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EPA review of contaminated Hunters Point Shipyard finds more falsified soil testing data

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

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that almost all soil samples taken from two contaminated parcels of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard that are slated for redevelopment into housing are in need of retesting.

The EPA’s December review of the data was released Tuesday by the environmental advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

In its report, the EPA raised concerns about “potential falsification, data manipulation, and/or data quality concerns” in some 97 percent of samples taken from a portion of the shipyard known as Parcel G, which is slated for housing. It also recommended retesting of 90 percent of soil samples taken from another site called Parcel B.

The agency’s review disputes initial estimates given by the U.S. Navy in September, which recommended the resampling of 49 percent of samples taken from Parcel G and 15 percent of samples taken from “trenches, fill and building sites” in Parcel B. Parcels B and G cover nearly 40 percent of the area slated for development.

Earlier this year, the Navy announced it plans to retest samples taken by contracting firm Tetra Tech, a Pasadena-based company that was tasked with the shipyard’s clean up.

The shipyard was the site of a radiological defense laboratory and used as grounds for dumping of radioactive materials for more than two decades. Its former use as a dock for contaminated Navy ships left portions of the shipyard heavily polluted. Declared an EPA Superfund Site in 1989, the 450-acre shipyard has been subject to cleanup for nearly three decades.

The shipyard’s planned transformation into 12,000 housing units, as well as commercial and office space, is underway, and land already deemed safe for development has been transferred to developer FivePoint in stages. That land transfer process was halted in 2016, when allegations of fraud by Tetra Tech surfaced in 2016, but doubts about the contractor’s work date back to 2010.

According to the EPA memo, nearly a third of samples taken from trench units in Parcel G, which was slated for transfer at the end of this year pending safety clearance by the Navy, “showed a need for further biased soil samples to be collected, but they were not.”

Out of samples taken from 43 trench units that were not recommended for retesting by the Navy, the EPA found inconsistencies in over half and raised additional concerns in nearly one-third of the samples.

In Parcel B, the EPA’s review suggests additional inconsistency in the samples in many of the recorded samples: “In some samples, the weights recorded for the onsite lab differed significantly from the recorded for what should be the same sample sent to the offsite lab.”

The EPA’s review was released by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an environmental advocacy group that obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, said in a statement that the EPA review further shows that “Hunters Point is unfolding into the biggest case of eco-fraud in U.S. History.”

“What makes these findings so remarkable is that the Navy was on notice for years that it had a major data meltdown on its hands yet is still trying to cook the books,” said Ruch.

EPA spokesperson Michele Huitric told the San Francisco Examiner that the EPA’s assessment of the data was broader than the Navy’s review and “included looking more closely for signs of potential data quality problems in addition to signs of potential falsification.”

“For example, EPA recommended resampling when data were missing or when different data collection methods did not produce consistent results,” said Huitric, adding that the EPA’s input will help inform where the resampling will be conducted.

“The EPA is pleased that the Navy will be resampling the impacted parcels and relying on these new data to determine where additional cleanup may be needed,” she said.

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