The Navy’s announcement of an estimated 163+ radioactive waste excavations, 41 neighborhood chemical removals, and a large clump of elevated radioactivity from under an occupied home raises doubts that Treasure Island can ever be completely cleaned
by Carol Harvey
Is the Navy succumbing to pressure to complete the 30-year cleanup of Treasure Island? At the Sept. 17, 2019, Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting where the Navy updates its remediation actions, Treasure Island Site 12 Project Manager Leo Larsen breezed through what felt like a frantic 12-minute summary of six enormous remediation actions the Navy completed between January and October 2019:
1) An estimated 163+ new radiation finds at Halyburton Court (See below: “1102 Halyburton Court: Ghost house where no San Franciscan ever lived after Navy families moved out in 1997”)
2) The removal of a basketball-sized clump of radiation from a Bayside Drive townhouse (See below: “The Saga of Bayside Drive”)
3) Forty-one chemical excavations from northern neighborhoods (See below: “Massive 2016 Site 12 ‘discrete digs’ resumed in 2019 ‘on the northern end of Site 12’”)
4) The removal of 4,000 cubic yards of toxins from re-opened Northpoint SWDA “Extension” (See below: “Navy reopens Northpoint toxic dump for removal of 4,000 cubic yards of newly discovered toxins”)
5) Two 1,000 gallon petroleum tank removals from Site 20 (See below: “Site 20 petroleum tank removal”)
6) Three townhouse demolitions (See Photo 14 below: “Demolition of 1217 Mariner Street Townhouse”)
1102 Halyburton Court: Ghost house where no San Franciscan ever lived after 1997 when Navy families moved out
In 1969, Barbara Browning and her Navy family moved to 1102A Halyburton Court, (Photos 3 and 4), the second oldest townhouse built on the island. Her family’s unit sat directly above Ground Zero. Halyburton Court is so saturated with radioactivity and chemical toxins that, after Navy families moved out in 1997, no one ever again moved in. Judging from the list of nine illnesses and operations Barbara reports she suffered during the 39 years from 1980 to 2019, her body may have slowly broken down from exposure to poisons at Halyburton Court.
Barbara Browning describes herself as a “Navy brat” whose family traveled to bases across the United States. She was 9 in 1969 when her father, an officer, began his job as a Treasure Island radiation school instructor.
They lived on 13th Street at 1102A Halyburton Court, the second townhouse the Navy built at the epicenter of what became Ground Zero – the most dangerous toxic spot on the island. The Navy designated Halyburton Court a Solid Waste Disposal Area (SWDA) so full of radioactive and chemical toxins that, since Navy families left in 1997, it has been sequestered behind a wire mesh fence. Until its four townhouses were finally demolished in 2016, they remained standing like unoccupied ghost homes.
Halyburton Court is surrounded by neighboring Reeves, Hutchins, Mason, Keppler, and Flounder Courts and Sturgeon Street. Halyburton Court radioactivity could affect all these nearby neighborhoods
“We moved to TI in the summer,” Barbara wrote. “I thought it was a magical place. We could freely run the island.” She enjoyed movies for 30 cents in the old theater on Avenue I and 9th Street – and bowling.
“We moved away (in) February of 1977. I was told that no one lived in our building once we left.” (This tells us that the Navy knew the home was uninhabitable 20 years before 1997, when it decommissioned the island).
“The year we moved, I was 16 and had a horrible complexion. I had been treated by the military clinic with the maximum dose of tetracycline for at least three years before we left the island.
“When we arrived in Muskogee, Oklahoma, my father’s home town, I was treated for ulcers. At that time, they thought it was due to stress from the move. Now science says that stress does not cause ulcers.”
“1980: My first surgery to remove a tumor from my breast.
“1989: My appendix burst and had to be removed.
“1995: I had all my reproductive organs removed due to two large tumors.
“2013 got real interesting. I became allergic to foods – first tree nuts, then avocado. Now I avoid rice, corn, strawberries, grapes, garlic, pineapple and milk.
“2014: They removed sores in my mouth and throat.
“2015: More surgery to remove pre-cancer in my mouth near the optic nerve.
“2016: Heel spur surgery.
“2017: My gall bladder stopped working for no reason and was removed.
“2019: This October, I am scheduled for a major surgery to remove a piece of my colon.
“(With) every one of these surgeries, the doc said to me, ‘This only happens to 1 percent of the population.’”
After reading a recent Treasure Island story in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, she emailed saying, “Now I know why and how I became the 1 percent of the population.”
The numbers and kinds of illnesses Browning lists is unique among Naval personnel and their children who write expressing frustration at the harms imposed on them without their knowledge.
Persistent radiological and chemical toxins that could have sickened Barbara Browning
During Site 12 project manager Leo Larsen’s Sept. 17, 2019, remediation update to the Treasure Island Restoration Advisory Board, he failed to mention the estimated 163+ radiation removals from Halyburton Court, referring only to PCBs, the major chemical group undergoing continual extraction from this site for years.
