Articles by Carol Harvey:
** "Site 12, Treasure Island’s toxic bullets: Someone’s about to get hit!" (2014-04-09) [link]
* "Treasure Island radiation cleanup Subsite 6: Fires to put out fires" [sfbayview.com/2014/treasure-island-radiation-cleanup-subsite-6-fires-to-put-out-fires]
* "Treasure Island Subsite 31: The Chernobyl trees at Mordor" [sfbayview.com/2014/treasure-island-subsite-31-the-chernobyl-trees-at-mordor]
* "Treasure Island: Pandemonium at Halyburton Court" [sfbayview.com/2014/treasure-island-pandemonium-at-halyburton-court]
* Treasure Island residential homes contain radioactive objects in shallow soil (2014-02-17) [link]
"African American Worker Blew the Whistle on Treasure Island Radioactive Contamination"
by Michael Steinberg [blackrainpress (@) hotmail.com], Center for Investigative Reporting [cironline.org], posted 2014-03-18 to "IndyBay.org" newswire [https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/03/18/18752785.php?show_comments=1#comments]:
An African American contract worker who first discovered high amounts of radioactive contamination on Treasure Island was subsequently fired, and blew the whistle by reporting this contamination to public officials.
An African American contract worker who first discovered high amounts of radioactive contamination on Treasure Island was subsequently fired, and blew the whistle by reporting this contamination to public officials.
In recent years evidence has mounted about dangerous amounts of radioactive materials left behind by the US Navy on its former base at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.
Recently, on February 16, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a Sunday edition front page story, “Tenants Ask: Is Treasure Island Toxic?” The report profiled residents of Treasure Island living in former Navy housing, who believe they have been contaminated by living there and suspect toxic substances in and around their homes have caused them health problems.
Shortly thereafter, on February 25, the San Francisco-based Center For Investigative Reporting (CIR) published “Treasure Island cleanup exposes Navy’s mishandling of its nuclear past.” This article added lots more evidence of Navy radioactive malfeasance at Treasure Island to the CIR’s already impressive dossier on this subject.
At this point, plans at San Francisco City Hall to turn Treasure Island into high rise, primarily luxury housing, may be in jeopardy. The cause of this problem is the Navy’s and its allies continuing propensity to play fast and loose with the truth about the radioactive contamination of Treasure Island. In so doing it may be causing peoples’ health, indeed their very lives, to be in jeopardy.
But perhaps no attention would be being paid to this situation were it not for Robert McLean.
As reported in the Center For Investigative Reporting February story, in 2007 Robert McLean was working on Treasure Island for the New World Environmental company, which the Navy hired to assess, and, if necessary, clean up radioactive materials left behind on the island.
As McLean, an African American man from North Carolina says in a You Tube video accompanying the CIR report, “My role was to see if there was a need for cleanup.”
The navy had led McLean’s employer to believe that there would be little in the way of radioactive materials to be found
But that’s not the way it worked out.
On his first day of work, McLean said, while riding around the island in a truck with a radiation measuring device thrust out the window, the device registered the presence of radiation—inside the truck.
“We picked up readings without even getting out of the vehicle,” McLean said in the video. “To see something just riding by was a surprise.”
When McLean asked his employer for a more powerful device to assess how hot the radiation was, he was told the company didn’t have the money in the budget for that and “you’ll have to use what you have,” he stated on You Tube.
McLean’s employer at the time, New World Environmental, has an office in Livermore, CA, as well as one in Irvine in Southern California. The company describes itself as “a Native American/Veteran owned firm; provides exemplary professional services in environmental consulting and remediation, specializing in radiation safety and radioactive waste management services.”
The company’s clients include the US Navy, Army and Air Force; the Departments of Defense and Energy; Chevron and General Electric. NWE also is working on the shutdown commercial nuclear plants Ranco Seco in Sacramento County and San Onofre in SoCal
NWE contracts with private sector clients as well, such as Theravance, a biopharmaceutical company in South San Francisco.
NWE’s services for that company include providing “radiation safety technicians and health physicists (the latter monitor worker radioactive doses) routinely and as needed to insure safe use of radioactive materials.”
The contract between the two companies has been in effect since 2006, and its value to NWE is $200,000.
The New World Environmental motto is “Restoring the Environment for Future Generations.”
All NWE info is from the company’s website.
Contaminated and Fired -
Meanwhile, as Robert McLean’s job on Treasure Island went on, he continued finding, “radioactive materials scattered all over the site, in places where they said there wasn’t supposed to be any material,” he says in the You Tube video. “We found radiation contaminated materials in playgrounds, and in areas that previously had been playgrounds.”
“We found it in front yards,” McLean said in the Center for Investigative Reporting article. “We found it in yards, and along roadways.”
McLean also worked with the now infamous Treasure Island 6-sided radium disks. These disks consist of radium 226, which has a radioactive life of over 16,000 years.
In a December 26, 2012 article in the East Bay Express, “Alarming Levels of Radiation on Treasure Island,” radiation expert David Brenner of Colombia University says of these radium disks, “Had someone got hold of one of the metal disks and put it in his pocket for a few days, the outcome could have been very bad—significant radiation sickness or even death within a few days.”
