Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!


The Navy says Treasure island is polluted with dangerous ‘forever chemicals’ that could be nearly impossible to clean up, which thwarts the Treasure Island Development Authority’s plans to bestow on the City of San Francisco a toxic swathe of land larger than Golden Gate Park.

by Carol Harvey

To my neighbors:

I’m writing this article for you. You are a neighbor I care about who lives on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Or you are a colleague, friend and neighbor who lives in Hunters Point. Or you are my neighbor living somewhere else in the City of San Francisco and, like me, you are affected by everything that happens here.

I am not only your neighbor. I am an investigator who has covered Treasure Island since 2014.

Carol-Harvey-Investigative-Reporter-by-Carol-Harvey-1-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
I’m an investigator working on Treasure Island since 2014. – Photo: Carol Harvey

I’m here to tell you that no matter where you live in this city, for decades you have had the wool pulled over your eyes about Treasure Island. Many of you don’t know that the island was built in the Bay out of landfill in 1936 by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Golden Gate International Exposition, a world’s fair to celebrate the construction of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. You may be dimly aware that the Navy took it for the war effort in 1941, gave it back in 1997, and today it is a neighborhood of San Francisco with Zip Code 94130.

You may have read that the people who run Treasure Island are redeveloping it. San Francisco mainstream media has publicized the island as a new and improved marvel. Actually, Marvel Comics should create a green Treasure Island Superhero for Us Poor. This 404-acre piece of radioactive landfill is being converted into a community for the rich. Now, I ask you: Has this ever been done before in the City and County of San Francisco? (Tongue planted firmly in cheek.)

These same people do not want you to know what I have been trying to expose for years. An effective news blockade has been engineered by powers whose lowest priority is allowing public awareness of Treasure Island’s excessive toxicity and whose highest priority is selling the high-priced apartments, condos and homes in this redeveloped place.

Some of you have heard extravagant claims about the new Treasure Island which, at this point, are painfully transparent to me. I look at this situation with a deep dish dollop of cynicism. In the face of massive corruption where people are whitewashing, greenwashing, masking the truth and lying their heads off, I laugh a lot and make jokes to keep my sanity. So, I will (not really) pay you two cents if you read this article all the way to the end where the most important stuff waits for you to show up. I feel this information goes to the heart of this City where we live.

A short history of Treasure Island’s toxicity

During Treasure Island’s 46 years as a naval base, Navy operations contaminated the soil and groundwater with radiation, chemicals and heavy metals. From 1965 to 1985, the Navy built a community of townhouses for sailors and their families over its own toxic garbage dump. By EPA mandate after naval bases were decommissioned in the ‘80s, all these toxins must be cleaned up. The Navy complied and named the community where people still live remediation zone Site 12. Site 12, the first area of elevated toxicity, constitutes a third of the island and faces the Golden Gate Bridge.

Navy-Firefighting-School-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
For nearly 50 years, from 1944 to 1992, sailors were trained to put out ship fires in this Treasure Island meadow across from the Navy’s firefighting school, Austin Hall. Burning deposited toxic dioxin and the “forever chemical” PFAS in the soil. According to EPA remediation mandates, in the 1990s, the Navy turned this field into a cleanup zone, and called it Site 6. – Photo: Navy

A second area of elevated toxicity is Site 6. Site 6 is a much smaller area of land abutting Site 12. Site 6 is a meadow near the wastewater treatment plant across from the Navy’s old firefighting school, Austin Hall. For nearly 50 years, from 1944 to 1992, sailors were trained to set and extinguish fires in this field. Following EPA remediation mandates in the 1990s, the Navy turned the area into a cleanup zone and called it Site 6. One of the most toxic chemicals on earth, dioxin, a byproduct of burning, was deposited in Site 6 soil.

In addition, the Navy recently disclosed that Site 6 is contaminated with Per- and Polyfluoralkyl Substances, PFAS for short. PFAS are chemical ingredients in Teflon coating in pans and in Aerosolized Firefighting Foam (AFFF) used to put out fires. This foam was used by students in the Navy’s firefighting schools to extinguish fires. Both Dioxin from burning and PFAS from AFFF take a long time to break down. PFAS are a combination of chemicals created to resist the breakdown process. PFAS are called “Forever Chemicals” because they persist in the environment and the human body. The Navy admits that the complexity of PFAS will make them so difficult to clean up that they have not yet been able to devise a remediation plan to get rid of them.

