Friday, April 12, 2013
USA Navy and Lennar Bay Area are developing radioactive land parcels for habitation and public use, and lying about it
"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)
Land 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.
The findings, 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.
“The 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 fallout.
But, Beyea said, the unexpected finding should prompt a more thorough evaluation of the island for potentially hotter spots.
“The 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.
“Building a playfield is not an appropriate plan at this time,” he wrote, “given the tendency for little children to put things in their mouths.”
CIR 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.
“Such 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.
Michael Tymoff, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s Treasure Island development director, said CIR’s findings provide no reason for the city to take action.
“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.”
However, 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 such contamination.
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.
“Instead 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 -
The 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].
The 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 high-rise development.
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.
Until the 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.
CIR’s 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.
Minute 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.
The 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.
The 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 project [http://blog.sfgate.com/matierandross/2013/04/11/chinese-deals-for-hunters-point-ti-collapse/].
At 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 plans there.
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 2007.
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 residents live.
They found five locations with elevated radiation levels, according to Gonzalo Perez, chief of the department’s radiologic health branch.
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].
CIR’s 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 waste.
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.
2013-04-12 "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/]:
Last 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:
* CIR 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 regulators.
* 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 question.
* 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.
* Reporters 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.
* The 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 inadequate"
by Matt Smith from "Bay Citizen" newswire [http://www.baycitizen.org/health/story/navys-treasure-island-radiation-report/]:
Recent 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 tests.
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 in 2013.
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.”
* The 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.
* The 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 incinerator.
Aaron 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.
“It’s 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.
The 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.
Soon 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.
Since 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.
The resulting efforts, including the draft report, are wanting, according to today’s response, signed by Larry Morgan, California’s senior health physicist.
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.
2012-08-28 "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
Use 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 20,000 people.
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 background [http://media.baycitizen.org/interactive/ti-radiation/index4.html#].
2012-08-17 "Radiation history on Treasure Island more widespread than reported" by Matt Smith from "California Watch"
In 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 Francisco Chronicle)
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":
Radioactive 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.
Although 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.
The 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.
The 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 the island.
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.
Those 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.
Emily 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.
But Treasure Island’s complete radioactive history, Rapaport said, is something about which neighbors previously only speculated.
“They 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 -
The 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.
Mayor 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.
The state’s environmental management team has had a lot of turnover, Sullivan said, “and some of the history gets lost with personnel.”
The 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.
State 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.
“If 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 disposal facility.”
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 -
Contractors 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.
The 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.
But soon 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 assessment anew.
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 for radiation.
“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.
In 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.
Six 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.”
The 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.
Retired 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 -
Criticism 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.”
Following 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.
The 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 historical record.
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.
Radiation 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.
John 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.”