Is the Shipyard safe? Dr. Sumchai writes EPA opposing transfer of more Hunters Point Shipyard land to San Francisco and Lennar, as NBC questions radiation testing

This report by Vicky Nguyen, Liz Wagner and Felipe Escamilla of NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit aired May 12, 2015. Read the transcript here.

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D.

To: Lily Lee, Cleanup Project Manager, Superfund Division, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9, 75 Hawthorne St., San Francisco, California 94105

Re: Public Comment – Proposed Transfer of Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Parcels D2, UC1 and UC2

Dear Ms. Lee,

Ahimsa-Sumchai-M.D.-011808-by-Steve-Maller-web, Is the Shipyard safe? Dr. Sumchai writes EPA opposing transfer of more Hunters Point Shipyard land to San Francisco and Lennar, as NBC questions radiation testing, Local News & Views
Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D.

I wish to submit the following comments regarding human health and safety concerns stemming from the proposed transfer of HPNS (Hunters Point Naval Shipyard) Parcels D2, UC1, UC2 and associated buildings 813, 819, 823 and IR 50 storm drains and sanitary sewer lines.

In August 2001, I founded the Radiological Subcommittee of the HPNS Restoration Advisory Board and submitted comments to the HRA (Historical Radiological Assessment) iterations beginning in 2002 until publication of the Draft Final HRA in 2004. Additionally, I served as the attending physician for the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital Persian Gulf, Agent Orange, Ionizing Radiation Registry in 1997 and as the health and environmental science editor of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper beginning in 2000.

The Radiological Subcommittee of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board played an instrumental role in advocating for Navy, public and regulatory response to radiation impacted structures on former Parcel A, slated for transfer to the City and County of San Francisco in 2004, including laboratories of the NRDL (National Radiological Defense Laboratory) and radiation contaminated storm drains and sanitary sewer lines designated IR 50.

My principle concerns center on the presence of lead based paint (LBP) and asbestos containing material (ACM) in buildings on these parcels that may ultimately be used for residential development. The U.S. Navy states in Section 3.6 of the UC1 FOST (Finding of Suitability to Transfer), “In the event Buildings 819 and 823 will be reused as residential property, the Transferee will be required to renovate them consistent with regulatory requirements for abatement of LBP hazards.”

Hunters-Point-Shipyard-from-Griffith-Navy-2011-by-Crystal-Carter-300x195, Is the Shipyard safe? Dr. Sumchai writes EPA opposing transfer of more Hunters Point Shipyard land to San Francisco and Lennar, as NBC questions radiation testing, Local News & Views
Research by Dr. Sumchai and by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit finds that several building on parcels proposed to be transferred from the Navy to the City and then to Lennar for development have not been cleaned of radiation and other toxins that would threaten the health of anyone who may work or live on the Hunters Point Shipyard. This photo was taken in 2011. – Photo: Crystal Carter

Additionally, I am concerned about potential radiation contamination from storm drains and sewer lines emanating from Building 813 on Parcel D2 that did not undergo excavation and disposal by the Navy as documented in the Parcel D2 FOST dated Aug. 9, 2010.

The Naval Radiological Defense Laboratories were located along Crisp Avenue and included Buildings 816 and 821 on Parcel A and Building 322 on Parcel D. The HRA documents that scientists of the NRDL poured effluents of radioactive waste down laboratory drains of the main laboratories located along Crisp Avenue, communicating with the sanitary and storm sewer system, constructed in the 1940s to drain via conveyance piping and 40 separate discharge outfalls into San Francisco Bay.

The Parcel D2 FOST documents sewer lines were not excavated on the north side of Building 813. The Department of Toxic Substances Control memo dated Oct. 28, 2009, clearly states, “This memo does not issue radiological-free release of the subsurface sewer and utility lines emanating from Building 813.”

Parcel D2 was created in March 2004 when the Navy revised the southeastern boundary of Parcel A to exclude structures identified by the HRA as being radiologically impacted, including Buildings 813 and Buildings 819. Thus, adjacency issues are evident that challenge the U.S. Navy covenant warranting “all remedial action necessary has been taken” and its decision not to utilize covers or institutional controls at Parcel D2 (7.0 Covenants Parcel UC1 FOST).

Hunters-Point-Shipyard-Building-813-300x204, Is the Shipyard safe? Dr. Sumchai writes EPA opposing transfer of more Hunters Point Shipyard land to San Francisco and Lennar, as NBC questions radiation testing, Local News & Views
Hunters Point Shipyard Building 813 is a large, 262-by-262-foot, four-story reinforced concrete, flat-roofed building.

My major concern about the proposed transfer centers on the U.S. Navy’s admission in the UC1 FOST Section 3.1 CERCLA, “No soil samples have been collected at the property for chemical analysis, except for samples collected for radiological removals.” Samples were not collected for other chemical constituents because “no known sources of chemical contamination are present” and soil conditions at the property can be represented by Hunters Point ambient levels (HPALS).