In the video Robert McLean says, “I was asked to determine the dose on the hexagonic devices: ‘Either you do it or we can find someone else that can do it.’ “ his employer told him.
McLean reported that the doses he found testing the disks spiked dangerously as he tested excavated ones, as opposed to disks initially found near the surface.
On another job assignment on Treasure Island, McLean subsequently found he had been radioactively contaminated. Not only that, but the degree of his contamination was higher than allowed by New World Environmental.
According to the CIR February report, NWE president Don Wadsworth said the Navy told the company to fire McLean for being contaminated or risk losing its contract.
Wadsworth also said “Under normal circumstances, he would not have been fired,” but that McLean should have been wearing protective equipment.
McLean, for his part, maintains he was working in an area the Navy said was not contaminated, and that his supervisors ordered him to work without the protective equipment.
Robert McLean is succinct on the firing in the video: ”When they found out that I had received exposure, they said they no longer required my services.”
No concern was raised by anyone over the possible consequences of McLean’s overdose of radiation on the job.
So Robert McLean was misled by the Navy into a highly contaminated former military site that it said was pretty much safe; then denied the use of necessary equipment by his employer, New World Environmental; pressured into working with the potentially lethal radium-226 disks by that same employer: radioactively contaminated on the job because of (let’s be generous, for the moment) the negligence of his supervisors; and then fired at the insistence of the party that should be taking responsibility for this whole mess, the US Navy.
According to the way the story usually goes, this would have been the end of the Robert McLean story and Treasure Island.
But instead it was just the beginning.
Because his name surfaces again, in a June 25, 2008 email, obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, that circulated amongst various California Department of Health personnel involved in the toxic cleanup of Treasure Island. The document came from Kent Pendergast, then head of the state health department’s radiation health division. It reads, in part:
"FYI I received a phone call from a Mr. McLean, former NWT Contractor who worked at Treasure Island. Mr. McLean indicated that they are finding radium sources to 25mr/hour (25 millirem per hour, a radiation dose measurement) at many locations on the west side of Treasure Island. Mr. McLean said he was concerned that the sources could represent a hazard to children or something the bad guys could use to make a dirty bomb."
Say what? That’s right, a dirty bomb, which could be packed with the radium disks and detonated…Whoa, don’t want to go there.
You would think that, after McLean’s assertions, the area would have been cordoned off by Homeland Security, or the US Marines. Or at least the SFPD, maybe a Peoples Occupation force complete with organic Green protective apparel. Somebody!
That it would have been quarantined, evacuated and declared a permanent disaster area. That the residents would have been granted permanent residency, for the rest of their natural lives, at the mayor’s office, and similar digs. around San Francisco City Hall.
But no, almost six years later, it’s still a stinking mess. After all, prime real estate, and the US Navy’s very reputation are at stake!
Fortunately for us, the Center for Investigative Reporting and other independent media sources have been taking this story and running with it, so that it’s even making the front page of the Chronicle these days. Residents on the island are organizing and speaking out as well.
But it’s dubious any of this would be happening now without Robert McLean’s efforts. Most of us, in his place, would just have walked away from it all as just another hopeless mess.
So why didn’t he?
In concluding his You Tube statement, McLean says, “I have concerns because I really don’t know how far it goes. It bothers me now the more I think about it”.
And neither do we know how far it goes. But thanks to Robert McLean’s courageous actions, maybe one day soon we will.
"Radiation threat on Treasure Island, report says"
2013-11-13 by Matt Smith and Katharine Mieszkowski from "Center for Investigative Reporting" [http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Radiation-threat-on-Treasure-Island-report-says-4979641.php]
Despite six years of Navy cleanup and San Francisco city government reassurances that Treasure Island is safe, children living there might be at risk of radiation poisoning, a newly released state health department memo concludes.
Earlier this year, California Department of Public Health workers discovered radioactive shards buried in lawns near apartment buildings on the island's western side. One small octagonal object was so radioactive that holding onto it for an hour could cause burns, hair loss and ulceration, according to the memo.
That area of the former military base is now home to a playground, landscaped recreation areas and apartments. The Navy is slated to turn over the land to the city, which plans to build an 8,000-unit high-rise development there.
Local officials overseeing the handover distributed a letter in March to the island's 2,000 residents in an attempt to assuage fears over contamination the Navy left behind when it closed the base in 1997. The officials said low-level radioactivity in the soil near their apartments did not pose a health threat.
The letter did not mention the dangerously radioactive shards that had been found, or the fact that state regulators feared there could be more.
In a strongly worded internal memo, written in June and updated in September, state health officials warned that there was no guarantee the area was safe and said findings indicated there still might be dangerous radioactive waste in the ground where children could find it.
"Further evaluation should be made of the probability of a member of the public, especially critical members of the population (for example, children) picking up a radioactive fragment and being exposed," said the internal memo, obtained this month by the Center for Investigative Reporting through a state Public Records Act request.
Written by Roger Lupo, chief of the agency's radiological assessment unit, and associate health physicist Victoria Brandt, the memo was addressed to Jerry Hensley, chief of the public health agency's strategic planning and quality assurance section.
