Dozens of Bayview Hunters Point Shipyard residents urged the U.S. Navy Monday to test the soil under their hilltop homes for toxic residue, citing mounting revelations of a fraudulent radioactive cleanup on surrounding land slated for redevelopment.
However, a Navy spokesman speaking at a homeowners association meeting told residents that any retesting will not extend to the area known as Parcel A, which it transferred to The City for development in 2004. Upwards of 300 condominiums have since risen on the 75-acre parcel, which once served as housing and office space for the former Naval base.
“There are a lot of houses already here [and] this isn’t Navy property,” said Derek Robinson, environmental coordinator for the Navy at Hunters Point.
Robinson said that the Navy was most concerned about “long term exposure” to radioactive materials in other areas where contractor Tetra Tech — the civil engineering firm hired by the Navy to clean the Shipyard of its radioactive past —worked from about 2002 to 2016.
“We haven’t had any information of radioactive contamination on Parcel A,” he said.
The former naval base, which was used as a nuclear warfare research lab and cleaning dock for ships returning from atomic bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean, was designated as a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Site in 1989. The Navy has spent more than $1 billion to date to clean up the area, which is slated for a redevelopment project with 12,100 homes and 4 million square feet of commercial space.
However the Navy announced earlier this year that it plans to reexamine the data produced by Tetra Tech after an internal review found nearly half of soil samples were potentially falsified or manipulated. A review by the U.S. EPA made public in April revealed that the fraud was potentially even more widespread.
Last week, the second of two former Tetra Tech supervisors was sentenced to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to falsifying records, but whistleblowers’ allegations of misconduct in the cleanup date back at least six years.
Parcel A has long been considered safe and was removed from the Superfund designation in 1999.
But a majority of the Shipyard homeowners at Monday’s meeting said their trust in the Navy and its contractors have been shattered by recent reports.
Squaring off with representatives from the Navy and The City’s Department of Public Health inside of the development’s community center, the residents pressed for Parcel A to be included in a yet unpublished work plan that will govern the Navy’s process for retesting the compromised sites.
“My main concern is realistically getting Parcel A tested,” said a resident of the development since 2016, who declined to give his name. The man said that he is considering selling his home, depending on whether “actions are taken moving forward.”
“I would like assurances for my long term investment here,” he said.
While the Navy has maintained Parcel A is clean, whistleblower testimony disputing that notion surfaced as recently as this weekend.
As was first reported in Curbed SF, former Shipyard worker said he discovered a “hot” sample of cesium-137 higher than the allowable limit for release of the site set by the EPA and Navy, on Parcel A, which he was instructed to cover up— an allegation Tetra Tech has disputed. Another whistleblower alleged he reported finding elevated levels of radium 226 in a sewer line in Parcel A.
They have also alleged that Parcel A was not adequately tested for contamination.
Robinson said Parcel A was not subject to work by Tetra Tech, except for a structure known as Building 322, which was demolished and removed by the firm. Areas in which whistleblowers alleged finding radioactive materials were “removed and replaced with clean soil,” he said.
In 2012, an aerial scan using radiological sensing equipment was conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, but found no elevated levels of contamination. In 2002, the EPA conducted a similar radiological scanner van survey of Parcel A and attributed detected anomalies to “natural occurring sources at levels consistent with what would normally be found in the environment.”
“There was never testing done because there was no scientific evidence that there needs to be testing,” said Amy Brownell, an environmental engineer with DPH.
But for residents who have banked on building lives on the revamped Shipyard, these assurances carried little weight.
“Almost universally we’d like Parcel A to be retested,” said a woman who made the Shipyard her home in December and requested anonymity. “That is the least [that can be done] to give us all trust and faith that where we are living is safe, regardless of the past.”
Supervisor Malia Cohen, whose district includes Hunters Point, has called for a hearing on the data falsification scandal on May 14. After attending Monday’s meeting, she told the San Francisco Examiner that the residents’ concerns about Parcel A were “received and I certainly will be bringing it up [at] the hearing,” but did not state whether or not she will be pressing the Navy or The City for action.
“We have city agencies digging into an obviously very complicated matter,” Mayor Mark Farrell told the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday. “Obviously it’s the bare minimum that our ground is safe here in San Francisco to be living on it.”