Documented findings of an estimated 163+ new areas of radioactive waste in the soil around Barbara’s former Halyburton Court home were concealed inside a tiny map on a Navy handout distributed at the meeting.
The Navy has a habit of concealing information from the public by various means. The following paragraphs describe some of those means.
On Page 4 of the handout, 17 minuscule red dots were marked by what could be read as the abbreviation “RAD” paired with a string of tiny letters and numbers. The number-letter combinations in these 17 strings of letters and numbers appeared to document a specific area of radiation. The final numbers in each sequence, when added together, totaled 163. The conclusion was that the Navy may have been announcing 163 new radioactive soil and objects that they had recently found inside Halyburton Court.
Both Site 12 project manager Leo Larsen’s Sept. 17, 2019, remediation powerpoint presentation and an accompanying handout updated the Treasure Island cleanup for the Restoration Advisory Board. Larsen’s address and leaflet included the tiny inset map of Halyburton Court with a line pointing to a second enlarged version of the map in the upper left-hand corner of the photo.
The blowup of the inset map (Photo 8) of Halyburton Court that appears in the upper left-hand corner of Photo 7 displays 17 lines of tiny letters and numbers all beginning with “RA,” “RAD” or “RAO.” The minuscule circular figure that follows “RA” had to be blown up to be seen by the eye of a normally-sighted reader. Even when enlarged, that circular shape could be read as the number “0 (zero),” the capital letter “O” or the capital letter “D.”
“RA” alone is used variously by the Navy as an abbreviation for:
2) Radiological Assessment or
3) Remedial Action.
The letter “D” added to “RA” spells the word “RAD,” which stands for “radiation.”
Using the three choices above, one could conclude that the “RA-RAD” figure at the beginning of each of the 17 lines of text on the map stood for one of three possibilities: the sign for “Radium” or an alternate word for “radiation” or, finally, the abbreviation for “Radiological Assessment.”
The total of the numbers at the end of each of the 17 lines makes 163. This suggests that the Navy dug a total of 163 radiological materials from Halyburton Court. When taken together with the yellow radiation sign hung at the deep chasm depicted in Navy Photo 6, this conclusion is reasonable.
During his address to the RAB, Leo Larsen failed to point to the radiation sign hung on the deep hole depicted in Photo 6. He also did not mention radiation removals from Halyburton Court. He referred only to PCBs, the major chemical group undergoing continual extraction for years from this solid waste disposal area.
When I phoned the Navy to double check this data, officials told me this map was created by Navy personnel for Navy personnel only, not for the general public. This contradicts the Navy’s habit of encouraging people to call them with questions or to visit websites where these data are published.
Further, the Navy official stated that each of these strings of letters and numbers designated a location in Halyburton Court soil where the Navy either planned to take toxin samples or actually took them. They declined to tell me whether these were radiation or chemical samples.
When I asked the official to name the particular toxin the Navy was searching for at each of the 17 locations, I was told that, to procure that information, I would have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The Navy has a habit of delaying responses to FOIA requests or refusing to answer them altogether.
The conclusion is that the Navy plans to dig a very large, but undetermined, number of radioactive or chemical materials from Halyburton Court. If these materials, in fact, are radiation samples, then, taken together with the recent radioactive soils dug from both Halyburton Court and the Northpoint Solid Waste Disposal Area, the new total of radiological objects and soils adds up to a far greater number than the 1,290 RAD objects the Navy reported in 2018 it had dug, to that date, from Treasure Island soil.
In any case, the Navy’s pattern is to throw up a series of roadblocks to a clear understanding of its remediation of Treasure Island.
On Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, a Navy website reported that “a basketball-sized amount of (radioactive) soil” was removed from beneath the sidewalk, front step and concrete pad at 1203A Bayside Drive.
The Navy handout stated that a week earlier, “on Sept. 10, upon removing concrete, surface levels above background were detected.” Residents occupied the unit during the excavation.
The presence of radiation at 1203A, a “residential unit within the former Naval Station Treasure Island Site 12 Housing Area,” could affect neighbors in 1203, as well as townhouses next door at 1201 and 1205, across the street at 1220, and at Ozbourne Court, immediately east of Bayside Drive.
Navy project manager Larsen also announced chemical excavations at addresses in the northeastern portion of Site 12, which includes Bayside and Northpoint Drives, Mariner Street, Exposition Way, and Ozbourne, Reeves and the three Gateview Courts. (See map in Photo 10.)
In 2017, after declaring the Northpoint Solid Waste Disposal Area toxin-free, the Navy took down the protective fences next to Northpoint Drive homes.
Two years later, in summer 2019, the Navy restored the fences and re-opened what they called an “extension” of the SWDA. Inside this extension, earthmovers carved out deep “potholes” around which yellow radiation signs were hung. Project manager Leo Larsen announced plans to excavate up to 4,000 cubic yards of what appeared to be radiologically and chemically-contaminated soil and debris.