City's plans -
The former Treasure Island Naval Station was opened for civilian use in 1999. Some of the military housing was converted to subsidized rentals for low-income San Franciscans.
The cleanup plan has called for the Navy to remove chemical and radioactive waste, then sell the land to the city for about $105 million. The city, in turn, would transfer parcels to developers for a projected $1.5 billion mixed-use community.
In preparation for cleanup, a 2006 Navy analysis suggested there was little to indicate the former base was contaminated with significant radioactive waste.
But in 2008, a radioactive waste cleanup worker alerted regulators to what he considered an imminent risk to children posed by pieces of radium-226 turning up in the soil. According to an e-mail that state radiation specialist Kent Prendergast sent to colleagues on June 25, 2008, contract worker Robert McLean warned that radioactive fragments he'd found "could represent a hazard to children."
"The more people that investigate, the more they find out that the Navy just covered up," McLean said last week. He believes his earlier concerns largely were ignored.
Navy's theories -
The Navy has suggested at various times that the radioactive shards found on the western side of the island were glow-in-the-dark buttons from the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition held on the island or perhaps markers from the decks of military ships. Regulators have speculated that the shards might have been buried in the soil decades ago to train sailors to use Geiger counters, which measure radiation.
As reports of more shards emerged, the state health department repeatedly urged the Navy to conduct comprehensive tests for radioactive waste, arguing that not doing so could endanger residents. State radiation health physicists have said the Navy rebuffed these pleas.
How much is left?
Officials have no way of knowing how many shards remain on the island. But as of 2011, a total of 575 had been unearthed, according to internal health department e-mails.
The new memo again says tests have not been thorough enough to evaluate whether the apartment areas are safe.
Besides the warning about radioactive shards, the health department memo says soil just under the grass contained low concentrations of radium, making it possible that decorative shrubs in the area might have absorbed radioactive material.
More tests -
On Sept. 3, the Navy issued a notice that contractors would spend 10 weeks testing apartment buildings' yards, carports, roads, sidewalks and grassy areas for radioactive waste.
Officials with the Navy and the state health department did not respond to questions, including whether the additional testing satisfies regulators' concerns.
Mayor Lee responds -
Asked whether the city shared state regulators' concerns, Mayor Ed Lee's development director for Treasure Island, Bob Beck, said the city "continues to review and respond to all reports" from regulators and the Navy.
Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes Treasure Island, said in a statement: "The Navy needs to investigate any new developments or findings, and I will be asking that the state hold them to a high standard."
2013-04-12 "Nuclear byproduct levels on Treasure
Island higher than Navy disclosed; Soil tests find cesium, linked to
cancer risk, up to 3 times higher than previously acknowledged"
by Matt Smith and Katharine Mieszkowski [https://www.baycitizen.org/news/environment/treasure-island-soil-tests-find-nuclear-byproduct/]:
Treasure Island is the site of an ongoing radiation cleanup operation that some California health authorities have faulted for overlooking the possibility of contamination from nuclear fission byproducts, such as cesium-137. (Photo by Anna Vignet/Center for Investigative Reporting)
slated for development on Treasure Island contains elevated
concentrations of cesium-137, a byproduct of nuclear fission associated
with an increased risk of cancer, according to an independent analysis
commissioned by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
discovered through soil samples gathered by reporters and tested by two
independent certified laboratories, appear to undermine some past
statements by the U.S. Navy about the land’s historic uses and the
present condition of the island.
Results show cesium-137 levels up to
three times that previously acknowledged by the Navy and at least 60
percent higher than the Navy’s own thresholds for environmental safety.
questions raised by your testing should be fully vetted by the Navy,”
said Gary Butner, former chief of the radiologic health branch at the
California Department of Public Health, who was a state watchdog for the
Treasure Island cleanup until he retired in 2011. “I just don’t have a
sense there’s a strong commitment to go and (clean) the site. They just
don’t want to spend any money there.”
Exposure to cesium-137 “can
result in cancer risks much higher than typical environmental
exposures,” according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The concentrations discovered by CIR [http://cironline.org/],
parent organization of The Bay Citizen, do not necessarily confirm a
health hazard, according to Jan Beyea, a prominent nuclear physicist
specializing in the health effects of low-level radiation. They are no
greater than common contamination worldwide from 20th-century nuclear
But, Beyea said, the unexpected finding should prompt a more thorough evaluation of the island for potentially hotter spots.
fact that there is a level above standards is a clear mandate for
further study and assessment of the extent of contamination and its
origin,” Beyea wrote in an email, adding that more systematic testing is
particularly important given that public play areas are planned nearby.
a playfield is not an appropriate plan at this time,” he wrote, “given
the tendency for little children to put things in their mouths.”
shared the test results with the Navy, City of San Francisco, and state
Departments of Public Health and Toxic Substances Control, requesting
interviews with experts involved in the Treasure Island cleanup. All
four responded with statements.
The Navy said the test results did not warrant action.
limited data taken out of context doesn’t provide much value in
determining site conditions or making programmatic decisions,” wrote
Keith Forman, the Navy’s Treasure Island cleanup coordinator.
Tymoff, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s Treasure Island development
director, said CIR’s findings provide no reason for the city to take
“The city has no basis to comment on the validity or accuracy of the tests,” he said.
