They ‘knew full well of the radiation.’
by Carol Harvey
This article was first published online on Feb. 27, 2020, before the four-part press conference video from which it was taken had been edited and completed. The reporter requested that the Bay View republish this story complete with four links to the press conference video so the public could view and verify the original news source. Links to the four-part video have been provided at appropriate places in the text. Please view these videos. Andre Patterson, Felita Sample and Arlando Arnold are compelling and dynamic speakers who make it abundantly clear why their stories should be told.
[TO SEE PART 1 OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE, PLEASE VIEW THE VIDEO CLIP ABOVE]
The U.S. Navy dumped radiation and chemicals on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay beginning in 1941 at the start of World War II when it took the 404 acres for a military base. Of the thousands of sailors and citizens who were brought there, there is no evidence or documentation that even a single person was told that Treasure Island is toxic.
On Jan. 17, 2020, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Treasure Island residents, workers and visitors, past and present, contesting this “failure to report” by all responsible parties.
The following week, on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, Treasure Island residents held a press conference announcing the suit at 400 McAllister St., San Francisco Superior Court.
Lead plaintiffs Andre Patterson, Felita Sample and Arlando Arnold, former Treasure Island residents, with attorney Stanley Goff presented to public and press the issues addressed in the suit.
Press in attendance were Laura Waxmann, San Francisco Examiner; Channel 7 TV News; Michael Cabanatuan, San Francisco Chronicle reporter; Jessica Christian, San Francisco Chronicle photographer; Carol Harvey, San Francisco Bay View newspaper; and Steve Zeltzer, WorkWeek Radio and Labor Video Project.
The radiation poisoning of Treasure Island residents
“Everybody who put us out there should be in jail for murder and attempted murder,” stated Patterson. “Everyone on Treasure Island right now is radioactive. Everybody!”
“Do you think they can build anything – condos – on that island?” asked Steve Zeltzer. “That island should be sunk,” Andre answered. “It should be brought down to the bottom of the ocean because it is – he pronounced the word syllable by syllable – CON-TAM-I-NATED!
“I’m angry about that because I would never have moved to Treasure Island if they had told me there was radiation (there). I didn’t know what was happening to me until I got these tumors (one) on my shoulder and one on my side.”
“My mom came out there in 2004,” said Andre. “She stayed eight days … went home, lost her kidney.” She passed away “on June the first last year (2019), and her other kidney in the autopsy was badly damaged.”
Andre turned to Arlando Arnold, number 14 out of 47 named plaintiffs. “Your mom passed away. She went out there, too.”
“My mom passed away on the 27th of August (2019),” said Arnold. “She was having a lot of complications with her kidneys and her lungs. She couldn’t even speak.”
[TO HEAR A NAMED PLAINTIFF’S CASE IN HIS OWN WORDS, PLEASE VIEW THE VIDEO CLIP ABOVE]
Though Andre and Felita moved off the island in 2017, they continue to be ill. Felita attributes her symptoms to toxin exposure.
“A radiation rash” on her foot is purple, always itching. It goes away and comes back. Other islanders describe a similar rash.
She reports an enlarged heart and “super-high blood pressure.”
“I have real bad stomach pains. I stopped eating and drinking for days out there.”
She is constantly nauseated to the point of fainting. Once, Andre caught her when she began falling into oncoming traffic.
“There was a crowd of people. Everybody was scared. If Andre hadn’t grabbed me, I wouldn’t be here today fainting from the radiation on Treasure Island.”
How the Navy and John Stewart property management company subjected island tenants to contamination in uninhabitable housing
Andre explained that Treasure Island landlords, The John Stewart Co. and the subsidy providers, are in violation of California landlord-tenant disclosure law No. 7 regarding a closed military base. The landlord is required to tell the tenant if their unit is located within one mile of a former base like Treasure Island where bunkers for wartime munitions or fuel storage were kept.
