Hunters Point demands a voice on shipyard cleanup: Reinstate the RAB now!

In 2006 and 2007, Lennar excavated 1.2 million cubic yards of earth at the Hunters Point Shipyard, making little or no effort to suppress the clouds of dust that traveled into the lungs of the tens of thousands of people who live and/or work within a mile of the shipyard, causing deadly diseases. Despite a moratorium on further condo construction on Parcel A, the only part of the shipyard approved for development, the massive excavation project pictured here is currently occurring at the perimeter of the Parcel E-2 landfill, called the most contaminated site in the United States. Reinstating the RAB would require the Navy and EPA to explain why they are allowing this dangerous project to occur.

Introduction: Several Hunters Point organizations sent a letter to BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) Director Laura Duchnak on Sept. 17, 2019, as a formal request to reestablish the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board (RAB). “The demand for reinstatement of the RAB was fortified by a petition signed and circulated by 240 Bayview Hunters Point residents, meeting Department of Defense regulations’ proof of ‘sufficient and sustained community interest,’” wrote Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai in an article titled “Power concedes nothing without a demand: Community demands reinstatement of Hunters Point Shipyard RAB.”

“‘Sufficient community interest’ is a key factor that must be assessed for reestablishing the RAB. Community interest in the Navy’s environmental restoration activities has always existed and has increased in recent years. The Navy is required to assess community interest regularly and should reestablish the RAB where that interest is ‘sufficient and sustained,’” continued Dr. Sumchai.

Department of Defense and EPA guidelines call for RABs to be formed at all closing installations where the local community expresses interest. RABs offer an opportunity for communities to improve the cleanup process by “increasing community understanding and support for cleanup efforts, improving the soundness of government decisions and ensuring cleanups are conducted safely, are protective of public health and are responsive to community needs.”

Hunters Point residents, suffering sky high rates of cancer and other diseases that can be traced to “contaminants of concern” at the Shipyard, demand a voice in cleanup decisions. Here, Dr. Sumchai is once again asserting the community’s right to environmental justice.

Administrative complaint to the Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure Director Laura Duchnak 

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD 

Dear Ms. Duchnak,

I wish to submit a formal complaint against recent decisions and actions taken by Naval Facilities Engineering Command Base Realignment and Closure-PRO West. I am specifically naming Director Kimberly Ostroski and BRAC Environmental Coordinater Derek J. Robinson. My specific complaints include the following along with supporting documentation:

1. The Navy BRAC decision not to reestablish the RAB was based on a limited survey return of 40 respondents that did not match the response of over 200 petitioners who signed and supported the community-led initiative to reestablish the RAB.

2. The BRAC survey did not include the medical clinic I operate located within one-quarter of a mile of the Hunters Point Shipyard and the major neighborhood transit hub at Third Street and Palou. The Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Medical Screening Clinic has been operating, since December of 2019, at Third Street and Revere near the shipyard’s main entry. The Hunters Point clinic was not included in any mailings or surveys regarding the RAB reinstatement.

Pins on the map show the radionuclides found by bio-monitoring testing the “body burden” of people who live and/or work in or near the shipyard. They are color-coded: yel=uranium, gre=cesium, blu=gadolinium, bla=thallium, red=rubidium, whi=strontium.

3. The BRAC survey results failed to address the fundamental issue raised by the petitioners and failed to reveal the survey response to the direct question as to how respondents felt about the reinstatement of the RAB. The issue raised by the petitioners was not how the community preferred its communications from Navy BRAC. The issue was the specific request to reinstate the RAB!

4. I strongly object to the Navy BRAC adoption of background soil standards derived from radiologically impacted regions of the federal Superfund site at HPNS (Hunters Point Naval Shipyard) and to possible fraudulent language in Navy BRAC official communications meant to imply regions of Parcel C, including 800 series Building 813 and a region where a power plant burned radiation-contaminated fuel from Operation Crossroads ships, are not radiologically impacted. I have suggested to the Navy BRAC the most logical location for deriving background levels is the Presidio.

“It’s one of the most contaminated properties in the United States,” Dr. Sumchai said.

