by Carol Harvey
Kathryn Lundgren, Treasure Island resident, points at a radioactive hot spot under her front sidewalk where Navy-hired subcontractors unearthed a “hot commodity,” or radioactive object, buried in the soil. She suspects that her three teens’ multiple illnesses were caused by contact with this “hot object” when, as kids, they played on the front lawn.
Before beginning construction on Treasure Island’s massive high rise project, the Navy is committed to “restoration.” It must test the soil to locate “hot” or “radioactive spots” and what it terms “hot commodities.” “Hot commodities” are radioactive objects the Navy left behind during World War II that rendered the surrounding soil radioactive and dangerous to life.
In October-November 2013, technicians from Gilbane, a real estate development and construction company subcontracted by the Navy, used a “towed array” device to detect a radioactive “hot spot” outside Erik and Kathryn Lundgren’s Bayside Drive home. A “towed array” is a radioactivity “detection device,” a geiger counter, pulled behind a small tractor bearing a GPS locator. On the video clip, technicians are pictured sitting on this tractor entering data into a computer.
Also on the clip, Treasure Island Naval Station Remedial Project Manager Danielle Janda explains to a group of residents present at the Feb. 12, 2014, Restoration Advisory Board meeting that this towed array location device and computer allowed the team to create “data points” to relocate specific hot spots precisely.
On Jan. 29, 2014, Gilbane technicians arrived with hand-held geiger counters revisiting the sidewalk outside Kathryn Lundgren’s home. These technicians had not informed Kathryn in advance of their arrival. She happened upon them while they were performing testing.
As Kathryn videoed the extraction process, they located the earlier-identified hot spot discovered in the October-November towed array visitations and removed a small metal radioactive disc buried beneath concrete.
During their October-November 2013 towing process, technicians had located buried in a “hot spot” – an area perhaps a foot and a half below the surface in the radioactive dirt under the sidewalk passing by Kathryn’s front yard – this oxidized, rusty, quarter-sized-coin-shaped metal disc, a “hot commodity.” Kathryn speculated that the object could have been a dial like the kind commonly used on World War II Navy ships which were painted with radium-emitting radioactive material that made them glow in the dark.
Such iridescent dials have been found at the Hunters Point Shipyard Superfund site where ships returned from the Bikini atoll blasts and the atom bomb, “Little Boy,” was shipped out. During Treasure Island’s 1939 World’s Fair, “glowing” buttons were passed out to visitors. Kathryn’s two young daughters collected “buttons” they found lying around in toxic Island soil and kept them in a “treasure chest” in their bedroom.
Standing in her presence, the Gilbane technicians showed Kathryn that, when they held the Ludlum geiger counter near the disc, the needle swung all the way to the right – indicating a dangerously high reading.
The technicians noted that a piece of glass may have been fixed to the disc and would also have carried radioactivity – in this case, Gamma radiation.
During the digging and testing, Kathryn asked the men how the high radiation levels their equipment was measuring reached so far into the surrounding soil. Kathryn reported the technicians’ speculation that, over time, the glass could have cracked off the disc, and ground motion spread it through the earth. The second possibility they posited was a kind of “shedding action” by which, as the object moved, radioactive rust or oxidation chipped off into the dirt.
Navy mishandles testing and extraction
Possible mishandling of the extraction process, the “hot spot,” and the “hot object” are all worrisome to Kathryn, whose children played in her yard directly over this toxic site. As teenagers, they traverse that same sidewalk daily. Currently, these young adults are experiencing mysterious, severe, possibly deadly health effects which could be linked to their protracted exposure to radiation as infants, toddlers, pre-teens and now teens.
In a photograph taken by Lea Suzuki and published with the Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, Chronicle article, “Is Treasure Island toxic?” Kathryn stands on the sidewalk, her foot on a canister. This canister is not the actual object the technicians found there. She is highlighting the canister to indicate the observably sloppy process of placing a dangerous radioactive object on the ground on plastic sheeting where children – or adults – could find it, pick it up and risk receiving radiation burns or an increasingly deadly low-level bio-accumulation of radioactivity within their bodies.
At the Feb. 12, 2014 Restoration Advisory Board [RAB] meeting, Treasure Island renter, Kathryn Lundgren, confronts Navy environmental coordinator, Keith Forman, saying the Navy’s sloppy testing simply stirs more radiation out of the soil and stresses her and her neighbors. She also requests radiation testing under and inside their homes.
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.