Attorneys representing 38,000 residents of San Francisco’s Hunters Point and Bayview neighborhoods in a lawsuit against Tetra Tech, the firm hired by the U.S. Navy to rid the area’s former shipyard of toxic waste, said Monday they’ve added more than 2,000 residents to the suit, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to more than 40,000.
The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court in May by attorney Charles Bonner, accuses Tetra Tech EC of “blatant, conscious, callous disregard of Bayview Hunters Point residents’ lives, born and unborn” and “unfair and fraudulent business practices.” The suit is seeking $27 billion in damages.
Bonner spoke Monday outside Tetra Tech’s Market Street office in San Francisco’s Financial District, along with about 30 Hunters Point residents.
“There are two Tetra Tech employees right now sitting in federal jail and we’ve sued them along with the CEO and the CFO of Tetra Tech,” Bonner said, referring to former employees Stephen Rolfe and Jason Hubbard, who each pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco earlier this year to one count of falsification of records.
According to Bonner, Rolfe, 65, and Hubbard, 48, have been added as defendants in the suit because they “admitted that they left radioactive material in the ground knowing that it was going to blow over the community of 40,000 people in Hunters Point and give them the cancer that we see everyday, the asthma we see everyday, the kids born with defects.”
Former Black Panther leader and activist Elaine Brown, who is helping organize the residents, said, “The people who have been living in Hunters Point since the 1940s, who are mostly black and brown and low-income people, have been exposed to so much toxic waste and toxicity that we don’t know exactly (how much). Right now they are very afraid of their future because Tetra Tech lied and so everybody was thinking everything was better, but it isn’t better — it’s worse.
“This lawsuit is a weapon and a tool to give the people the power to act on their own behalf because the government, from the federal to the state to the city, have done nothing,” she said.
The site in southeast San Francisco was exposed to radiation when it was used between 1946 and 1969 as a radiological defense laboratory by the Navy to study the effects of radiation on animals and materials and to decontaminate ships used in atomic bomb testing.
In 1974, however, the 500-acre former shipyard was decommissioned and closed as a Navy facility and slated for housing, office and industrial development.
The U.S. Navy contracted with Pasadena-based Tetra Tech to clean up the radiation at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 2002, paying Tetra Tech $1 billion for the job. However, in 2012, former workers contracted by Tetra Tech claimed that data on the firm’s cleanup had been falsified and manipulated in order to minimize evidence of soil contamination, according to the environmental watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
In September 2017, the Navy made public a preliminary analysis of the cleanup specifically at two of the site’s numerous parcels and determined that nearly half of the samples taken from the site had potentially been
falsified or manipulated.
In December the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with other state agencies, independently reviewed the Navy’s report and found further signs of potential falsification, manipulation and data quality
concerns. The agencies recommended resampling most of Parcel B and most of Parcel G.
Following a news conference and rally outside of Tetra-Tech’s San Francisco office, Bonner and the residents tried to enter the building to serve Tetra Tech with the amended suit. However, they were denied entry and ultimately were unable to serve the suit.
Tetra Tech has vehemently denied that it falsified soil samples and has offered to pay for retesting.
“Tetra Tech EC is aware of a lawsuit filed by attorney Charles Bonner… citing health problems spanning decades allegedly related to the nearby Hunters Point Naval Shipyard,” according to Sam Singer with Singer and Associates, the communications firm representing Tetra Tech.
“Tetra Tech is confident that the nearby residents… will see that these accusations against Tetra Tech are without merit and will understand that the radiological testing and cleanup work that Tetra Tech EC performed over 15 years ago at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard was done with integrity, under constant supervision by the U.S. Navy,” Singer said in a statement.
Singer said representatives with the Navy, Environmental Protection Agency and the San Francisco Department of Public Health have expressed that the site poses no health or safety risks to the area’s residents.
The Navy was not immediately available for comment.
Last month, Supervisor Malia Cohen announced that the Navy agreed to retest the soil in Parcel A at the former shipyard for hazardous materials. Retesting is set for sometime this month.
Cohen’s office said that the retesting of Parcel A would be paid for by the Navy with funds secured by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and will be conducted by the California Department of Public Health.
Hubbard was sentenced in January to eight months in prison, while Rolfe was sentenced in May to eight months in prison. Both cases were kept under seal until after Rolfe was sentenced.
-Daniel Montes, Bay City News