PFAS are found not only on Treasure Island but in global waterways and, hence, the bloodstreams of people all over the world. PFAS weaken the human immune system, cause tumors, liver damage, fertility problems, thyroid disease and cancer.

Add to this, the Navy also recently disclosed that besides its presence at Site 6, other areas across Treasure Island are polluted with dangerously toxic PFAS.

The Navy’s recent exposure of the presence of PFAS in Treasure Island soil has effectively blocked the Treasure Island Development Authority’s bright idea to gift the City and County of San Francisco with a swathe of toxic land which includes both Site 12 and Site 6, takes up a third of the island’s 404 acres and is larger than Golden Gate Park.

Mad dash to Treasure Island

You know how jolting it can be when you make one set of plans and then they abruptly change. On Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023, a friend who lives on Treasure Island texted me that in a short two hours she was picking me up from my home in the Marina and driving me out to the island for a 6:30 p.m. meeting of the semi-annual on-island Treasure Island Development Authority Board.

For years, I have successfully avoided the monthly TIDA Board meetings in Room 400 at City Hall where for hours it chews over the mind-numbing minutia of island operations. Every six months, however, the TIDA Board entourage lowers itself to the level of Us People and shows up on the island. Because islanders come in droves, these are meetings are worth attending.

The sole mission of the Treasure Island Development Authority Board, which serves at the pleasure of the mayor. is – as the name indicates – a money-making proposition. Its job is to develop and redevelop the island and sell high-priced condos, not to listen to islanders’ concerns. For this reason, and through some legislative atrocity fashioned in Sacramento, the “directors” are not required to respond to island business owners or residents who get up from their chairs in the cheap seats and line up at the mic for public comment. Islanders either confront this small relatively toothless government body with well-reasoned requests for fair treatment – which they never get – or naïve and impassioned pleas for help – which they also never get. Given all this, you will not be surprised when I tell you that I see this board irreverently through Alice’s eyes and think to myself, “Treasure Island is not Wonderland, and you are nothing but a pack of cards.”

The morning of Dec. 13, in a state of undress, I had settled in comfortably at home planning to phone in a public comment from my couch. I had prepared something serious. I wanted to say publicly that people on the TIDA Board planned to present to the city part of toxic Treasure Island as a park. I probably should have known that three months earlier on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors had permanently cancelled call-in comments to public meetings. This seems a major stab at the democratic process until you hear the reason. Supervisor Asha Safai explained recently that since Hamas attacked Israel and Netanyahu began razing Palestine, outraged citizens call in with angry statements that are – of course – off topic.

My friend’s surprise text launched me into a flurry of activity, throwing on clothes and preparing cameras. (I never go to Treasure Island unarmed. I carry a video camera to document everything.) I had to switch my mental inertia from “Hell No! I won’t go!” to “Quick! Get me dressed.” My beloved friend was a saint for offering me this ride to the island. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to capture this gang of thieves on video in person.

That is why, in the early evening dark, I found myself sitting next to her as she deftly navigated traffic behind a huge Silicon Valley bus down Van Ness Avenue past that self-same City Hall.

When you view the accompanying video, you can see the whole event starting at this point. Lucky you can hear me say, “So, we’re going to go to this TIDA Board meeting.

“This street is lit up like Christmas. It’s 5:55 p.m. Are we going to make it by 6:30?”

Her skillful driving got us across the Willie Brown span of the Bay Bridge. She entered Treasure Island negotiating a series of confusing but elegant concrete ramps newly constructed by CalTrans to handle anticipated future heavy traffic into this rebuilt neighborhood. These curves wound uphill to Yerba Buena island past the Bristol condominium. Lights glistened off Clipper Cove below us as we plunged in the dark down McCalla Road and turned right onto the Island.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

As we entered the old Navy gym on Ninth Street and Avenue M, the crowd was gathering inside. Most of the folding chairs were still empty. People lined up along the far wall at a buffet table picking up food supplied by Meesun Boyce, owner of Mersea Restaurant, a popular spot where you can sit and eat and look at the City and the Golden Gate Bridge. Meesun always gives me something for free. This time it was a huge chocolate chip cookie – full of delicious calories.

I panned the room with my video camera past the mic where I expected to stand and speak.