The Department of Public Health said it “does not comment on research conducted by others.”
the Department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversees the Navy
cleanup, said in a statement that it had to review the findings and
would work with the Public Health Department “to determine what it means
and where we go from here.”
Butner and other state radiation
specialists have for years complained in emails, reports and memos that
the Navy has been reluctant to test for fission byproducts such as
cesium-137 – despite a Cold War history suggesting the possibility of
Instead, the Navy has focused on radium-226, used
for glow-in-the-dark ship deck markers and gauges commonly discarded at
military bases during the mid-20th century.
The distinction is
significant: If Treasure Island were contaminated only with radium, that
would be consistent with the former base’s public face as a way station
and barracks for sailors on their way to the Pacific. Potential
contamination by fission byproducts such as cesium-137, however, points
to possible aftereffects of Treasure Island’s more guarded history: host
to radioactive ships from Bikini Atoll atomic tests and a major
education center training personnel for nuclear war.
Butner said the Navy’s didn’t look for all the waste that might have been left behind during the base’s Cold War years.
of going out and surveying the ground for everything, they said, ‘OK,
this is what we’re looking for, and we’re not looking for cesium, for
thorium,' ” he said. “The federal government’s motivation is to keep
moving forward and not ask many questions.”
Cold War legacy -
CIR-commissioned findings bolster criticisms, contained in hundreds of
pages of internal emails and memos from specialists at the state Public
Health Department, that accuse the Navy of failing to adequately inspect
Treasure Island for radioactive waste and of perhaps minimizing its
Cold War legacy to more swiftly sell off the former base [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/683003-april13th-health-dept-memo.html].
Navy repeatedly has rebuffed health officials’ demands that Treasure
Island be thoroughly vetted for radioactive contamination – a
multimillion-dollar job – before it is made available for a planned
The Navy stands to receive more than $100
million from San Francisco for the base, provided the military performs a
satisfactory cleanup of chemical and radioactive waste.
early 1990s, the Navy operated atomic warfare training academies on
Treasure Island, using instruction materials and devices that included
radioactive plutonium, cesium, tritium, cadmium, strontium, krypton and
cobalt. These supplies were stored at various locations around the
former base, including supply depots, classrooms and vaults, and in and
around a mocked-up atomic warfare training ship – the USS Pandemonium.
samples were taken from under a palm tree 50 feet from a classroom
building where cesium-137 was kept, according to military archives. A
1974 radiation safety audit identified cesium samples used and stored
there with radioactivity several times the amount necessary to injure or
kill someone who mishandled them [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/682940-bldg-343-use-explained-1974-raso-report-explains.html].
In 1993, shipping manifests from the same building showed even greater
amounts of cesium-137 taken away from the same site that year.
amounts of cesium-137 can contaminate broad areas. When a Spanish steel
mill in 1998 accidentally incinerated an amount less than that stored
in the Treasure Island classroom building, the smoke plume deposited
detectable radioactive material hundreds of miles away.
concentrations found in the CIR-commissioned tests represented mere
trillionths of the quantities once stored nearby. It’s exposure to
low-level radioactive contamination, however, that researchers have
linked to cancer risk.
Classroom materials aren’t the only potential
source of the Treasure Island cesium-137 contamination, either. Treasure
Island ran a salvage and repair operation during the Cold War years
when the West Coast was crowded with ships crippled and made radioactive
from atomic tests, according to documents in military archives.
base was opened for civilian use in 1996, including the leasing of
former military housing to 2,000 civilians. Then in 2011, San Francisco
approved plans for a 20,000-resident redevelopment project, estimated to
cost $1.5 billion.
Lee, the city’s mayor, traveled to China last
week to try to consummate a deal for China to loan $1.7 billion to
Lennar Corp. for development at Treasure Island and the former Hunters
Point Naval Shipyard. News reports Thursday said the deal fell through
after the Chinese government insisted on greater control over the
Hunters Point, the Navy long denied the presence of significant
radioactive contamination. But in 2001, journalist Lisa Davis of SF
Weekly reported that radioactive material had been mishandled during
1940s and 1950s decontamination operations and during experiments at the
former base’s Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory. Congressional
leaders eventually pressed for a full cleanup, delaying development
Testing the soil -
Critics maintain that Treasure
Island’s radioactive cleanup would have been completed long ago had the
Navy fully acknowledged potential contamination when testing began in
As recently as March, state public health workers were
unearthing new radiological contamination on Treasure Island. A crew
spent about 5½ days checking for radioactivity in publically accessible
areas, backyards and front yards in a section of the island where
They found five locations with elevated radiation
levels, according to Gonzalo Perez, chief of the department’s radiologic
One of the buildings on the parcel surveyed by CIR
was identified in a 2012 Navy historical study as potentially
contaminated with cesium. But the Navy argued in internal reports to
state regulators that there was no cause for concern.
The Navy told
state regulators in a June memo that “not one soil sample collected from
Treasure Island” had worrisome concentrations of cesium-137 [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/682942-navy-cdph-comments-soilanalysis.html].
new findings, based on surveys with sensitive radiation detection
equipment followed up with soil sample tests at two radiation
laboratories, throw into question those assertions.