The Navy’s fifth major action was to lift two leak-prone 1,000-gallon lead-filled petroleum storage tanks from an excavation near Cityview Storage, a business at Avenue B and 12th Street. Lead spreading through groundwater could affect residents on Sturgeon and Striped Bass Streets, Flounder and Halibut Courts.
Finally, according to unofficial reports of lead contamination beneath the formerly occupied 1217 Mariner St. townhouse, the Navy demolished the building.
The Navy’s startling announcements of an estimated 163+ new radiation deposits, elevated radiation under a home, two reopened radiation cleanup zones, 41 fresh chemical digs around neighborhood homes, and a lead-filled petroleum tank excavation raised doubts this month that Treasure Island can ever be completely cleaned.
Navy nonresponse to PEER Freedom of Information Act request: Treasure Island’s EPA hazard ranking score is nearly double the Superfund threshold
These announcements also came as Washington, D.C., watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) revealed on Sept. 18, 2019, that “San Francisco’s Treasure Island was not designated a Superfund site, despite earning a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hazard ranking nearly double the Superfund threshold.” The “EPA has presumed the U.S. Navy would rapidly remediate the site – an assumption proven spectacularly wrong as the Treasure Island cleanup has languished for years,” said PEER.
Treasure Island’s Superfund status seems justified by widespread deposits of both radiation and chemicals which the Navy continues to find and has failed to completely clean for 32 years, starting in 1987 when it began its preliminary assessment and site investigations, singling out areas for potential toxicity.
The San Francisco Bay View newspaper has reported Treasure Island’s EPA-designated Superfund ID number, CA71700233330, many times since January 2016.
Both the Bay View newspaper and PEER alert the public to the suspicious fact that, despite the island’s official Superfund status, Treasure Island does not appear on the National Priorities List of Superfund sites (NPL), a database where the general public can learn how to avoid buying homes on toxic land.
The recent discovery of radiation at Parcel A on Hunters Point instantly depreciated Lennar’s housing stock there and led to a lawsuit by new homebuyers. Current and future radiological finds could similarly affect property values on Treasure Island, where Lennar is set to construct condos and hotels in a massive new redevelopment project.
However, according to SF Chronicle reports upon receiving new documents through FOIA requests, Treasure Island’s hazard ranking score was 51.78, “almost double the threshold for Superfund consideration and slightly higher than the score for the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in the southeast corner of San Francisco, which was named a Superfund site in 1989.”
The potential loss of new Bay Area homes due to media reports of radiation at these two former Naval bases instantly galvanizes public attention. San Franciscans, however, are not informed that Treasure Island’s massive chemical load is as dangerous to human health as radiation. With equal force, but through different pathways, both radiation and chemicals attack and alter human DNA, the building blocks of life.
The Navy’s pretention that caps, foundations and fences permanently protect residents from radiation and chemicals defies science and common sense.
For example, Treasure Islanders have reported to the San Francisco Bay View newspaper that they developed liver cancer on the island.
A National Research Council committee found that ionizing radiation can cause liver cancer. Neutrinos are particles formed by radioactive decay that can easily pass through the earth. Gamma rays require concrete, lead or steel to be stopped. Most forms of radiation persist for thousands of years.
The polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) chemical group is also suspect for liver cancer, according to Environmental Protection Agency studies. Chemicals such as PCBs readily wash around in groundwater, where they are easily picked up and moved by human or animal feet.
For 31 years, the Navy has excavated from Treasure Island soil a massive number of toxins from the chemical group polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), among which there are about 130 different types.
The Navy’s years-long Halyburton Court Solid Waste Disposal Area (SWDA) cleanup has focused exclusively on PCBs, odorless, clear to yellow oily liquids or solids which were used as transformer, capacitor and electric motor coolants in equipment the Navy incinerated in Site 12 burn pits.
Prolonged exposure to PCBs causes skin rashes, liver damage, reproductive and other harms, all of which have been reported by island residents. PCBs were banned by Congress in 1979.
Not sexy new news
The poisoning of Treasure Island’s residents with an estimated 163+ new radiation removals from toxic sites and under homes is more than sexy new news. As recently as 2018, the Navy totaled its radiation excavations at 1,290. This process has continued over almost eight decades since 1941, when the Navy grabbed the island for a base.
During several wars, hundreds of thousands of sailors were exposed as they cycled on and off Treasure Island. Since homeless San Franciscans were imported in 1999, hundreds more civilian renters have come and gone after living for years with toxins inside their homes and in the soil, water and air all around them.
Due to media focus on radiation that could endanger potential new home construction at these former naval bases, scant public attention has been directed to the health and welfare of Naval personnel exposed for 58 years and Treasure Island San Franciscans who have been contaminated for two decades.
