by Carol Harvey
Introduction: In June 2023, Treasure Island is well on its way to being completely rebuilt. New highrises are sprouting skyward lining freshly-configured streets. No one, however, seems to be paying attention to the danger from radiation, chemicals and heavy metals that the Navy has been unable to remove from the soil. Not only do these toxins harm people, but they can surface quickly in an earthquake and, as the oceans rise much faster than projected, swallow Treasure Island and wash into San Francisco Bay.
The Navy held Treasure Island as a base from 1941 to 1997. For those 56 years, the Navy left toxins in the soil across the entire island. These poisons included radiation, weapons grade chemicals like Sarin gas, and the heavy metals lead, arsenic and mercury. Navy personnel worked in the less toxic area at the right side of the map. The Navy hauled its garbage out to the remote end of the island facing the Golden Gate Bridge and burned it in the green area on the left.
Between 1965 and 1985, the Navy constructed on top of this radioactive-chemical garbage dump townhouses for the thousands of sailors and their families cycling through the island during three wars. Many became ill and died from exposure to poisons under and around their homes.
In 1997, after the Navy decommissioned the island, the City of San Francisco sent homeless, low income and people of color to live in the old Navy housing. They too became – and are becoming – ill with heart attacks, strokes, seizures, tumors, skin sores, rashes, cancer, hair loss and more.
Trelease Miller and her daughters, Taylor and Brianna, were one of these families. For 16 years, between 2007 and 2022, they were exposed to multiple toxins in two separate neighborhoods, living feet from three of the Navy’s most heavily contaminated cleanup zones.
Navy officials like those pictured here said they would clean the toxins. They isolated five areas of highest concentration in the soil under the houses and called them Solid Waste Disposal Areas, a fancy name for toxic dump. They surrounded these five toxic dumps with green tarp-covered wire mesh fences and assured residents they would be safe if they stayed outside these fence lines though they constantly moved them around.
Two toxic dumps, which the Navy named Northpoint and Bayside after island streets, lined the shore across from Oakland and Berkeley. A third, the Westside Solid Waste Disposal Area, extended along the shore facing downtown San Francisco. By fall 2022, the Navy removed the last of the fences suggesting these toxic dumps were clean. The remaining two of the five, Halyburton and Bigelow Solid Waste Disposal Areas, remain two blocks inland, still enclosed in a green-tarped fence with the radiation signs removed.
A bright turquoise line with a black line running through it connects the shoreline Bayside cleanup zone with the Halyburton-Bigelow cleanup zone two blocks inland. This turquoise line inside the red circle shows a path along which toxins were washed from the shore toward the island’s interior. As a result, the two blocks along Bayside Drive between the two solid waste disposal areas was littered with radioactive objects and soils found under and around peoples’ homes. Residual radiation remains.
Trelease’s family lived inland on the right side of the two-block area circled in dark blue. They were exposed to all 10 radioactive objects and soils the Navy found inside the circle. Most of the radioactive material was radium-226 which has a half-life of 1,600 years.
The box in the upper right lists the 10 places along the red line where the Navy found radiation. The first was in the Bayside Solid Waste Disposal Area at the shore.
Second, under townhouse 1205, from which the Navy relocated Cyndi and Paris Hayes, one of 24 families moved out in 2013 because of radiation.
Third, from under the front step of townhouse 1203A, the Navy dug a basketball-sized clump of radioactive soil in 2019. The arrow in the Navy’s photo shows lighter cement where they replaced the 1203A step and sidewalk.
Fourth, in the area circled in black, the Navy dumped radioactive trash in a burn pit beneath Bayside Drive.
Fifth, under the townhouse 1201B sidewalk and lawn. In 2013, men in hazmat suits working for Navy contractor Gilbane dug out a radioactive object where kids sat and played and later got sick.
In 2020, the Chronicle reported that Kathryn Towne and her family lived at 1201B Bayside Drive from 2005 to 2016. Her family, including her children, suffered from rashes, hair loss, tumors, thyroid and heart problems that she attributed to radiation exposure.
In front of the sixth location, townhouse 1220, in 2014, this former resident showed me her swollen, painful legs that look like the enlarged extremities of a person undergoing radiation therapy.
Number seven was a radioactive object the Navy found across Gateview Avenue under the grass behind a metal bench where kids caught the school bus.
Radioactive area number eight was the entire 1126 Reeves Court sidewalk. The red line continues through the grass between townhouses 1128 and 1126 Reeves Court, turns right onto the 1126 Reeves Court sidewalk, and runs in front of the former location of townhouse 1126 Reeves Court.
In 2017, the Navy demolished 1126 Reeves Court because of toxicity.
In 2014, while 1126 Reeves Court still filled this space, nine-year-old Brianna Miller lived there in Unit F. One day she ran down the sidewalk next to a line of flags bearing the radiation symbol. The red line follows the path of the flags to a sand lot where kids, including Brianna, played on radioactive area number nine, a blue play structure that has not been removed as of 2023. The kids said that afterwards they felt sick, and Brianna reported that her hair fell out in clumps.
From the sandlot, the red line runs inland to radiation source number 10, Halyburton-Bigelow Solid Waste Disposal Area. That toxic dump sits 50 feet from the demolished 1126 Reeves Court townhouse where Trelease and her daughter Brianna lived in Unit F until 2017.
While living at 1126F Reeves Court, Trelease had a stroke.
In 2017, she moved across the island to Townhouse 1237A Northpoint Drive next to the Northpoint Solid Waste Disposal Area. There, after 16 years of exposure to highly toxic radiation, weapons grade chemicals, and heavy metals from three toxic dumps in two Treasure Island neighborhoods, Trelease suffered a massive heart attack and bypass surgery.
This photo depicts her holding roses on her 50th birthday, Nov. 5, 2022. A week later, Nov. 14, she died. The question remains: What is responsible for taking this young, vibrant life so early? Who is responsible for this death?
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.