UCSF-UCB scientists’ shipyard review violates state open government and meeting laws

Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai welcomes community members and medical students and professionals to the Open House at the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program’s new offices at 5021 Third St., San Francisco, on Dec. 18, 2019. – Photo: Ramona Tascoe MD

Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program detects radionuclides and chemicals of concern documented to be present at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 10 residents living within one mile of the federal Superfund site

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai MD

The following letter was sent to the team of UCSF-USB scientists reviewing retesting procedures for Hunters Point Shipyard Parcels A and G, via Ms. Laura Kurtzman, the designated contact person:

Dear Ms. Kurtzman,

I have reviewed the summary of the Jan. 17, 2020, letter directed to Mayor London Breed, signed by John R. Balmes MD, with the conclusion on page 4, “The committee supports the CDPH conclusion that no radiological health and safety hazards to the residents of Parcel A-1 were observed.” Dr. Balmes documents on page 3, “Activities Completed,” that he spoke with myself and Dr. Ramona Tascoe and was provided materials from me reviewed by the committee.

I wish to formally document that the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program was funded in October 2019 as a pilot medical screening program to conduct urinary toxic screenings of residents living within a one mile radius of the federal Superfund site at the Hunters Point Shipyard for a minimal duration of one year. The pilot was launched as a volunteer effort in January of 2019. 

To date we have screened 15 residents fulfilling these criteria. Ten laboratory results have been completed by Genova Diagnostics using the Comprehensive Urine Elements Profile test that detects 35 potential toxic elements including many major metals and radionuclides documented to be present at the federal Superfund site.

HP Biomonitoring has detected the following radionuclides and chemicals of concern in elevated to toxic levels:

  • Vanadium – six residents
  • Gadolinium – three residents
  • Thallium – three residents
  • Gallium – one resident
  • Potassium (including K-40) – one resident
  • Lithium – one resident
  • Manganese – all residents tested 
  • Zinc – one resident
  • Aluminum – one resident
  • Selenium – one resident
  • Nickel – one resident

Dr. Balmes served in 2007 as a paid consultant to the shipyard’s Master Developer Lennar in issuing a statement that community exposures to dust from the grading of the Parcel A hilltop would be safe for up to seven years of exposure. That document is attached. 

Dr. Balmes is in receipt of the pilot findings of the HP Biomonitoring Medical Screening that has, to date, detected, in 100 percent of residents screened, radionuclides and chemicals of concern in toxic concentrations. Many of those chemicals are specifically documented to be present at Parcel A1, including Vanadium, which has been detected in elevated to toxic concentrations in a family of four living southwest of the shipyard.

Additionally, Dr. Balmes, Dr. Aragon, Laura Duchnak and Derek Robinson have been directly alerted to the findings of the HP Biomonitoring Screening Program. Dr. Highley responded to an email directed to Health Commission President Edward Chow regarding toxic levels of the radionuclide Gadolinium that have now been detected in three unrelated residents.

The Department of the Navy, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine place themselves at extreme legal culpability in issuing a statement supporting residential development on a designated federal Superfund site.

In March of 2019, Tomas Aragon MD signed a letter to Mayor London Breed documenting a review of Bay Area regional cancer data that documents a 31 percent increase in lung cancer seen in men living in the 94124 zip code. There is no evidence of a 31 percent increase in smoking incidence in the 94124 zip code. Indeed, smoking cessation programs have successfully reduced smoking habits nationally and have severely curtailed smoking habits in the Bay Area.

The United States Navy at the federal Superfund site at the Hunters Point Shipyard has violated the fundamental protective mandate of the Federal Superfund Law, or CERCLA Act, in failing to complete the remediation process for Parcel A-1 and Parcel A-2 under the nine step process defined by CERCLA. Parcel A was transferred to the City and County of San Francisco as a No Further Action Record of Decision after a limited Site Investigation as documented by the Parcel A ROD and Finding of Suitability to Transfer.

The Department of the Navy, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine place themselves at extreme legal culpability in issuing a statement supporting residential development on a designated federal Superfund site with a pre-clean EPA assigned Hazard Ranking Score of 80 overall and 100 for ground water migration.

As a UCSF alumnus and member of the Medical Alumni Association Board of Directors, as a former physician specialist with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, as the 1997 attending physician for the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Toxic Environmental Registry and as the surviving offspring of a shipyard worker whose contributing cause of death was pulmonary asbestosis, I reject the findings of this report and its politically motivated conclusions that endanger the health and safety of the entire community living adjacent to the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

Advisory boards are required to conduct open meetings: Complaint filed with California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General

A complaint has been filed with Attorney General Xavier Becerra charging the UCSF-UCB scientists with potential violations of California’s Ralph M. Brown Act and, specifically, the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act requiring any advisory board or committee to conduct open meetings.

The regents of the University of California head a public trust created under the state Constitution. California’s Ralph M. Brown Act, enacted in 1988, was established under the principle that “public agencies exist for the purpose of conducting public business, and the public has the right to know how its collaborative decisions are made.” 

California’s Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act requires any advisory board or committee to conduct open meetings.

The UCSF-UCB scientists who conducted the shipyard soil review did so in secret deliberations. Indeed, John Balmes MD disclosed the scientists and UC Chancellor Sam Hawgood were directed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed not to include the input of community scientists – including myself – and legal representatives from the Golden Gate Law School Environmental Justice Clinic. 

The UCSF-UCB scientific review is a four-page document that includes no scientific formulas or data as grounds for the scientists’ conclusions that support residential development on a federal Superfund site.

A complaint has been filed with the California Attorney General’s Office supporting complaints filed with the City and County of San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

SF Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai MD, medical director of the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program, founding chair of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board’s Radiological Subcommittee and contributor to the 2005 Draft Historical Radiological Assessment, can be reached at asumchai@gmail.com. Dr. Sumchai is also president and medical director of Golden State MD Health & Wellness, an author and a UCSF and Stanford trained researcher.