Navy reassurances that toxic soil disturbed during these removal actions did not endanger renters or workers urged the reader to “Move on. Nothing to see here.” Larsen echoed this mantra, claiming there was “No health risk to residents, workers or the public.”
Why am I writing this ‘worried mother’ series?
I’m writing this series for “worried mother,” who wondered why and by whom toxin signs were posted on her townhouse in July 2019; for Treasure Island mothers like her who comprise the majority of the Treasure Island population (and for smaller numbers of men); for San Franciscans who are the actual owners of the island; and for cogniscenti who understand that events on this decommissioned toxic naval base have national and global implications.
Secondly, the Bay View newspaper presents this series because the Navy has neglected to make the information readily available to residents and because every islander has the right to be fully informed about the radiation, chemicals and heavy metals present in their unit and buried beneath and around their townhouses, in common areas between homes and in nearby solid waste disposal areas.
Part two ended with a question: Was new signage announcing toxins a cruel withdrawal of former guarantees? Was the Navy reversing course and admitting the poisonous truth: Treasure Island is dangerously toxic? By the end of this series, these questions will be answered.
We name specific island sites and supply photos and maps illustrating their locations. We urge residents to check their address against data presented here and walk or drive to see for themselves what is happening at these hot spots.
The saga of Bayside Drive
Bayside Drive is one of the streets that stretches over what was once the Old Bunker Area (now Navy cleanup zone Site 12) where the Navy began dumping garbage after World War II. Incineration in a number of burn pits in the Old Bunker Area broke down the trash into poisonous chemicals. In 1965 the soil containing the burned material was graded, and the Navy constructed townhouses for sailors’ families on the land. One of these townhouses was 1203 Bayside Drive.
When the cleanup began, the Navy gave the new name, Site 12, to the former bunker area over which these homes were built. In September 2019, the Navy announced it found a “basketball-sized” radioactive mass under the front steps of 1203 Bayside Drive, Unit A.
On Feb. 12, 2014, Kathryn Lundren, then a 1201B Bayside Drive resident, learned that her Treasure Island townhouse sat directly over a former Navy burn pit, a subterranean area of incinerated trash hidden beneath the ground on the western half of the Bayside Drive loop. An island neighbor had sent her a red-lined document that this resident’s research had unearthed from the California Department of Public Health’s website indicating a buried burn pit at this location.
The burn area encompassed both Bayside Drive and Ozbourne Court, the next cluster of residences east along the shore. In early September 2019, radiation signs hung around a “discrete dig” at the intersection of Ozbourne Court and Gateview Avenue implying the presence of radioactive contamination there.
Incinerated trash extended under Bayside to a swathe of grass near townhouses 1220 and 1222, across the road from Kathryn’s 1201B address.
The first records of dumping appear in Navy documents on Jan. 1, 1946. After the Navy took Treasure Island in 1941, it established administrative offices in buildings at the “front” of the island near the Bay Bridge and Clipper Cove.
In order to move island trash “out of sight, out of mind,” the Navy caused everything, including radioactive waste, to be hauled to an area considered “remote” – the “back” of the island at the northeastern shore facing the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island. Here, they burned vast amounts of material in huge holes in the ground, apparently unaware that incinerating trash reduces it to its toxic chemical components.
In the 1960s, when the Navy decided to construct homes for sailors’ families, the maintenance division brought Seabee tractors rolling in. They shoved the charred soil around over the pits, grading and leveling the ground on which they first constructed the oldest of four housing series, the more centrally located 1100 addresses at Halyburton, Bigelow, Reeves, Ozbourne, Mason and Keppler Courts. In the ‘70s, farther out toward the shore, they erected the 1200 series – Bayside, Northpoint, Exposition Way, Mariner Street and the three Gateview Courts.
In 2013, investigative reporters informed the California Department of Public Health they had used geiger counters to locate unreported radiological objects and waste on Treasure Island. News reports of radioactivity at Treasure Island frightened and mobilized residents. Among these, one of the most assertive was Kathryn Lundgren.
In a March 4, 2014, San Francisco Bay View newspaper video interview, Kathryn was shown standing on Bayside Drive rotating in a circle indicating with her finger the perimeter of the pit where burned toxic radioactive and chemical contaminants had left behind “hot commodities” or radioactive objects possibly linked to her children’s serious illnesses.
In the years before they dug the pits, the Navy had constructed storage and ammunition bunkers along the line Kathryn traced. She noted that ammunition, like burned trash, contains dangerous radiological and chemical properties. A few months previous, Navy contractor Gilbane had located a radiological object under the sidewalk of 1201B Bayside Drive, where Kathryn and her family lived.
Chemical hazards could have been posed by dioxin, DDT, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), PCBs, benzine and more – all carcinogenic materials.
Toxic tour around Bayside Drive
The burn pit area was found to extend beneath the intersection of Bayside Drive and Gateview Avenue where a silver metal bench had been placed at the curb for kids to wait for the school bus. The Navy documented on its website a radiological object in the grassy area behind that bench.
