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Housing development at former Hunters Point Shipyard to be tested for contamination

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New home construction on Parcel A is seen behind dilapidated buildings on Parcel G at the old Hunters Point Shipyard. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

City and state officials confirmed that the state health department will take on the testing of a hilltop housing development overlooking areas of the Hunters Point Shipyard that in recent months have been the focus of a toxic cleanup scandal.

Following the release of a draft work plan by the U.S. Navy Friday morning detailing the retesting of contaminated buildings and soil on a shipyard site known as Parcel G, Bayview Supervisor Malia Cohen announced that radiological testing will also take place on Parcel A — and much sooner.

“The California Department of Public Health has agreed to perform the testing of Parcel A, beginning in July,” Cohen told the San Francisco Examiner. The testing will be paid for with federal dollars secured by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who helped steer some $36 million designated for base cleanups towards Hunters Point.

Environmental justice advocates and residents of the Shipyard who have been calling for toxic testing at Parcel A — where more than 300 homes have been built as part of a massive development project — embraced their victory with caution.

SEE RELATED: Navy’s retesting plan for Hunters Point Shipyard cleanup released

“What type of testing?” asked Bradley Angel, executive director of the environmental justice group Green Action. “Scanning is not enough. If all they do is ‘scanning,’ it will be clear once again that The City’s interest is protecting [developer] Lennar-Five Point’s profits.”

A CDPH spokesperson confirmed that a “radiation survey of the publicly accessible areas of Parcel A-1 at Hunters Point to address the radiological health and safety of the environment” will soon be underway, but did not give further details.

The U.S. Navy operated the shipyard until 1974, using it to clean ships exposed to atom bombs and for research on defense against nuclear weapons. In 1989, the heavily contaminated shipyard was designated as an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, giving it priority as one of the most toxic cleanup sites in the nation.

While allegations of fraud by Tetra Tech, a civil engineering firm contracted to clean the shipyard ahead of its transfer to The City for development, date back years, concerns were revived last year when internal reviews by the Navy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found significant data irregularities on land parcels stamped off as clean.

Local and federal agencies involved in the shipyard’s cleanup, including the Navy, which cited the area’s historical use as housing and administrative offices as evidence that radiological contamination there was unlikely, on Friday expressed support of the state-led testing effort.

“We support CDPH in their efforts to gather additional data to provide Parcel A Homeowners with peace of mind,”said Kimberly Ostrowski, director of the Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure West program, adding that “Federal and state regulators have repeatedly verified the safety of Parcel A,” which was removed from the Superfund Program in 1999.

Ostrowski said that the EPA surveyed Parcel A before it was transferred to the City for development in 2004.

In a statement issued by the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, the lead agency on the project, director Nadia Sesay said that OCII is “pleased with the collaborative approach amongst Federal and State Agencies and [welcomes] the support they have shown for the retest of Parcel A.”

“The Navy and EPA continue to assure the public and us that Parcel A is safe, but all parties agree that concerns raised warrant retesting,” said Sesay.

While the work plan released to govern the retesting of Parcel G is subject to two months of community input before it can be finalized, Parcel A does not appear to be held to the same level of scrutiny.

“If they are going to start testing [Parcel A] in two weeks, they are just trying to ram it through without public input and without a plan,” said Angel. “What that is going to do is put more gasoline on the fire — it will continue to build mistrust.”

At a Navy-led meeting with Parcel A homeowners held to address concerns in early May, Derek Robinson, the Navy’s environmental coordinator at the shipyard, said that the site was not subject to work by Tetra Tech, except for a single structure that was demolished and removed by the firm.

Amy Brownell, an environmental engineer with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, also assured residents present at the May 9 meeting that the land beneath their homes is safe.

“There was never testing done because there was no scientific evidence that there needs to be testing,” Brownell said at the time. The department did not return requests for comment by press time.

On Friday, residents of Parcel A said that they had found out about the plans to retest the site through news reports.

“We are very excited to see that someone is stepping up to make sure retesting is occurring, but we want to know how it’s going to work, what it’s going to be, how it will be out here when they are doing it, and what type of testing they will be doing,” said Jason Fried, who lives on the Shipyard.

“I would want to see us get the same level of treatment as all the other parcels.”

Updated: A spokesperson for the Department of Public Health said on Monday that the department is “supportive of the state health department doing an evaluation of Parcel A.”


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