Soil tests by Eberline Services showed cesium-137 contamination of 0.180 picocuries per gram [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/682941-centerforinvrpt-1.html].
Tests of the same samples by New World Environmental, a former Treasure
Island cleanup subcontractor, showed higher levels: up to 0.315
picocuries per gram [https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/682943-new-world-testing-april4-report-a-ti-cs-137-4-3-13.html].
A picocurie, or one-trillionth of a curie, is a standard measure of the
intensity of radioactivity in a sample of material. The differences
between the two labs’ results are within the statistical uncertainty
inherent in testing low-level radiation.
Last April, the Navy
reported that it had conducted 200 soil tests and that the greatest
concentration of cesium-137 it had found on Treasure Island was 0.104
picocuries per gram.
Both of the CIR-commissioned lab results also
exceeded the Navy’s threshold for releasing land for development at
Treasure Island: 0.113 picocuries per gram.
The Navy first
established that threshold while cleaning up its property at Hunters
Point. That level is at the low end of average global fallout
contamination, meaning that Hunters Point, cleaned up to those
established levels, actually is less radioactive than much of the San
Francisco Bay Area.
The site of the cesium-137 contamination found by
CIR is now a grassy lot frequently traversed by teenagers. Development
plans call for construction of an apartment complex called Eastside
Commons, wetlands, ballfields, tennis courts and grassy play areas on
the surrounding land. Five years ago, the Navy and state regulators
declared the classroom buildings there to be noncontaminated, clearing
them for future development.
Concerns about the Navy’s work detecting
and cleaning up radioactive waste on the island have been festering
since 2006. A Navy historical analysis that year suggested there was
little to indicate the former base contained significant radioactive
The next year, New World Environmental was hired as a
subcontractor to survey the island and found significant radioactive
contamination in areas where it shouldn’t have been. One worker received
such a high dose of radiation that he was removed from the job. That
worker, Robert McLean, was not surprised by CIR’s findings.
“Until you find it, they don’t admit that it is there,” he said.
"How we searched for cesium contamination on Treasure Island; Reporters
gather soil samples for testing at two certified radiation labs"
by Katharine Mieszkowski, Matt Smith [https://www.baycitizen.org/news/environment/how-we-searched-for-cesium-contamination-on-treasu/]:
summer, the Center for Investigative Reporting began looking into
reports of radioactive contamination at the former Treasure Island Naval
Station. Along the way, a source told CIR that cesium-137 had been
found at the site – yet that alleged finding from 2007 was not in
official U.S. Navy cleanup reports reviewed by CIR.
In 2012, the Navy
told state regulators there had been no findings of cesium
contamination beyond release limits established for the cleanup of
Treasure Island. We set out to determine whether significant cesium-137
contamination was present on the island. Part of the reporting involved
soil testing by certified laboratories. Here are the steps we undertook:
reporters reviewed military archives and other documents to research
the history of radiation use at Treasure Island. Documents reviewed
included detailed drawings, maps and inventory lists describing the use
of cesium, plutonium and barium, among other radioactive material at
classrooms used to train sailors in nuclear warfare.
* The reporters
discovered that the elevated radiation levels, and the radioactive
material use depicted in the archives, occurred on the same block on the
former base. The classroom buildings had been declared clean in 2008
and cleared for future development by the Navy, as well as by state
* Reporters were trained by a certified health physicist
to operate radiation survey instruments. Using a Ludlum Model 44-10
sodium iodide detector, as well as a Ludlum Model 44-9 Pancake
Geiger-Mueller Detector, they spent 45 hours surveying the block in
* Once a suspect area was identified, the reporters,
protected with disposable gloves and shoe covers, unearthed 12
half-pound soil samples and took them to a certified radiology lab. The
samples were examined using a high-purity germanium detector set for
high-resolution gamma spectroscopy.
* The analysis produced a finding of elevated levels of cesium-137 in three samples taken near the former classroom.
returned to the island, taking additional samples from the suspect
location. Those samples, along with the original sample, were tested at
two certified radiation laboratories.
* Soil tests by Eberline Services of Richmond showed cesium-137 concentrations as high as 0.180 picocuries per gram.
sample showing the highest radiation level was retested by New World
Environmental, a certified radiation laboratory in Livermore. That test
showed a greater radiation concentration of 0.315 picocuries per gram. A
picocurie, or one-trillionth of a curie, is a standard measure of the
intensity of radioactivity in a sample of material.
* Both of the
results exceeded the Navy’s threshold for releasing land for development
at Treasure Island, which is 0.113 picocuries per gram.
Reporter Matt Smith extracts soil near what was once the radiation
exposure room at Treasure Island's former RADIAC Instrument Maintenance
School, closed by the U.S. Navy in 1993.
Anna Vignet/Center for Investigative Reporting
2012-10-05 "Navy's Treasure Island radiation report
found wanting; State health officials call contamination explanations
by Matt Smith from "Bay Citizen" newswire [http://www.baycitizen.org/health/story/navys-treasure-island-radiation-report/]:
U.S. Navy explanations for widespread readings of radioactivity on the
former Treasure Island Naval Station don’t adequately explore the
possibility that the base might have been dusted with radioactive ash,
soaked with radioactive sewage and contaminated by radioactive garbage,
California health regulators said today.