Crossing Gateview Avenue away from the metal bench toward Bayside Drive takes us to 1201B, Kathryn’s townhouse. In 2013, Navy subcontractor Gilbane’s mobile geiger counter, or “towed array,” found toxic soil and a radioactive metal disc beneath the sidewalk that crossed Lundgren’s front yard.
Around 2013, a woman residing in an adjoining 1201 unit became pregnant and gave birth. She and her infant son often visited Kathryn at 1201B. What she learned about island toxicity prompted her to move herself and her child off the island.
The 1201 Bayside townhouse is separated by a narrow plot of grass from 1203 next door.
The farthest townhouse toward the shore is 1205 Bayside, where, at that time, island residents Cyndi and Paris Hayes resided.
Between April and July 2014, the Navy relocated the Hayes and “two dozen families” living in six townhouses under which radiological material had been found.
Around 1993, the Navy placed fences around part of the large underground burn area, naming it the Bayside Solid Waste Disposal Area, a radiological cleanup zone the Navy established down the road from both 1201 and 1203 Bayside townhouses. The SWDA was an artificial construct constituting a failed attempt to erect a barrier to signal to Bayside residents that they were protected from the radiation, which later seemed to jump the wire mesh fence.
From 2014 to 2017, 1205 Bayside sat vacant behind the SWDA’s green tarp.
For years, unoccupied townhouse 1222 squatted inside the fence kitty-corner and across the bottom of the Bayside Drive loop from similarly uninhabited 1205.
The first floor windows of 1222 Bayside have been boarded up since 2000, when Margaret Billsborough lived in the next unit, 1220E, down the street opposite townhouse 1203.
In 2014, Margaret recalled her teenage son breaking into 1222 Bayside Drive. He saw bags of cement inside. The carpet had been cleaned. It was as if they were preparing the building to be rented. But that never happened. The place stands as silent today as it did in 2000.
During a visit to her former home, Margaret mused: “So, if (the building at 1222) is contaminated, and … started being prepared to be occupied, but it hasn’t been (occupied) in 14 years, is whatever is contaminated the reason why you’re not occupying it? And, hasn’t that contamination blown or traveled to that sandbox in the back yard behind the building where kids play?” Margaret’s major concern has always been the welfare of children.
In 2017, the Navy proclaimed it had cleaned the Bayside SWDA and dismantled the fence. Tenants were allowed to move back into 1205 Bayside Drive, but 1222 remained unoccupied.
Five years ago, Kathryn Lundgren was aware that, over time, both radioactive objects and chemical contaminants, as well as assorted trash, could have been pushed there in the 1960s during grading for home construction. Or they have traveled in a radiated circle out from the burn pit toward her building, ending directly beneath her 1201B apartment, her lawn and the sidewalk where her toddlers sat and played.
Ironically, five years later, true to Kathryn’s prediction, a large toxic mass, indeed, showed up in the soil beneath the front steps of 1203 Bayside Drive, the townhouse next door.
In September 2019, remediation workers discovered a basketball-sized clump under the 1203A front steps. It is likely that groundwater flow, earth movement or post-2013 cleanup activities inside the fenced-off SWDA caused it to migrate through the earth to the 1203A Bayside Drive address.
The search for radiation on Bayside Drive is far from over. On Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, during a walking tour of the street, we discovered that the sidewalk and the steps at 1203, unit A, from which the “basketball-sized” radioactive waste had been excavated, were replaced with lighter-colored fresh cement.
New dirt covering the front yards of 1203A and 1203C indicated that cleanup workers had been anticipating the presence of radiation under more than one unit, probably the entire building. The grass in the side yard between 1201 and 1203 was sprayed with five tight orange circles, marking holes for future digs.
The 1203 townhouse remained standing but will soon be demolished.
Had the basket-ball sized mass of radioactive soil under the 1203A Bayside Drive steps affected previous residents for years? Could the elevated radiation levels have endangered a family with a newborn living at 1201, the unit next door?
Treasure Island residents are directed to the accompanying map (Photos  and ) marking Bayside Drive townhouse street numbers and unit letters where contaminants have been located. Excavations were carried out at 1203A Bayside, where elevated radiation was found, two doors away down the block at 1203C in the same townhouse. Searches for radiation and chemicals were also conducted at units 1222B and 1222F; one each at 1226G and 1226H; and in Bayside Drive common areas and lawns. Dioxins were also located at 1201, 1203 and 1220 Bayside Drive, all occupied townhouses.
The saga of Bayside Drive, which can be replicated on any Treasure Island street, court or neighborhood, demonstrates the persistence of contaminants over time: the 53 years since the Navy commandeered Treasure Island – and through space: the seemingly endless number of “hot objects” the Navy continues to pry from multiple places across island soil.