TIDA-Board12-13-23-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
The mission of the Treasure Island Development Authority Board is to redevelop Treasure Island. – Photo: Carol Harvey

Five out of seven Directors showed up. They seated themselves one by one at a distance above us in their slightly raised “power seats,” as if they were a royal court ensconced on a collective throne.

I swung my camera slowly past TIDA Board Vice President Linda Richardson, Directors Nabihah Azim, Timothy Reyff, LaShawndra Price-Breston, and Kate Austin, Commission Secretary to the Board.

LaShawndra-Price-Breston-a-TIDA-Board-Director-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
LaShawndra Price-Breston is one of six TIDA board directors. – Photo: Carol Harvey

TIDA Board President V. Fei Tsen addressed the noisy crowd: “Please come and take a seat and participate in the meeting.”

Kate Austin called the meeting to order. “Good evening. Welcome to the Dec. 13, 2023, Treasure Island Development Authority.”

V.-FEI-TSEN-TIDA-PRESIDENT-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
V. Fei Tsen, the current president of the Treasure Island Authority, is championing installing parks on a Superfund site in an area larger than Golden Gate Park and giving this acreage to the City as a gift. – Photo: Carol Harvey

President Tsen said, “Thank you, YMCA, for letting us have our meeting here today.”

Then, in her characteristic fashion, she began to wax exuberant. When Tsen describes redeveloped Treasure Island, my sense of reality flies out the window, and I find myself in a sort of Cloud Cuckoo Fantasyland. She paints a picture of redeveloped Treasure Island as an absurdly over-optimistic, unrealistically idealistic place.

Bottom line, Tsen seems to be both whitewashing and greenwashing the island. For all I care, she can purple wash it. Nothing like what she describes could be that perfect. And, it isn’t.

“It’s easy to forget all the milestones that we have reached,” Tsen bragged.

True. New buildings seem to have sprouted in record time out of the toxic sea-level spongy soil that is highly vulnerable to earthquakes, is sinking a foot a year, and by the 2050s could be inundated by rising sea water.

“I am proud this year of the affordable housing that we built.” She apparently forgot about the hot mess at the 105-unit Maceo May Swords to Plowshares apartments, caused, some say, by the use of cheap labor. In October 2021, while the building was under construction, an atmospheric river sent heavy rains pouring in through the roofless opening at the top causing $35 million dollars worth of damage. Replacement funds must have been secured because in short order formerly homeless vets began moving into the tiny apartments. Truth to tell, those grateful veterans do report serious structural problems left behind by the washout in accouterments like the building’s plumbing.

She also failed to mention that many residents, mostly of color – who were “rescued” from homelessness on San Francisco streets as early as 1998 and who have poured their blood, sweat and tears into the island for 26 years – are being denied spots in the new housing. Some residents are confounded by a diabolical arrangement involving a lottery called Dahlia. The process is so purposely confusing that I hesitate to write about it for fear of spreading misinformation.

I am told by Islanders that, whether they are market rate renters or subsidized residents who desperately need “affordable” housing, most people don’t understand the system, and almost no one is guaranteed the home they were promised. The original “rescue” from homelessness is causing enormous stress and generating homelessness again. A few who can afford it are moving off the island.

From the beginning, some of us have believed that TIDA’s actual agenda was to use middle income, poor and people of color to generate income from subsidized and low market rate rents. When these rents were no longer needed, accidentally-on-purpose evictions and desperate move-outs would be set in motion to make way for the rich. Whatever the motive, this, in effect, is what is happening.

Bobbing across the Bay on the new ferry

Tsen crowed about the next great accomplishment. “Let’s also applaud the new ferry landing,” she said.

That, indeed, was a success. Construction began on the ferry terminal in 2019. When I was at administration Building One for a RAB meeting that year, I hailed a pile driver walking away at the end of his shift. He called back that he was enjoying his work on the terminal and was getting good pay.

The ferry officially opened for business near Clipper Cove on March 1, 2022. In June 2023, we climbed aboard a ferryboat that bobbed like a cork across the Bay to San Francisco and back. We followed this sea adventure with a trip around the community on a tiny self-driving van called The Loop (which at that point had an attendant). We ended up at the Gold Bar in the Rotunda inside Building One. I was given several free liqueur tasters by the convivial and welcoming staff. My friend enjoyed a non-alcoholic drink. We had a very good time.