During the war years, the Navy disposed of what Andre termed “masses of things,” including radioactive objects, into incinerator pits, “then built apartments on top.” During EPA-enforced remediation, the Navy named the housing area cleanup zone Site 12.
Andre emphasized, “When you swallow and ingest those particles, it makes you radioactive.” In fact, he is not wrong.
He spoke of the half-life of Radium-226, the radioisotope the Navy claims is the most common on Treasure Island. A half-life is the time it takes for one half of the atoms of a radiological material to disintegrate.
Based on the radiation type, a half-life can last a nanosecond (one billionth of a second) or a billion years. Radium-226 – one of the highly radioactive isotopes of radium – has a half-life of 1,600 years. Each additional half-life takes another 1,600 years – an infinite process.
The Navy contends that concrete pads under the townhouses would “seal the radiation down,” said Andre.
However, though Radium-226 cannot penetrate a piece of paper or human skin, if a tenant, worker or visitor kicks up radiation-laden dust while walking or breathes radioactive soil blowing about in Treasure Island’s high winds, the pathway becomes the lungs. Radium-226 can enter the body, replacing calcium in bone. From there, it can pose a carcinogenic threat for rest of that person’s life.
“They will never get it out of the ground,” prophesied Andre. “The Navy admitted that, between 2006 and March 2018, it dug approximately 1,280 radioactive materials from Treasure Island soil. The number has risen in the two years since, a discovery rate that raises suspicions there is much more radiation to be found.
Felita reported that once, when they demolished buildings on ultra-hazardous Bigelow Court, “Everybody on the island coughed for two weeks straight all day and all night non-stop!”
She believes children got sick attending the contaminated elementary school sitting a few feet across the fence from Bigelow Court.
“My daughter, when she went to the first grade, was in the Treasure Island Elementary School (2005-2006). She missed (the first) two weeks because she had gotten really sick. She stopped eating and drinking, and she was real hot and had a high fever for two weeks.
“When I took her back to school … the teacher said that … all grades, from kindergarten to the fifth grade, didn’t come to school. The whole school was emptied out for those two weeks.
“(The San Francisco Unified School District) knew about the problem, but they didn’t say nothing about it. They just said the kids were all sick. I believe it was one of the reasons why they closed it down.”
Environmental classism and racism
Two schools currently operate on Treasure Island for “at-risk” children and youth, mostly of color. Andre cynically pointed out, “You know, the ones that the judge and probation officer sentence them to”: Job Corps and the Life Learning Academy, a SFUSD charter school.
“They tried to put that charter school out there with all the asbestos (and radiation)! They want to put the people out there as … punishment,” exclaimed Andre indignantly.
“Also, FOTEP (Female Offender Treatment and Employment Program). The California Department of Corrections, they got women coming from the pen out there. They got sick, and some of them died, lost their breasts; have ovary problems.
“In the meantime, they’re getting radiation-poisoned.”
Andre felt that HealthRIGHT 360 should be named in this lawsuit because this organization takes mentally ill people – again mostly of color – into social and medical service housing. “This is a bad spot to drop people that had no idea they were being radiation-poisoned.”
John Stewart property management and subsidizing organizations rent to people with disabilities who “don’t know the symptoms.”
‘We got a corrupt system here in San Francisco. All of them are part of a corrupt mafia team’
[TO SEE PART 2 OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE, PLEASE VIEW THE VIDEO CLIP ABOVE]
A passerby, inspired by Andre and Felita, broke in and summed up a pervasive feeling about “the Brown machine.” Former mayor “Willie Brown’s still running San Francisco. London Breed is just a figurehead for Willie Brown.
“Brown removed (Black people) to Treasure Island to get rid of everybody.”
In fact, in 1999, the Brown administration began moving homeless San Franciscans – mostly of color – to Treasure Island.
