Water Quality Control Board my concern about the need for a groundwater remediation action to redress documented elevations in arsenic and petroleum products in the Parcel A ROD and FOST. No Human Health Risk Assessment for exposure to groundwater was performed on Parcel A by the Navy, although the ROD clearly identifies that contaminated groundwater was collected from “open boreholes and trenches” and six monitoring wells on Parcel A. Groundwater collected was also analyzed and found to contain SVOCS, TPH as motor oil and metals.

I have asked the Navy to precisely map the location of these groundwater sampling sites as a precautionary measure to prevent their access to children and domestic or wild animals inhabiting Parcel A prior to closure of the Parcel A FOST public comment period. Let me summarize my addiitonal concerns.

The Parcel A Record of Decision dated Nov. 16, 1995, identifies on Page 15 that arsenic was detected in groundwater samples at levels above its PRG – preliminary remediation goal. The arsenic PRG was 0.038 mic/liter in 1995. The arsenic maximum detected concentration at IR59 was 3.8 mic/liter in 1995. As you well know, arsenic standards are now much more stringent. The ROD argues that the arsenic-contaminated groundwater would not be used for drinking. The Navy admits, however, that it obtained its groundwater samples by sampling open boreholes and trenches as well as six monitoring wells.

The ROD and FOST identify that petroleum products in groundwater are the only substances of concern on Parcel A. The ROD acknowledges, however, that petroleum products were specifically excluded from the definition of “hazardous substance” in section 101 of CERCLA and are, therefore, outside the scope of the ROD.

Radionuclides have been detected in groundwater at the Hunters Point Shipyard including a site of gross alpha activity of 60pCi/L at IR01 MW07A at the border of Parcel E with Parcel A. Additional sites of radionuclides in groundwater are mapped on Figure A-2 in the HRA titled potentially contaminated media and background sampling locations. They include: Gross alpha activity in groundwater of 94pCi/L at IR02MW101A2 Radium 226 and Radium 228 activity in groundwater of 6.4pCi/L at IR03 MW218A2 and IR03MW21843. The HRA states on page 8-19 of the section titled Groundwater Pathway that “Radionuclides have been detected in monitoring wells in Parcel E at concentrations that slightly exceed the EPA MCLs for drinking water.” As discussed in Section 3.3.3., groundwater at the Hunters Point Shipyard generally flows “radially outward toward the Bay.” I believe there is solid foundation for asking the Navy to conduct a groundwater remediation action at IR59 on Parcel A prior to approval of the FOST for transfer of the Parcel to the City and County of San Francisco.

4. The EPA has established hazard indices (HI) to evaluate the risks associated with non-carcinogens. An HI of less that 1 is generally considered protective of human health. To account for all potential risks the Parcel A residential HI was calculated for exposure of children to soil. Using the EPA toxicity value for manganese based on food ingestion, the HI was estimated to exceed 1 on Parcel A according to the Parcel A ROD. An HI greater than 1 is a predictor of noncarcinogenic adverse health effects for the neurotoxic element manganese.

5. The Environmental Justice Guidelines adopted this year by the California Air Resources Board expressly stipulate the duty of environmental regulatory agencies to incorporate cumulative risk analysis in policy and decision making surrounding low income minority communities. At an April 5, 2002, meeting between San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Michael Cohen and Bayview Hunters Point residents, business owners, health professionals and activists opposed to the Parcel A transfer, attorney Ross Mirkarimi commented on the environmental justice issues evident in the proposed conveyance of a shipyard parcel adjacent to a low income minority community with the documented presence of toxic contaminants.

The EPA must recognize the cumulative impact of radiation, methane gas, arsenic, petroleum products and radionuclides in groundwater, manganese in soil samples, lead and asbestos in buildings and the inhumane and unethical affront they pose to the health, safety and human rights of long term and future residents of this ethnically diverse community.

6. The United States Navy has engaged in documented, verifiable criminal fraud in the recent publication of a document distributed at an April 18, 2002, public meeting and to members of the Hunters Point Shipyard RAB at the April 25, 2002, monthly meeting. This document states, “Conclusions of Parcel A FOST Revision 2 … Environmental investigations and recent surveys found no contamination. Parcel A is suitable for transfer to the city.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is charged with the legal responsibility to protect the health and environment of American citizens. To abdicate this duty to facilitate the financial gain and development interests of those who prey on the oppressed sectors of our society constitutes an act of gross negligence that will be met with legal challenge and community indignation.

Contact Dr. Sumchai at (415) 835-4763 or asumchai@ecovote.org.

Stop the transfer!
Tell these officials, “Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard is not suitable for transfer. The Shipyard must be cleaned up to Prop P standards before any part of it is transferred or developed.”
Willie L. Brown Jr., (415) 554-6141
Board of Supervisors
District 1: Jake McGoldrick, (415) 554-7410, Jake_McGoldrick@ci.sf.ca.usDistrict 2: Gavin Newsom, (415) 554-5942, Gavin_Newsom@ci.sf.ca.usDistrict 3: Aaron Peskin, (415) 554-7450, Aaron_Peskin@ci.sf.ca.usDistrict 4: Leland Yee, (415) 554-7752, Leland_Yee@ci.sf.ca.usDistrict 5: Matt Gonzalez, (415) 554-7630, Matt_Gonzalez@ci.sf.ca.usDistrict 6: Chris Daly, (415) 554-7970, Chris_Daly@ci.sf.ca.usDistrict 7: Tony Hall, (415) 554-6516, Tony_Hall@ci.sf.ca.usDistrict 8: Mark Leno, (415) 554-7734, Mark_Leno@ci.sf.ca.usDistrict 9: Tom Ammiano, Board President, (415) 554-5144, Tom_Ammiano@ci.sf.ca.usDistrict 10: Sophie Maxwell, (415) 554-7670, Sophie_Maxwell@ci.sf.ca.usDistrict 11: Gerardo Sandoval, (415) 554-6975, Gerardo_Sandoval@ci.sf.ca.us
Gray Davis, (415) 703-2218
State Legislators
Sen. John L. Burton, (415) 557-1300Assemblywoman Carole Migden, (415) 557-3000Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, (415) 557-2312
Congressional Delegation
Sen. Barbara Boxer, (415) 403-0100Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (415) 393-0707Rep. Nancy Pelosi, (415) 556-4862
U.S. Navy
Keith Forman, (619) 532-0913 or (415) 515-6216, formanks@efdsw.navfac.navy.mil
Deborah Jordan, (415) 972-3133, jordan.deborah@epa.gov