CalTrans ramps project

Then Tsen mentioned “the new freeway ramps.”

This has not been a success.

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, when we crossed the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge headed to a Navy Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting, without warning, the familiar right turn onto the causeway that attaches Treasure Island to Yerba Buena Island had been closed off. Island business owners complained that the confusing signage directing traffic to an alternate entrance appeared too late over people’s heads, and vendors couldn’t find their way onto the Island. Neither could we. We were forced through the Yerba Buena Island tunnel without enough time to slide several lanes to the right to reach the new entrance before it whizzed by.

It took 20 minutes of extra drive time to travel the long Bay Bridge span all the way to Oakland and back to the Yerba Buena Island exit on the right. From there, we navigated a complex of curving concrete ramps up a steep incline and emerged at the top of McCalla Road, the only access road onto and off Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island. The Bristol condominium loomed over our heads. We plummeted down McCalla too close to cement mixers and trucks crawling next to us up the narrow lane to our left. Treasure Islanders complain about heavy traffic on this tight road where delivery vans haul furniture to Bristol condos. Semis have jackknifed and buses have turned sideways. They also report that the downhill drop and uphill climb is playing havoc with their transmissions and brakes. At the bottom of this steep hill, McCalla Road turned right onto Treasure Island Road. This got us to the RAB meeting, thankfully on time.

In the five months between the Aug. 8 RAB meeting and the Dec. 13, 2023, on-island TIDA Board meeting, CalTrans had constructed a new winding concrete ramp between Yerba Buena and Treasure Island. However, this time on our way to the on-island TIDA board meeting, we were driving in the dark, so I can’t tell you where the ramp went.

I called Muni several times trying to get information to accurately describe the new Caltrans ramps. The operators knew the normal island stops, but because none of them ever takes Muni there, they were unable to describe the way on or off. As far as I have been able to determine, as of this date, Caltrans’ new entrance and exit ramps are different from each other.

CalTrans-Ramps-Project-enhanced-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
The new westbound I-80 on- and off-ramps connect Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island to the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. – Photo: CalTrans; enhancements by Carol Harvey
San-Francisco-to-Yerba-Buena-Treasure-Islands-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
This is the route across the San Francisco Bay Bridge to Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island. – Photo: Caltrans; enhancements by Carol Harvey

Since Caltrans is in the process of constructing these access routes entering and exiting the islands, parts of the road are blocked off differently day to day. The best I can do is post photos. You’ll have to use your ingenuity to figure out the routes. But if you decide to run the gauntlet, check CalTrans online for updates.

New-Street-Names-on-Treasure-Island-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
The Treasure Island Redevelopment Authority Board has reconfigured the street grid with fanciful nautical names like Seven Seas and Trade Winds Avenue. – Photo: TIDA

One more word about Treasure Island traffic. The Treasure Island Redevelopment Authority Board has reconfigured the street grid with fanciful nautical names like Seven Seas and Trade Winds Avenue. Seven Seas Avenue is a long narrow east-to-westbound street connecting Ninth Street and Clipper Cove Way. (See the map.) In line with TIDA’s plan to reduce vehicle traffic in its new sustainable ecovillage, parking is not allowed along Seven Seas Avenue. Island resident Jeff Kline calls this “scarcity by design” and describes traffic hazard conditions up and down Seven Seas caused by illegally parked cars. Another resident who shall not be named complains that there are few bus stops accessible to disabled veterans living in the Maceo May apartments on Bruton Street and Seven Seas Avenue. This creates difficulty for people pushing walkers and riding in wheelchairs. It seems that lack of advance planning or simple neglect is making life harder for modest and low income Treasure Island residents, three quarters of whom are poor and people of color.

Tsen continued to tick off victories – “new roads and underground utilities and Vista Point. We look forward to completion of the Cityside Park – more bike and pedestrian pathways.”

Poisoned parks

A thoughtful young guy in a casual white shirt gave up his seat to help me escape potato chip bag rattling sounds on my video footage by the hungry, uncooperative woman sitting next to me.

CMG-Landscape-Architect-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
V. Fei Tsen responds to a CMG landscape architect who addressed the Treasure Island Authority Board about new island parks. – Photo: Carol Harvey

He turned out to be a CMG landscape architect . He walked to the mic and described extensive plans for parks.