A massive number of toxins exists on Treasure Island. No one can guarantee that 2019 redevelopment grading, like that carried out by 1960 Seabee tractors, isn’t continuing to push contaminated earth around, merely repeating the same plan to build structures on top of poisons in the dirt.
Facing the hard truth
At some point the unalterable truth must be faced. People who have nowhere else to go may avert their eyes from dangerous facts. They have been living with persistent toxins – not at the end of the block behind that fenced-off area – but all around them, in their front yard, their backyard, their street, their neighbor’s yard, under the sidewalk, or, as in the case of 1203A Bayside Drive, their front steps.
Longtime residents have suspected that toxins flow through groundwater, streaming under their cars when maintenance digs ditches to repair broken pipes. They watch their doggie tracking mud through their front door and wonder if it’s poisoned.
They glance up at rows of seagulls perched on their roof and follow Canadian geese soaring their blue skies knowing that small beaks and webbed feet can transfer contaminated soil from place to place. They see feral cats, raccoons and gophers spreading dirt about on their paws, even ants piling up soil cones in sidewalk cracks.
The sad truth is that people brought to the island without being told the land was toxic ultimately live with the effects of the poisons on their own and their children’s bodies.
Don’t dig in the dirt
Treasure Islanders’ leases order them not to dig in the dirt.
A doorhanger commands, “Shovels down! Stay Above Ground! Environmental scientists with the Navy, State and Federal regulatory agencies, and TIDA” promise “it is safe to live and work in the residential area of Treasure Island.
“Nonetheless, residents are prohibited from digging within the housing area as a precautionary health and safety measure. This restriction includes digging for construction purposes, landscaping, planting and gardening, staking tents or lawn ornaments, or digging by pets or children.”
A former security guard disclosed to the Bayview newspaper that, as part of her job, she was told to knock on a family’s door and order them to deflate the jumper they had installed in their yard for their child’s birthday party. She had to tell them that the spikes they had driven to anchor their ‘bouncy house’ to the ground would “disturb the radiation.”
People are directed to report digging to their property manager or TIDA.
Do as I say, not as I do
Residents who stare unflinchingly at the inequality governing who may or may not dig in Treasure Island soil recognize that TIDA and the Navy constantly disturb Treasure Island dirt.
Observed fact contradicts claims by the Navy and the developers that they are conducting radiation and chemical digs and the current simultaneous deconstruction of Treasure Island under controlled safe conditions.
All the aforementioned chemical and radiological digs, removals and building excavations have “disturbed” the dirt and been conducted without adequate safeguards.
Piles of soil are left uncovered open to high winds or rain which wash toxic dirt down streets. Trucks with open beds cart dirt away from radioactive cleanup zones and “discrete digs” around townhouses. Earthmovers and diggers drip toxic soil onto the ground.
Families live mere feet from actively dusty radiation zones and reside in townhouses like 1203A Bayside Drive, 1126 Reeves Court or 1217 Mariner St., where the Navy – well before evicting residents and demolishing these dwellings to test for toxins under housing pads – has been aware of chemicals and radiation in the soil beneath them.
TIDA and the developers have created a massive construction zone bordered on four sides by Avenue of the Palms facing San Francisco and the Bay, Clipper Cove and the Bay Bridge on the east, Avenue H to the northwest and Ninth Street on the west. The major feature of this huge empty space is bare, uncovered dirt. Constant wind gusts lift into the dusty air fine, dry, powdery grit from the tops of bare soil piles. It is no surprise that respiratory diseases are the island’s most common ailment.
The Bayside Drive story also underscores the injustice in the command to tenants not to the dig in the dirt. This is especially apparent upon viewing the video clip below, entitled “Treasure Island mother let her kids play in this sandbox before she was told the area was toxic.”
During the video, three young people pet a puppy at the same toxic spot. This indicates that there is no enforcement of the caution not to dig in the dirt, and not one islander is being protected, including the children. It suggests that this “rule” written into leases is a contrivance creating a convenient mechanism for eviction.
Massive 2016 Site 12 southwestern neighborhood ‘discrete digs’ resumed in 2019 ‘on the northern end of Site 12’
Leo Larsen reminded the RAB that in 2016 the Navy had conducted a large number of “discrete chemical digs” and building demolitions within the southwestern neighborhoods. He informed the RAB that, in 2019, after a three-year hiatus, the Navy had resumed these 2016 digs and excavations, this time moving the action to “northern Site 12” at Ozbourne Court, Bayside and Northpoint Drives, Exposition Way, Mariner Street and the three Gateview Courts.
He stated that to date the Navy had completed 39 of 41 planned excavations in two large, longstanding solid waste disposal areas and around townhouses and open green spaces on the northern half of the island. Larsen stated that the accidental discovery of elevated radiation under the 1203A Bayside Drive front steps and pad occurred after this 2016 Navy project was continued in 2019.