The response addressed an
Aug. 6 draft report by the Navy, which was aimed at assuaging concerns
about the base’s history of radioactive material. It detailed possible
sources, including devices used to train sailors for nuclear war. It
also described ship repair operations that occurred during an era when
vessels frequently returned to the San Francisco Bay from Pacific atomic
The Navy’s report is part of the process of turning the
military land over to the city of San Francisco, which has approved
construction of 8,000 homes there.
The August draft included the
Navy’s acknowledgement that the base’s radiation history was more
widespread than previously reported. But the Navy also sought to assure
state and city officials that a radioactive cleanup was well in hand,
and that the base should be ready for preliminary development some time
However, the California Department of Public Health,
which raised concerns in 2010 about possible deficiencies in the Navy’s
radioactive cleanup, suggested today in its response to that draft that
the military agency might have significant work to do to earn a clean
bill of health.
Among examples cited by health department officials:
The Navy has yet to explain the significance of a 1965 report that
described how “radioactive and poisonous wastes had been buried west of
the abandoned landing strip in a future construction area.”
Navy hasn’t released complete information about 1,500 soil samples taken
on the island, leaving uncertainty about whether or not some areas
still contain radioactive material that exceed state health regulations.
The Navy hasn’t fully explored whether radioactive material might have
been spread over the years by wind, seepage and water flow.
Navy hasn’t sufficiently documented tests for radiation around old
sewage lines, at abandoned garbage dumps and along the path of smoke
that could have blown across the island from an old Navy garbage
Peskin, a former San Francisco supervisor and co-plaintiff in a lawsuit
alleging that environmental review of the proposed development has
fallen short, said the Navy’s failures demand an outside inquiry.
time for our elected leaders to call for an independent, third-party,
scientific review that is not run by the U.S. Navy, whose credibility
has been in question for decades,” said Peskin, after reviewing the
state health department comments.
A Navy spokesman declined comment, saying cleanup officials hadn’t yet reviewed the health department responses.
responses are the latest salvo in a war of words between state health
regulators and the Navy that heightened over the past year when
regulators warned in a series of internal memos that Treasure Island
might not be cleared for development.
Problems began not long
after the Navy released an earlier 2006 report about the history of
radioactive material on the island. It suggested that, unlike highly
contaminated former bases such as the Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard, the
Treasure Island Naval Shipyard was relatively clean.
afterward, cleanup workers began finding dozens of encrusted disks of
radium-226 buried in the soil in unexpected places. They dug trenches to
check for further radioactivity, and found readings down as deep as the
water level of the San Francisco Bay.
In 2010, health department
workers declared the historical study deeply flawed, and later urged the
Navy to halt its cleanup, in part because hundreds of container-loads
of waste had been transported throughout the island without the proper
care required for transport and storage of radioactive material.
then, health officials have pressed for more accurate information about
the Navy’s radioactive legacy and past cleanup efforts, which they say
is essential to pinpointing not just locations, but the breadth and
scope of the remaining work.
The Navy announced earlier this year it would produce the new study of the island’s history – and a revised cleanup plan.
resulting efforts, including the draft report, are wanting, according
to today’s response, signed by Larry Morgan, California’s senior health
For one, the Navy still hasn’t adequately explained
what, exactly, the radioactive disks were used for, why they were found
in the soil, and what the Navy did with them once they’d been
discovered, the health department response said.
"Potentially radioactive sites on Treasure Island; California
Department of Public Health officials find unsafe exposure rates at
locations not mentioned in original Navy report" by Shane Shifflett from
"Bay Citizen" newswire
this map to explore Treasure Island's known radioactive locations,
potentially irradiated sites that the Navy recently disclosed and sites
where San Francisco plans to develop high-rises big enough to hold
At the top of the page there are six buttons.
Each button turns on or off a layer. For example, if you don't want to
see the plans for new housing units, click Redevelopment Sites to hide
it. As you hover over the circles or radioactive markers, this window
will update with facts about that site. Or, start the tour for more
2012-08-17 "Radiation history on Treasure Island more widespread than reported" by Matt Smith from "California Watch"
1957, the Navy set off a mock atomic explosion, using napalm, TNT and
other explosives. The USS Pandemonium (at right) was routinely doused
with real radiation to prepare soldiers. (photo courtesy of the San
Radiation from a nuclear war training ship may remain at Treasure Island, new documents indicate. (U.S. Navy photo)
Photo by Michael Short from "California Watch":
contamination at the Treasure Island Naval Station, where San Francisco
plans to build a high-rise community for 20,000 residents, is more
widespread than previously disclosed, according to a new U.S. Navy
report and other documents obtained by The Bay Citizen.
the Navy and one state agency say cleanup has been effective and
remaining radiation levels are low, the state Department of Public
Health expressed alarm as recently as May, saying earlier studies
showing fewer radioactive sites led to a botched cleanup effort and the
potential spread of contaminants both on and off the island.
findings appear likely to complicate the environmental cleanup and new
construction on Treasure Island after years of debate – much of it
shielded from the public – over the island’s radioactive hazards.