I asked myself whether he had been informed that Treasure Island soil and groundwater are still saturated with radiation and chemicals and that anyone who visits these parks will take a risk with their health and perhaps even their life.

Six months previously, in June of 2023, I had attended and videoed the first on-island meeting after the pandemic at which V. Fei Tsen first began pumping the idea of parks. She reminded attendees that during the pandemic we learned “how important it is to have parks and open space.” She stated that “the most remarkable feature of the Master Plan – a gift to all of us, to this community as well as to San Francisco – is that the 300 acres of open space and parks … will be the largest addition to the City’s park system since we built Golden Gate Park.” By the next meeting on Dec. 13, Tsen was somehow able to expand the amount of land in this huge park to 500 acres.

CMG-Plan-Toxic-Park-by-Carol-Harvey-1-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
The northern one-third of Treasure Island facing the Golden Gate Bridge, site of two toxic Navy cleanup zones, will be called “Wetlands and Wildlands” and turned into a huge park. – Photo: CMG landscape architecture firm; enhancements by Carol Harvey

Nine years earlier in 2014, Keith Forman, the Navy’s environmental cleanup coordinator at the time, announced that the northern one-third of the island facing the Golden Gate Bridge would be called “Wetlands and Wildlands” and turned into a huge park.

WETLANDS-WILDLANDS-Proposed-Parks-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
The architectural firm CMG proposes that the northern one-third of Treasure Island facing the Golden Gate Bridge, site of two toxic Navy cleanup zones, will be called “Wetlands and Wildlands” and turned into a huge park. – Photo: CMG landscape architecture firm; enhancements by Carol Harvey

Tsen repeated Forman’s words almost exactly. “We’re going to have wetlands and wild natural areas at the northern edge of the island.” Apparently, this was a longstanding master plan known by both Forman and Tsen but not by most of the rest of us. I suspect the decision was made to back off on housing construction in this acreage because the soil is so polluted. A project manager at one of the Navy remediation update meetings I attended said that soil gas could expand inside structures, and buildings could blow up.

San Francisco seems to have a pattern of turning former toxic land into parks. Just as the City created Crissy Field out of the military’s former garbage dump in the Presidio, the Treasure Island Development Authority Board, a city department, is prepared to convert parts of the Treasure Island Superfund site into a City park.

In March 2015, during construction of the Doyle Drive Project, I walked to Crissy Field, which is near where I live. The most common toxin buried in Crissy Field is petroleum. However, I learned from crews installing new streetlights near Doyle Drive that they were told to be prepared to call in bomb-sniffing dogs if they encountered unexploded ordinance. UXO detonations had been reported in the press. I also visited the military archives at the old horse stable and learned there were deposits of radioactive material under the veterans building in the Presidio. Don’t worry, though. Some vets told me they have a consolation prize: great views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Landscape architecture rock stars

After the CMG architect’s presentation at this Dec. 13 meeting while he was still standing at the mike, Tsen jubilantly complimented him. “We’ve got an incredible landscape architecture team and several landscape architects. In fact, one of the gardens that we showed at Hilltop Park, which is, as you (the CMG architect) said, the crown jewel on Yerba Buena Island – is being designed by Walter Hood who is an African-American landscape architect who is well known. He’s sort of like a rock star in the landscape architecture field.

“We have a diversity of designers who are working on the island creating these world class parks for us – for us on the island as well as for the city as well as for the region. And, we hope also that some of the artwork that will come here will also be internationally known.”

Her comments soared to grandiose heights, then plunged into the murky depths of an environmentally inaccurate rationalization.

Sustainability on a Superfund site?

(Yes indeed! Despite loud cries to the contrary, Treasure Island is indeed a Superfund Site. In the 1980s the EPA’s computer measured Treasure Island’s Hazard Ranking System toxicity score at 51.78. The number qualifying it for Superfund status is half that amount at 28.5. On that basis,Treasure Island was given Superfund site number CA71700233330).

Tsen plowed on: “The design has really been about sustainability,” she said.

From the beginning of the redevelopment process, publicity has ground on relentlessly claiming that the new Treasure Island will be made into an environmentally “sustainable” ecovillage. Considering that the land beneath the new construction continues to be thoroughly polluted with radiation, weapons grade chemicals and heavy metals, this will be an impossible goal to achieve.