“They knew it was toxic,” said the onlooker. “Just like Nancy Pelosi on 900 (sic) acres in the Hunters Point Shipyard. We got a corrupt system here in San Francisco, from Nancy Pelosi, Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, London Breed, all of them.”
“Ed Lee,” added Andre. “All of them are part of a corrupt mafia team.”
The passerby emphasized: “Everybody is focused on every race but the Black race in the City and County of San Francisco. Nobody’s bringing that stuff out. I commend you guys to stand strong!”
“We are,” said Andre.
“This is a complicit coverup,” said Andre.
“One of the biggest culprits, the Navy, violated our federal right to know.
“A major player that started the whole thing is the United States Postal Service, because they made a zip code on a Superfund site. You never put a zip code on a Superfund Site.
“That’s what you call boneheaded politics, right there, because no one was ever supposed to live on Treasure Island. Without a zip code, we could never have been out here on this island.”
The zip code created a community. Then, organizations delivering services could gain a foothold.
Observed Andre, “In order for people to be living on Treasure Island, it took a lot of actors.”
“The SF PUC (San Francisco Public Utilities Commission) delivered our utilities on a contaminated site. The Hetch Hetchy water district delivers water on a contaminated site.
“The YMCA – they provide services on a contaminated site. We have the Fire Departments out there. They provide services on a contaminated site.”
Reporters asked, “Do Pelosi, Feinstein and Mayor Breed know what’s going on?” The major players, all part of the coverup and all defendants in the lawsuit, “knew full well of the radiation,” said Andre.
Felita and Andre reported they contacted Jane Kim to create legislation for relocation money – “$20,000 apiece, like they did in Chinatown.”
Felita recalled that on the same day as a May 16, 2018, Treasure Island press conference at the Federal Building, 450 Golden Gate Ave., the Examiner reported that Breed promised she would “hold people accountable for Treasure Island.”
Instead, the San Francisco Unified School District erected a dormitory on the grounds of the Life Learning Academy on the toxic Island. An Examiner photo captured Breed addressing students there.
[TO SEE PART 3 OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE, PLEASE VIEW THE VIDEO CLIP ABOVE]
Andre and Felita both believe that they were “thrown off the island” after reporting radiation to press. The Navy and TIDA have eliminated not only tenants, but workers who whistle-blew about radiation on Treasure Island.
Andre reported that Jim Sullivan, the Navy’s environmental coordinator, put pressure on Don Wadsworth, CEO of New World Environmental, the company hired to do the cleanup, to dismiss radioactive waste cleanup specialist Robert McLean after he began informing islanders about dangerously high readings he measured holding a geiger counter out his car window.
“When they found out that I had received exposure, they said they no longer required my services,” said McLean. The ostensible reason for McLean’s dismissal was that he hadn’t worn a protective suit. However, when Andre contacted the California Department of Industrial Relations, they said workers are not required to wear protective suits.
These suppositions are supported by Center for Investigative Reporting journalist Matt Smith and Wolf Richter for the Business Insider, who both revealed that Sullivan and Treasure Island project manager Dave Clark actively attempted to block the truth about the radiation from the California Department of Public Health.
According to Andre, after Jim Sullivan “expired,” Wadsworth “had a change of heart” and was now free to disclose to NBC investigative reporter Vicki Nguyen levels of radiation on Treasure Island a million times over the EPA limit for human habitation.
Andre implied that Don Wadsworth was now free to confess to Vicki Nguyen that his company, New World Environmental, found highly toxic radiation on Treasure Island and to state openly he believed no one should live there.
Reports of Sullivan’s death may be greatly exaggerated. An internet search finds no obituary for Sullivan, and Tahirih Linz, the Navy’s current environmental coordinator, concealed the truth, saying the question was “inappropriate.”
Whatever the actual trigger, Wadsworth made remarkably honest disclosures to Vicky Nyugen about Treasure Island’s true toxicity. Keith Forman, the environmental coordinator who followed Jim Sullivan, denied Wadsworth’s soaring rad measurements at 1101 Bigelow Court which explained Felita’s symptoms, living as she did only 50 feet from the spot.