Internal emails and documents obtained by The Bay Citizen, sister site
of California Watch, leading up to the findings reveal numerous new
areas of concern squarely in the path of the planned development.
draft report, dated Aug. 6, marks the first time the Navy has fully
acknowledged that the island, created from landfill in 1937, was used as
a repair and salvage operation for a Pacific fleet exposed to atomic
blasts during the Cold War. The report came in response to state
regulators, who pressed for details after cleanup workers found
radioactive waste in unexpected locations.
Known potential sources
of radiation on the island included a nuclear training ship
intentionally doused in radiation and even glow-in-the-dark buttons
handed out at the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition held on
Any radiation lingering from the discarded buttons
was similar to that of a household smoke detector, the Navy told island
residents in a 2007 newsletter. And the Navy in a previous 2006 report
maintained that the two former locations of the dismantled training ship
were free of radiation.
Six years later, the draft report
describes a more significant legacy. Treasure Island was a 1940s ground
zero for repairing, scrapping, recycling and incinerating material from
ships that might have absorbed radiation from atomic bomb tests in the
Pacific. One shop repaired cannon sights containing radioactive
glow-in-the-dark material. And, the Navy has acknowledged, the training
ship sites might not be radiation-free after all.
Since 1993, the
Navy has been preparing the site for handoff to the city, which has
agreed to pay $105 million for it. To protect the city from future
liability, the deal requires a signoff from state health officials.
officials have raised questions about exposure for residents of the
island. At an August 2011 meeting, a summary shows, the health
department alleged that a Navy contractor might have inadvertently
exposed children to radioactive dust at a Boys & Girls Club and a
child development center on the island.
The Navy and state
Department of Toxic Substances Control, a separate agency also
monitoring Navy cleanup activities, said the Boys & Girls Club
and child center never were contaminated with radioactive dust. They
also say that, in general, radiation levels found on the island are too
low to endanger human health – only slightly higher than natural
radiation found in ordinary backyards.
However, in a Dec. 17, 2010
email, state public health official Peter Sapunor said Navy contractors
had dug up and hauled off 16,000 cubic yards of contaminated dirt, some
with radiation levels 400 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s
human exposure limits for topsoil. Sapunor said he believed extensive
radioactive material remained in the soil surrounding those excavations.
Rapaport, president of Good Neighbors of Treasure Island and Yerba
Buena Island, a neighborhood association, has lived on the island for a
decade – one of its 2,800 current residents. She’s long adhered to
unusual island requirements from the management company overseeing
former Navy housing now rented out as apartments. Among them is growing
plants in above-ground pots to avoid soil-borne chemicals, she said.
Treasure Island’s complete radioactive history, Rapaport said, is
something about which neighbors previously only speculated.
should have been more open and upfront, because there would have been
people who would have chosen not to live here,” said Rapaport, who
learned of the new Navy report from a Bay Citizen reporter.
Echoes of Hunters Point -
new report on Treasure Island mirrors complaints a decade ago at
Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, where the military long had claimed it
lacked information about the history of the site’s Naval Radiological
Defense Laboratory. A subsequent cleanup at that site contributed to the
delay of a 10,000-unit housing development by a consortium led by
Lennar Corp., now scheduled for groundbreaking later this year.
Ed Lee is aware of the Treasure Island radiation issue, according to
the deputy overseeing the development project, by another Lennar
consortium. Michael Tymoff said San Francisco has urged the Navy to
respond to California health officials’ demands for a thorough
radioactive cleanup. But he added that his office doesn’t expect the
latest disclosures to delay the summer 2013 groundbreaking for the $1.5
billion housing project.
In an interview, Navy environmental
cleanup coordinator James Sullivan accused inexperienced state public
health inspectors of making exaggerated allegations inconsistent with
the Navy’s ongoing commitment to safety on Treasure Island.
state’s environmental management team has had a lot of turnover,
Sullivan said, “and some of the history gets lost with personnel.”
new historical report has a silver lining, Sullivan added: It more
concretely identifies areas of the island not affected by radiation,
allowing some parcels to be transferred to San Francisco more swiftly.
public health officials declined to comment on whether the Navy’s new
report allays their concerns, saying they would respond within 30 days
through official comments on the current draft version.
Officials with another state regulatory agency, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, said there is no health risk.
it were a public health issue, the (toxics control department) would
have been very aggressive in taking steps to address it,” said Denise
Tsuji, chief of the unit monitoring the Treasure Island cleanup. “The
Navy is removing it, managing it and taking it to an appropriate
State toxic substances cleanup specialist Ryan
Miya said that every time the Navy has detected unexpected radiation,
Navy cleanup contractors have reassessed the overall operation, in some
cases halting work to test for radiation.
“They’ve stopped work,
and modifications to the work practices have been made at that time to
help ensure public safety,” Miya said.
Cleanup based on erroneous report -
hired by the Navy to rid the island of its toxic past relied on an
inaccurate 2006 assessment, according to a series of memos, notices of
violations and emails from the California Department of Public Health.
report stated that nuclear activity was limited mostly to 1940s-era
instruction in radioactive warfare conducted in classroom facilities and
on a mocked-up ship – the USS Pandemonium – where sailors also were
trained in cleaning up radioactive contamination.