5. I strongly object to the Navy BRAC’s failure to incorporate intelligently derived and geospatially mapped human biomonitoring findings that have detected thallium and manganese in high frequency among shipyard workers and adjacent residents into potential radionuclide of concern designations. Thallium is well documented by the HRA and Parcel A and Parcel C chemicals of concern to be detected at high frequency. Despite its short half-life of four years, it is especially dangerous, having been banned as a rodent killer out of human health and safety concerns.

6. I object to recent excavations of the radiation contaminated Parcel E shoreline that release well documented chemical contaminants and expose nearby workers and residents who have documented body burdens of these chemicals on HP Biomonitoring screenings.

7. I object to the Navy BRAC’s arrogantly stated lawful right to episodic discharges of the Parcel E-2 landfill releasing methane gas in explosive concentrations and the volatilized contents of the landfill that are now being detected in urine toxicological screenings conducted by a certified laboratory using mass spec in shipyard workers, artists and nearby residents.

8. Please respond within 30 days.

Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD

SF Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD, PD, founder and principal investigator for 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 AhimsaPorterSumchaiMD@Comcast.net. Dr. Sumchai is medical director of Golden State MD Health & Wellness, a UCSF and Stanford trained author and researcher, and a member of the UCSF Medical Alumni Association Board of Directors.

San Francisco doctor researches impact of toxic dump on Hunters Point

by Sharon Chin, KPIX

San Francisco – Persistent as a pitbull: That’s what some colleagues call this week’s Jefferson Award Winner, who is a doctor doing potentially pioneering work in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood.

Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai is testing dozens of people for exposure to 35 potentially toxic metals and radiation.

She runs the Hunters Point Bio-Monitoring Program, a first-of-its-kind, independent, community-wide program at a federal Superfund site that screens those who’ve lived at least a year in a one-mile radius of the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

“It’s one of the most contaminated properties in the United States,” Dr. Sumchai said.

She co-founded the bio-monitoring program in 2019 as a volunteer. Now, the program receives a $70,000 grant from the Lucile Packard Foundation.

Sumchai says her tests show people living in the Hunter’s point neighborhood of San Francisco have elevated levels of arsenic and other elements.

“I’ve been reviewing the effects of arsenic and it’s absolutely mind-blowing,” Dr. Sumchai said. “That’s associated with multiple tumors and we have two screenings as part of the South Basin cluster of women who have had multiple tumors.”

Dr. Sumchai has also discovered several residents with high levels of vanadium, like Nikcole Cunningham and her son Immanuel Lowery.

Their vanadium exposure could explain their nosebleeds and migraines.

“I remember going to class and I wouldn’t be able to focus, and I was like, ‘I have to go to my room. I’m sorry,’” said Lowery. “‘Cause it was like hurting my head and I couldn’t function. I couldn’t read.”

The Navy has maintained its cleanup of the toxic dumping ground has been safe, and it’s remained skeptical of any connection between neighbors’ health problems and toxic and radioactive elements in the old shipyard.

But Dr. Sumchai is determined to continue her research, especially as the area is slated for major city redevelopment projects.

Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai, who monitors toxins found in people in Bayview Hunters Point at her clinic on Third Street, says, “The community is united by this cruel irony.” Radiation is poisoning people of all colors who live or work close to the shipyard. – Photo: Kevin N. Hume, SF Examiner

She’s an inspiration to the bio-monitoring project’s co-founder Dr. Ramona Tascoe.

“She does not require others to pave the way for her,” Dr. Tascoe said. “If she sees an obstacle, she moves it out of the way, she jumps over it, she gets around it. “

Dr. Sumchai has served as an attending physician at the Persian Gulf Agent Orange toxic registry for the Palo Alto Veterans Administration.

She would like to establish a similar toxic registry for Hunters Point.

“It’s obvious to me that it’s important. It’s obvious to me that it is potentially groundbreaking,” Dr. Sumchai said.

The Stanford-trained medical doctor grew up in Hunters Point, and her father, a shipyard longshoreman, died of asbestos poisoning.

She says she’s made it her life’s work to study the health effects in the neighborhood.

So for researching the health of people living near the Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard Superfund site, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai.

Sharon Chin is a general assignment reporter who also profiles Jefferson Award winners for KPIX 5 Eyewitness News. She says she feels proud and inspired to share the stories of community heroes. She can be reached at chin@kpix.cbs.com. Contact her to nominate someone for the Jefferson Award. This story is republished with permission.