Treasure Island radiation levels are not known to be dangerous for those living on the former Navy base, officials reiterated Tuesday night at a meeting with concerned residents. But even as speaker after speaker presented a highly technical recap of cleanup assessments revealing no major health danger, island dwellers remained uneasy — many of them vocally angry.
The meeting was called in response to reports by The Bay Citizen and the East Bay Express detailing updated radiological findings, plus an anecdotal but troubling string of cancer cases among longtime residents. The Navy closed the base in 1997, when it began transferring the man-made isle to The City. It had been the site of cleanup and maintenance for ships — some of which were used in atomic tests in the Pacific Ocean in the 1940s and 1950s.
As the base wound down activities in the 1990s, Section 8 housing and other relatively cheap residences became available to low-income individuals. About 2,000 people currently live there.
In spring 2011, the Board of Supervisors approved lofty plans to bring 20,000 new residents to the island with residential towers, retail developments and ample open space. But opponents sued over environmental assessments for the project, and contamination fears now threaten to slow it further.
On Tuesday, officials addressed the elephant in the room almost immediately.
“Right now, the bottom line is it’s safe for the folks living here doing what they’re doing,” said Ray Leclere, a deputy director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.
Leclere warned against activities such as digging a 10-foot swimming pool into potentially toxic dirt, but noted there currently is no study showing such an activity would be dangerous.
According to data provided by the Navy, 885 20-ton barrels of low-level radiological material have been shipped off the island — mostly to Idaho — since late 2007.
Many residents spoke of swirling dust as workers ramp up cleanup efforts to prepare the notoriously windy landscape for new construction. Worries about mysterious asthma and other breathing troubles mirror complaints made by Bayview residents over the Hunters Point shipyard site, another former Navy base targeted for development.
Others noted that Treasure Island’s lack of public schools and varied off-island medical care providers make it difficult to track health trends.
Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the island and helped organize the meeting, expressed frustration that officials were responding to complaints simply by asking residents to contact Navy officials if they witness problems. Kim said that’s precisely what they were doing at the meeting.
“I think this is not that helpful,” Kim said, adding that The City’s Department of Public Health should look into providing health pattern data to identify any illness trends.