The fake ship
was doused with low-level radioactive material, which was washed off by
sailors. Radiation in the stored wastewater dissipated within a few
weeks, the Navy had reported. A classroom spill triggered a Navy cleanup
in 1950, with sailors dumping 200 barrels of contaminated material off
the coast, the 2006 report said.
The Navy gave a clean bill of
health to the sites of the ship, classroom and some other Treasure
Island locations in the 2006 report, titled “Final Treasure Island Naval
Station Historical Radiological Assessment.” That year, the Navy said
170 acres of the island were suitable to transfer to San Francisco for
development, pending state health officials’ approval.
after, workers with private environmental contractors hired by the Navy
repeatedly uncovered radioactivity in areas that were supposed to be
clean. One civilian cleanup worker was ordered off the job with pay
after being exposed to the maximum radiation dosage allowed under
Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines, Sullivan, the Navy
environmental cleanup coordinator, acknowledged.
Then, in 2009,
new radiation findings led the Navy to halt operations and reassess the
contractor’s work plan, according to minutes of a citizens advisory
committee overseeing the cleanup.
State health officials started
to worry that the Navy had not gone far enough, recommending in strongly
worded memos that it scrap the 2006 report and begin its radiological
For one, the Navy had failed to fully detail what
had happened to the remains of the USS Pandemonium, used to train
sailors in “Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare,” according to a
July 2011 health department review. The Navy contractor recently dumped
debris from the two training sites into an undisclosed landfill, the
report alleged, then declared the training site clean without testing
“The Navy has not responded to requests for the location of the landfill,” the review added.
As the Navy attempted to turn over property for development, health officials applied the brakes.
October 2010, Larry Morgan, an environmental management specialist with
the state Department of Public Health, told the Department of Toxic
Substances Control that “the finding of relatively high level
radioactive sources … raise(s) additional unanswered questions” about
assumptions related to various locations on the island. Morgan
recommended a new “conceptual model” that assumed radioactive
contamination could be more extensive than previously believed.
months later, an environmental cleanup manager for the public health
department, Stephen Woods, wrote that “the large volume of radiological
contaminated material, high number of radioactive commodities,
(individual items or sources,) and high levels of radioactive
contamination … have raised concerns with CDPH regarding the nature and
extent of the radiological contamination present at Treasure Island.”
growing file of radiation discoveries, Woods said, undermined the
Navy’s continued use of the 2006 report as a basis for claims that some
parcels were clear of radiation and ready for housing development.
San Francisco attorney Tony Gantner, an activist who opposes the
planned Treasure Island development, wrote a letter to Mayor Lee last
November citing the state’s concerns.
In it, Gantner called the 2006 report “a radiological lie.”
Violation notice leads to new report -
from state public health officials took a legal turn in a June 2011
missive from the department’s radiological health enforcement
specialist, Kent Prendergast.
He issued a notice of violation
against the Navy’s chief cleanup contractor, Shaw Environmental
& Infrastructure Inc., for repeatedly digging, piling, spreading
and transporting dirt from sites contaminated with toxic chemicals.
Shaw had not tested that material for radioactivity, Prendergast wrote,
potentially spreading radiation beyond its original location.
The Navy responded with its own memo, saying: “The Navy does not concur that the entire base is radiologically impacted.”
the violation notice, Shaw obtained the proper licenses for handling
radioactive material and continued with the cleanup, according to the
Navy and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.
Navy subsequently agreed to produce the new historical analysis, based
on recent test results and deeper research, internal memos show.
However, the Navy argued that the 2006 report remained a valid
Using photographs and other archival material,
civilian researchers under a Navy contract discovered that Treasure
Island was a major Pacific center for ship repair and salvage during and
after World War II. It included a repair shop for gun sights, which
sometimes contained glowing markers made of radioactive elements.
Researchers found indications that ships that berthed there could have
been contaminated with radiation from Pacific nuclear bomb tests.
exposure was once such a concern on Treasure Island, the researchers
found, that the former Navy base had a radiological “counting room”
where specialists tested Navy personnel and equipment for contamination.
Hill, a civilian in charge of the island’s base closure for the Navy,
said the new report will be used as a guide for further testing at some
sites, such as where workers once cleaned, repaired and salvaged ships.
Areas given a clean bill of health will be the first prepared for
turnover to the city.
However, Woods, the state Department of
Public Health’s environmental cleanup manager, in May accused the Navy
of rushing its evaluation of Treasure Island’s radioactive past and
present. Even as it was producing the report dedicated to greater
disclosure of the radioactive history of Treasure Island, the Navy was
not being open with state regulators, Woods wrote in a memo to the
Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The Navy had delayed
releasing sample data to state health inspectors and failed to test for
radioactive soil at sites where it had found toxic chemical waste,
Woods’ memo said.
As of May, contractors had transported 1,000
truckloads of radioactive waste off Treasure Island with more still in
the ground, wrote Woods, adding that this volume defied assertions that
Treasure Island had a negligible history of radioactive material.
“That amount of radium found to date,” he wrote, “cannot be explained by gauges, deck markers and decontamination activities.”