This conclusion is stated in stark contrast to the U.S. Navy’s admission that “demolition of non-residential buildings and structures constructed prior to 1978 creates the possibility of lead being found in soil.” Buildings 819 and 823 on UC1 were not surveyed for LBP, as they were not residential structures; however, “they are assumed to contain LBP based on the date of construction.”

The Navy’s statement in Section 3.6 that it is “not aware of any LBP that has been released into the environment and poses a threat to human health on the property” is not true and should be deleted from the Parcel UC1 FOST, given this parcel was created by redefining the southeast boundary of Parcel A. The U.S. Navy should correct this statement to reflect the findings of the Parcel A FOST dated Oct. 14, 2004, Section 3.0 Regulatory Coordination:

“In November 1996 SFDPH (San Francisco Department of Public Health) sent a letter stating the Navy did not adequately address SFDPH’s concerns about lead based paint in soil. Soil at former residential structures on Parcel A were sampled during a 1993 LBP survey (TetraTech 1993a). Elevated concentrations of lead were detected in soil samples collected from former housing unit R-105.

Hunters-Point-Shipyard-Building-819-300x183, Is the Shipyard safe? Dr. Sumchai writes EPA opposing transfer of more Hunters Point Shipyard land to San Francisco and Lennar, as NBC questions radiation testing, Local News & Views
Hunters Point Shipyard Building 819 is a sewage lift station containing dry and wet wells, both approximately 20 feet deep.

“It was resampled in 1997 and when the supplemental sampling was complete, the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) Cleanup Team reviewed all data on lead for Parcel A (1993-1997) with respect to the 221 mg/kg health based cleanup standard set by DTSC’s (California Department of Toxic Substances Control) blood level computer model (DTSC 1994). The average concentration of lead in soils across Parcel A derived from the 1993 and 1997 sampling events was 215 mg/kg (EPA 1998).

“The transferee acknowledges that the transferor assumes no liability for costs of any kind or for damages for personal injury, illness, disability or death to the transferee, or to any other person, including members of the general public, arising from or incident to the purchase, transportation, removal, handling, use, disposition, or activity causing or leading to contact of any kind whatsover with ACM in the improvements including, but not limited to, the buildings, structures, facilities, and utilities on the property.”

Obvious concerns are raised by the known presence of asbestos containing material in Buildings 819 and 823. Remediation of ACM by the Navy is not required on buildings, structures, facilities scheduled for demolition by the transferee. Transfer documents prohibit occupation of buildings until ACM is abated or the building demolished and the transferee is responsible for ACM.

Hunters-Point-Shipyard-aerial-photo-1945-300x249, Is the Shipyard safe? Dr. Sumchai writes EPA opposing transfer of more Hunters Point Shipyard land to San Francisco and Lennar, as NBC questions radiation testing, Local News & Views
In 1945, when this aerial photo was taken, the Hunters Point Shipyard was the nation’s center for radiological research. Some 20,000 people worked there, the majority Black people recruited from Texas and Louisiana and living in barracks on Hunters Point Hill that rises to the right, just out of view in this photo.

Finally, it should be brought to public awareness that significant adjacency issues are evident from Parcel B benzene vapor intrusion. “2010 soil gas samples collected from portions of southeast Parcel B indicated concentrations that could pose an unacceptable risk to potential future residential receptors via vapor intrusion (Sealaska 2010).” Section 6.0 identifies that “risk to human health may exist from potential intrusion of VOC (volatile organic compounds) vapors into structures built at the property in certain areas as designated in Figure 5.”

CERCLA institutional controls will be implemented to prevent exposure to chemicals of concern in soil and groundwater on the property. It should be restated the Navy conducted no soil sampling on Parcel D2 for chemicals other than radiological contaminants despite the potential for lead and asbestos from demolished buildings being present on the base and known elevations in average lead samples approaching remediation standards.

In conclusion, I do not support the proposed transfer of Parcels UC-1, UC-2 and D2 to the City and County of San Francisco and ask that CCSF not accept the covenant (Section 7.0) by the United States, made pursuant to the provisions of CERCLA and as set forth in DoD (Department of Defense) Instructions 4165.72 that “all remedial action necessary to protect human health and the environment with respect to any hazardous substance remaining on the property has been taken before the date of transfer.”

cc: Mara Rosales, chairperson, Commission on Community Investment and Infrastructure; Tiffany Bohee, executive director, Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure; Willie Ratcliff, publisher, SF Bay View newspaper; Veronica Hunnicutt, chairperson, Hunters Point Shipyard Citizens Advisory Committee Executive Committee; Mayor Edwin Lee; San Francisco Board of Supervisors; Elizabeth Wagner, NBC News.

Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., founded and chaired the Radiological Subcommittee of the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board in August 2001 and was an elected member of the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board from November 2000 to June 2005. She can be reached at 415-859-5471. This letter was transmitted on April 30, 2015.

To learn more

Dr. Sumchai recommends that for an excellent, comprehensive account of the cleanup and redevelopment of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, you read “Hunters Point Shipyard: A Shifting Landscape,” a report of the Civil Grand Jury of the City and County of San Francisco 2010-2011.