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Breed, Walton call for independent review of retesting efforts at Hunters Point Shipyard

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A sign warns of toxic landfill near The San Francisco Shipyard housing project. (Dan Chambers/Special to S.F. Examiner)

An independent review team will examine recent efforts to retest two sites at the Hunters Point Shipyard for toxic contamination after a botched radioactive cleanup cast doubt over residents’ safety, Mayor London Breed promised Wednesday.

Speaking during her first State of the City address as mayor, Breed said that The City needs to be “clear and transparent with the public about this project.”

The team will be put together by representatives from the University of California at San Francisco and University of California at Berkeley. It will be tasked with reviewing the procedures used by the Department of Public Health last year for the retesting of Parcels A and G following reports of fraud in a decade-long remediation effort.

Following surface scans Parcel A, a residential site on the shipyard, the state health department found no risk to the health or safety of residents and workers, despite the discovery of a radioactive deck marker in the area a month earlier.

Breed said that she partnered with newly instated Bayview District Supervisor Shamann Walton on the request for independent analysis, and is also working with City Attorney Dennis Herrera to “address questions around the testing at the Hunters Point Shipyard Project.”

John Cote, Herrera’s spokesperson, said “the point is to have an impartial panel of health experts examine the data and reach their own conclusions about whether testing of Parcel A and rest of the shipyard is adequate.”

“That way everyone gets the facts and the public has confidence in the analysis,” said Cote.

Parts of the shipyard, which is a U.S. EPA Superfund site, have long been known to be contaminated with radioactive materials such as cesium-137 and radium-226, as well as asbestos and pesticides. Its dry docks once served as cleaning stations for ships exposed to atomic tests in the Pacific Ocean, and the former naval base also housed a nuclear warfare research lab.

With parts of the shipyard slated for redevelopment into more than 10,500 residential units, the cleanup was spearheaded by Navy-contractor Tetra Tech from 2006 to 2016.

However audits by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded early last year that up to 97 percent of Tetra Tech’s data may have been compromised or intentionally faked, reinvigorating longstanding calls by environmental justice groups and nearby residents for comprehensive retesting at the Shipyard and independent oversight of the process.

Whistleblower reports of malpractice on part of Tetra Tech employees and managers date back at least six years, and the Environmental Protection Agency ordered land transfers to The City halted in 2016 due to the concerns.

SEE RELATED: U.S. sues Tetra Tech for alleged false claims in Hunters Point cleanup

Tetra Tech is facing multiple lawsuits, including litigation from Parcel A residents, who claim that they were misled about the extent of the contamination at the shipyard. Two company employees pleaded guilty to federal charges for falsifying records in May last year, and federal authorities sued the company earlier this month, alleging that managers directed employees to commit fraud.

The company has denied the allegations.

Since 2013, more than 300 homes have already been constructed on a hilltop site overlooking the Shipyard known as Parcel A, and residents there have pushed for that site to be included in a Navy’s retesting plan.

Walton said that he and Breed have had “formal conversations with UCSF and representatives from UC Berkeley,” and that he was making good on his campaign promise to bring “in academia to review testing” and provide transparency in a process that many community members say has failed them.

Environmental advocates and academic experts monitoring the cleanup and retesting efforts said that Breed’s promise is a “good first step,” but remain skeptical over the independence of the proposed panel.

SEE RELATED: Reports suggest radioactive contamination affects Hunters Point Shipyard in areas never tested by Navy

SEE RELATED: Report: Navy using outdated standards in cleanup at Hunters Point Shipyard

“It’s a good idea to bring in independent experts–the question is whether they are bringing in independent experts,” said Dan Hirsch, the retired director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at University of California at Santa Cruz. Hirsch, who nows head a nonprofit organization called the Committee to Bridge the Gap, has chronicled seven decades of nuclear activity at the shipyard.

In a series of reports examining the cleanup conducted over a three-year-period, Hirsch and his team have suggested that contamination affected the shipyard in areas not previously tested by the Navy and that cleanup standards used over the past decade were outdated and far less protective than current standards required by the U.S. EPA.

Hirsch said that he presented his research to a citizen advisory committee that advises Breed on the shipyard’s cleanup on Monday, but that no representatives from her office were present to his knowledge.

“Greenaction and other community organizations have for several years demanded independent community oversight, which was ignored. This is a positive first step but we are concerned that the independent academic institutions that have been involved and proven correct don’t seem to be included and they need to be,” said Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.

When asked if the panel would include representatives of Hirsch’s organization and other groups actively monitoring the cleanup, Walton said that UCSF and UC Berkeley are “local independent institutions that we have been in conversation with.”

“My focus is a clean place for our families to live free of all toxins and environmental hazards,” said Walton.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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