Though the Navy touts its public outreach, it fails to supply most islanders with vital information. Despite this, aware residents of 1100 and 1400 series townhouses may recall in 2016 a Navy action in which earthmovers carved holes in green areas and parking lots between their Reeves, Ozbourne, Hutchins, Keppler, Mason Court and Avenue B homes.
At that time, Navy leaflets distributed to islanders announced the removal of lead, dioxin, benzo(a)pyrene and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) from parking areas and the back, front and side yards of these residences in southwestern Site 12.
Ozbourne Court tenants may remember the 2016 demolition of townhouse 1133 after the Navy found radiation beneath its foundation.
For its 2019 “discrete dig” removals, the Navy failed to provide a map of “discrete” chemical removals from specific island locations.
In 2016, residents in 1300 and 1400 series townhouses along Gateview Avenue, Avenue B and the “Fish Streets” – Sturgeon, Striped Bass, Flounder, Halibut, Croaker and Chinook Courts – were barely aware that the Navy was conducting a massive number of digs around them as well.
In summer 2016, I passed a muscled man tuning a motorcycle in the street outside 1436 Chinook Court. “Have workmen been here?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “They were removing a chemical called benzo(a)pyrine,” I said.
Glancing from the black twisted branches of the small tree in his front yard down the length of his street, he laughed, “That explains why my tree is the only dead one on the block.” I did not have the heart to tell him that benzo(a)pyrene, a polyaromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), can cause cancer and lower sperm count.
This 2016 Bay View article, “Treasure Island residents choking on toxic dust released into high winds as Navy excavations fast-track island redevelopment,” published Sept. 30, 2016, documents that, back in 2016, Navy contractors were also conducting 820 radiation, arsenic and petroleum removal actions, along with 20 site excavations and building demolitions, including the Starburst Barracks across Ninth Street from Chinook Court and Gateview Avenue homes. Residents of 1400 series homes on Gateview and Chinook breathed toxic dust blowing from the barracks demolitions and from uncovered conical piles of debris left in the soil of the former Great Lawn.
Residents have the right to obtain from the Navy and their property managers the exact name of each toxin in or around their homes. In 2016, the Navy distributed a leaflet to islanders containing a map depicting each address where the dig was to be done and the four specific chemicals and heavy metals – benzo(a)pyrine, dioxin, PCBs and lead – being removed from that site.
Islanders should be informed that lead damages the nervous system and lowers IQ, especially in children, and that dioxins, the by-products of burning and industrial waste, cause cancer and endometriosis.
Massive 2016 ‘discrete digs’ in southwestern neighborhoods resumed in 2019 on the northern end of Site 12
During Larsen’s updated RAB presentation of the 2019 excavations and demolitions, the Site 12 project manager announced “discrete (chemical) digs” in the northeastern portion of Site 12 along Bayside and Northpoint Drives, Mariner Street, and Ozbourne and Reeves Courts. (See Photos 7 and 38.)
Unlike 2016, in 2019 Larsen disclosed only the contaminants for which the Navy was searching, neglecting to report what they actually found.
Additionally, instead of a printout of a map depicting each address clearly and the specific chemical dug from that location as the Navy did in 2016, Larsen cited only categories and classes of chemicals, and generalized “contaminants of concern,” into chemical groups – PCBs, PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons), pesticides and dioxins, and the heavy metals lead and chromium.
Unlike the 2016 disclosures, the Navy did not identify the toxin excavated at each address. Excluding such information deprives tenants of their right to learn the specific names of contaminants around and under their building.
Treasure Island residents are directed to the accompanying map (Photos 7 and 38). Red dots scattered on this map throughout the Site 12 northern neighborhoods appear to represent locations from which the Navy has dug chemical contaminants. Some of the red dots are connected by slanted lines to specific identifying addresses on Bayside Drive, Northpoint Drive, Mariner Street and Gateview Court. Some of the dots, however, are not pinned to addresses, but appear to represent locations within open spaces between townhouses.
Bayside Drive: Excavations were carried out at 1203A Bayside, where elevated radiation was also found, two doors away down the block at unit 1203C in the same townhouse. Searches for radiation and chemicals were also conducted at units 1222B and 1222F; one each at townhouse 1226G and 1226H; and in Bayside Drive common areas and lawns. Dioxins were also located at 1201, 1203 and 1220 Bayside Drive, all occupied townhouses.
Northpoint Drive and Gateview Court: Excavations were carried out on Northpoint Drive at 1225A, 1227F, 1232F, 1236A and 1239B and on lawns and in common areas behind Gateview Court.
Mariner Street excavations were completed at units 1202E, 1212F, 1217B, 1217D, 1217E and 1219A. Though the Navy demolished townhouse 1217, toxins were dug from the ground below where units 1217B, D and E were formerly located.
The map’s street names are too faint to identify two additional contamination removal sites at units 1212A and 1230A.