Stormwater-Gardens-on-Yerba-Buena-Island-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
Stormwater gardens can strain solid particles out of dirty rainwater, but not PFAS “forever chemicals,” regular chemicals, weapons grade chemicals, or radiation with its millions of years of half-lives. – Photo: TIDA

Tsen continued: “Many of the parks have stormwater features. It is a way to gather the stormwater and let it drain naturally through the gardens so that the water, when it’s released into the Bay, is naturally clean.”

I put on my mental brakes. Whoa! Stormwater gardens can strain solid particles out of dirty rainwater. But, they cannot leach out PFAS “forever chemicals,” or regular chemicals, or weapons grade chemicals, or radiation with its millions of years of half-lives. All four toxin types were deposited by the Navy when it held the island as a base.

In addition, the Navy and TIDA’s strange fixation on convincing the public they are stopping Treasure Island’s polluted water from flowing into San Francisco Bay seems a little hysterical. Any researcher worth their salt will tell you that San Francisco Bay is thoroughly contaminated with radiation and chemicals and lead from petroleum following the 2007 Cosco Buson oil spill. Treasure Island has already made a huge contribution to toxins in the Bay.

Tsen continued riding the grandiosity train: “We’re at the cutting edge of doing this type of work in the country for the stormwater drainage.”

LINDA-RICHARDSON-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
Linda Faedeke Richardson is TIDA vice president and my friend. – Photo: Carol Harvey

TIDA Board Vice President Linda Richardson joined in, expanding Treasure Island’s global reach. “I just wanted to echo what you just heard from the president of the commission. There is no other project of this kind in North America, in fact, in the world.”

In the universe, the cosmos, all of God’s creation, infinity and beyond, I murmured under my breath.

My public comment reality check

Following these extravagant proclamations, my two-minute reality check during public comment must have been a real downer. At the spring meeting, Tsen had said, “Let’s build Treasure Island up. Let’s not tear it down.” I imagined rolling eyes. There goes Negative Nelly again.

I began my presentation by identifying myself. “My name is Carol Harvey. I’m an investigator, and I’ve been working on Treasure Island since 2014.

“I’m addressing today the wisdom of creating a park over toxic soil at the side of the island facing the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, Berkeley and Oakland.”

Let’s cut away from my presentation and flash back to that previous fall – Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, when we were forced to drive all the way to Oakland and back to attend the RAB meeting. During the update at that meeting of Treasure Island’s toxic cleanup by Dave Clark, the Navy’s lead remedial project manager, he said (and you can watch him say this on the accompanying video), “We have yet to select those final remedies for Site 12, the housing area.”

Dave-Clark-Navy-Cleanup-Project-Manager-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
Dave Clark, Navy project manager for Treasure Island environmental remediation, stated the Navy hasn’t formulated a plan to clean up the “forever chemical” per- and polyfluoralkyl substances, PFAS. – Photo: Carol Harvey

I earnestly hoped Clark meant that the Navy still had to do a lot of work to ensure that after the occupied townhouses are demolished, the exposed ground beneath them isn’t still contaminated with chemicals and the off-the-charts radiation levels that exist there now and are making the residents sick.

PFAS and tumors

In addition, Clark said, “The emerging contaminant of PFAS, Per-and Polyfluoralkyl substances – we have not selected a remedy for that yet.” He meant the Navy hasn’t even begun to formulate a cleanup plan.

Now let’s return to my presentation, which repeats information in my introduction that cannot be stressed enough: “PFAS were found at Site 6, the area close to the wastewater treatment plant.

“PFAS are an ingredient in Teflon in nonstick pans. PFAS ended up near the wastewater treatment plant in the 1950s when sailors set and put out fires with firefighting foam at the Navy’s firefighting school.

“PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they were created to last and are extremely persistent in the environment and the human body. Contact with PFAS in the soil and groundwater can damage the human immune system and the liver, cause cancer, thyroid disease, obesity and fertility issues.”

Recently in 2023, a Navy man who contacted me after reading my articles in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper told me that in 1986 at age 19, he attended the firefighting school on Treasure Island. He described being exposed to PFAS during firefighting training when he put out fires in the Site 6 field located between the wastewater treatment plant and Northpoint Drive. There, teams of Navy students hosed down set fires with Aerosolized Firefighting Foam, AFFF.