“Sometimes it takes having someone to die that’s covering up,” said Andre.
To the question, “Did you go to agencies and talk to politicians about these problems?” Andre answered that he and Felita reported contamination dangers on Treasure Island to as many officials, agencies and politicians as they could.
At the federal level, “We contacted the FBI. They blew us off!”
“We contacted Kamala Harris, our senator. Our congressional representative, Nancy Pelosi, gave us the big blow-off!”
When Andre informed the state Department of Labor that “the kids are getting sick out there” at Job Corps, “they told me why don’t I mind my own business.”
The couple wrote state officials, complaining to the Department of Industrial Relations about Robert McLean’s firing. Said Andre, leafing through papers while addressing Chronicle reporter Michael Cabanatuan, “I have a letter from Cal OSHA,” the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, that monitors workplaces to prevent accidents, injuries and illnesses.
Finally, Felita and Andre contacted City authorities. “Pelosi, Feinstein and Mayor Breed – are you saying they’re all aware of what’s going on?” asked Zeltzer.
“Oh, they’re aware,” answered Andre. “When London Breed was president of the Board of Supervisors, they lobbied Jane Kim to introduce legislation for relocation money – $200,000 apiece – like they did in Chinatown.”
“All the Board of Supervisors said they would be ‘down’ if she brought the legislation. So we sent letters to everybody.
“When London Breed was running for mayor, we talked to her AGAIN about the radiation.” After she was in office, “We gave the information to her email about the radiation, and we told her, ‘You need to evacuate these people off the island.’”
“And,” recalled Felita, “Dennis Yee from the Health Department came out there. It’s rusted balconies and everything.”
Andre added, “Hand railings broke off; porches rotted through. Everybody’s unit got black mold.” In fact, the old Navy townhouse walls are filled with Stachybotrys, a poisonous black mold implicated in lung disease, panic attacks and brain damage.
Andre named what he considers the worst perpetrator. “It’s been covered up by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. Everyone does not believe this, but the Archdiocese are evil here in San Francisco.”
Catholic Charities, the organization that rented to Andre and Felita, “got the (rent) money from (our) being radiation-poisoned, and as soon as he (Andre referring to himself in the third person) said anything about it, they threw my unlawful detainer (eviction papers) on the ground,” he angrily exclaimed.
“I got illegally evicted,” echoed Felita. “They threw my ass on the ground, too.”
“Then, you come to court. Judge (Ronald) Quidachay (Superior Court) Courtroom 501; he’s part of it, too. We told him all about the radiation, and he’s still throwing people off that island.”
“We should get the money together and recall (Breed), Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris … and Gavin Newsom. He shouldn’t even be called the governor.”
For Andre, the Catholic Church is worst. “We sent letters and emails to the Pope. He blew us off like a hurricane.”
“I noticed – three years ago – him talking about greenhouse effects here. He said, ‘Shame on America!’”
“Shame on the bishop!” cried Andre. “Shame on the archbishop! And shame on the Pope!”
Racist, classist press
“We invited more media out here – Channel 2, Channel 4, 5, 7, 11,” said Andre. “We sent emails and a press release. They said they were coming. They didn’t come.”
“They report gang members shooting each other. But, as far as them printing anything that’s the truth ….
“This is a public interest story. Everybody should be interested because everyone on Treasure Island is radioactive. EVERYBODY! When you swallow and ingest those particles, it makes you radioactive.”
“It’s a shame people don’t care about people getting radiation-poisoned.”
Andre’s summation of the entire situation, shared by many San Franciscans, was that these human and civil rights abuses were committed and are not being properly recognized or redressed because “the City of San Francisco is prejudiced towards Black people.” The San Francisco Bay View newspaper wholeheartedly agrees.
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.