Radioactive Northpoint Solid Waste Disposal Area ‘Extension’
Between July 22 and Aug. 3, 2019, the Navy restored green-tarped fencing around parts of the dumpsite it had formerly named the Northpoint Solid Waste Disposal Area. The stated purpose of reactivating this large cleanup zone was to remove “up to 4,000 cubic yards” of newly isolated toxic “soil and debris.” In the process, workers fenced off a hat-shaped area inside the SWDA close to Northpoint Drive homes that they called an “extension.”
Inside this “extension,” the Navy scooped deep “potholes” from the soil using earthmovers. Finally, Navy teams surrounded these potholes with orange snow fences and hung radiation signs on them.
In the two years since 2017, the Navy has discovered fresh caches of radiation along Northpoint Drive. It has recently restored protective fences dismantled two years ago from around “the northernmost point” of the Northpoint Solid Waste Disposal Area.
At that time, the area behind the fences was reseeded and opened to the public. For two years, people have been allowed once again to stroll the entire circumference of the island’s perimeter path. They did so, however, without realizing they were walking near radiation and chemicals they were not told about.
The Navy calls this reopened former radioactive exclusion zone an “extension” of the previous Northpoint Drive excavation.
Perimeter Road runs along the top of the hat. The Northpoint Drive neighborhood sits at the “bottom” opening of the hat. The large black square shape at the bottom of the hat is the location of a gate in the fence where the cleanup worker is standing in Photo 41.
In the area closest to this gate and Northpoint Drive homes, the Navy used earthmovers to scoop out a cluster of deep potholes surrounded by orange snow fences. The potholes immediately filled with groundwater. Yellow radiation signs hanging on the fences marked the presence of radioactive soil and water. These fenced-off areas full of radioactive groundwater sit within feet of occupied townhouses 1236, 1237 and 1238 Northpoint Drive.
Some of the multiple fences surrounding sections of this large radioactive area closely abut Northpoint Drive homes.
Larsen announced that the Navy had to date dug 1,500 cubic yards of soil and debris out of an anticipated 4,000. He said this wreckage was composed of timbers, welding rods, metal, ceramics, plastic and glass. Large earthmovers with shovels hunch over the debris during workdays inflicting racket from construction equipment on Northpoint residents.
Though Larsen neglected to mention that the soil and debris is radioactive, photos in the Navy’s handout show triangular yellow radiation signs hung on ropes around six to eight square holes, shining with deep radiation-contaminated groundwater. These fissures were dug within feet of a parking area full of cars and occupied townhouses, among them 1238F Northpoint Drive.
The handout confirms “chemical and radiological confirmation sampling” and states that excavated material will be trucked to Site 32, where it will be “radiologically scanned.”
Once again, Treasure Islanders, mostly of color, are subjected to environmental racism as they are forced to live within feet of radiation and chemicals next to the constant racket pouring out of the Northpoint Solid Waste Disposal Area.
Site 20 petroleum tank removal
In 2016, the Navy located lead beneath a meadow near the corner of 12th Street and Avenue D.
Three years later, Larsen announced in the recent Sept. 17, 2019, RAB meeting that on Sept. 18, 2019, the Navy distributed work notices, stating that the removal of two 1,000-gallon lead-filled petroleum storage tanks containing an estimated 30 gallons each will commence on Sept. 23, 2019.
This tank removal happened on a lot east of Site 20, near Cityview Storage, a business located in old Navy Building 225, at Avenue B and 12th Street.
The Navy’s attempts to remove lead could spread it into groundwater and intrude into cracks in broken water pipes along Avenue B, Sturgeon and Striped Bass Streets, Flounder and Halibut Courts. As we see from lead in Flint, Michigan, water, this heavy metal causes brain damage in especially vulnerable children.
Heartbreaking, but typical
I want to end this article with a resident’s description of the circumstances under which they came to the island. I find this account heartbreaking, but typical of the experience of many islanders.
“Dangerous people forced me and my child out of our home. For several years we couch surfed, lived in my car until money ran out, got trapped in the shelter system, did one-night SRO rentals, lost everything out of the homeless storage locker at 150 Otis.
“In 2006, people started searching for housing for us and found Treasure Island. I could finally breathe, start over, house my child, normalize our lives, work on our health, get medical care, find furniture, silverware and settle in.
“In 2007, we moved here. Right away, my kid and I developed bad health problems. Between 2006, the year before we moved in, and 2014, when the Navy corrected a bad 2006 report they wrote about poisons on the island, I started talking with my neighbors and learned they had the same symptoms and problems. I started seeing patterns. Now, I’m scared of what will happen to us, because we are sicker, and if we leave the island, we have nowhere else to go.”
Treasure Island residents owe it to themselves and their children to request of their property manager the Prop 65 list of toxins which are potentially present in and around their homes. Folks are also urged to attend RAB meetings to hear directly from Navy personnel the names of contaminants that were dug from the dirt around them and which still await excavation from the soil. The Prop 65 list of toxins will be discussed in Part Four.
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.