Later, when he became a firefighting instructor on a ship, he descended up to his neck into tanks of the foam to do repairs. Some years later, brain matter began leaking into his ear through a perforation in his skull. Doctors told him he had a brain tumor, subjected him to chemotherapy, and covered the hole with a titanium plate. He also has tumors in his legs and lungs.

In a famous court case dramatized in the 2019 movie “Dark Waters” starring Mark Ruffalo, a farmer’s cows lost weight, developed tumors and died after Dupont dumped runoff containing PFAS onto his West Virginia farm.

I was shooting blanks

As I expected, they turned off the mic at two minutes. I wasn’t finished, but I did get the important bits in. However, the laugh was on me. I had turned away from the microphone to let a person in the front row video me, and many people in the room couldn’t hear my voice.

The rest of this article follows the accompanying video, which includes what would have been the rest of my presentation. I spliced Dave Clark’s statements into the footage so you can verify that I quoted him correctly. Please watch the video so you can see and hear what he and I both said.

Clark reported that PFAS “was designed to stay around for a long time” by combining many chemicals together.

“Now, we have to reverse engineer, taking these chemicals apart.” That means the Navy must separate and understand individual PFAS’ chemical components in order to devise ways to get rid of all of them.

“It’s going to take some time,” Clark cautioned, but, “if you can’t destroy it, you need to be able to perhaps contain it.”

He was being realistic. His team might never be able to clean up the PFAS from Treasure Island. That’s why it’s called a “forever chemical.”

PFAS-Across-Treasure-Island-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
The Navy disclosed that, in addition to PFAS’ presence in Site 6 soil, their team “detected PFAS in the groundwater” at 11 locations across Treasure Island. – Photo: Navy; enhancements by Carol Harvey

Here is some information so startling to a Treasure Island friend that he advised me I should make this the headline and main subject of this article. Clark disclosed that PFAS are not just isolated to the area around the wastewater treatment plant. They are spread across the entire island. In a responsible move, the Navy tested for PFAS at 11 locations. You can see them on the accompanying map. Clark verified: “These specific sites were chosen. We detected PFAS in the groundwater at all of the locations.” This means that anyone walking around the island can be exposed to PFAS.

The Navy anticipates completing some of this work by, in Clark’s words, “maybe early 2029.” But, said Clark, “we’re just at the beginning of the science here. So, the Navy is constantly monitoring – monthly, weekly sometimes – what’s going on in the world of PFAS.

“Yes,” he said, “there are talks about parks and open spaces and wetlands. But, I think we’re a long way from that actually happening because we (the Navy) need to go through our process and do it correctly.”

Thanks so much for the toxic green space larger than Golden Gate Park

CMG-Landscape-Architecture-Rendering-With-Site-6-Site-12-by-Carol-Harvey-1400x875, Dear Treasure Island Authority Board, thanks (but really no thanks) for the toxic parks!, Local News & Views
The northern one-third of Treasure Island facing the Golden Gate Bridge, site of two toxic Navy cleanup zones, will be called “Wetlands and Wildlands” and turned into a huge park. – Photo: CMG landscape architecture firm; enhancements by Carol Harvey

Despite the Navy’s acknowledgment that PFAS has been deposited in many locations across the island, architects at the aforementioned highly regarded landscape architecture firm CMG posted on their website an illustration of a huge beautiful park in which people are picnicking and children running around on an emerald green blanket. This enormous park will stretch east to west from the Golden Gate Bridge side of the island toward the Bay Bridge and the City. The large grassy area depicted in the drawing will conceal the PFAS contamination under the carpet of green grass and Site 6 soil along with any residual radiation or chemicals like lead or arsenic the Navy leaves in the ground beneath demolished townhouses in the former community, the Navy’s toxic Site 12.

If runners, picnickers or children scampering about accidentally kick up dirt from exposed areas in the grass, they could develop all the previously enumerated diseases – tumors, weakened immune systems, liver damage, fertility problems, thyroid disease and cancer.

It flies in the face of the health and safety of San Franciscans and Bay Area visitors to present as gifts to the city these contaminated parks on Treasure Island’s “wetlands and wildlands.” Such a Trojan horse offering will amount to nothing more than a green swathe of toxic land “larger than Golden Gate Park.” And, who needs a “gift” like that?

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at