Shipyard residents call radioactivity scan launched by state health department ‘inadequate’

A state Department of Public Health effort to scan a residential development at the Hunters Point Shipyard for signs of radioactivity was criticized by some three dozen protesters on Monday, who called the testing “inadequate.”

The radiological survey of a site known as Parcel A-1 was launched Monday and is currently limited to surface scanning of areas accessible to the public — such as parks and sidewalks.

Holding signs that read “We want a real cleanup,” environmental justice and health advocates as well as residents of the site rallied outside of a community room at the Shipyard guarded by private security guards. Inside, representatives of developer Five Point and the California Department of Public Health met ahead of the scheduled testing.

The protesters demanded that state health officials leading the radiological scanning over the next month expand the effort to include soil sampling and to examine areas beneath residents’ homes.

“I’m concerned about other forms of …contamination. How do we know what is there if you are not going to test the soil?” said a resident who gave his name as Rick.

The protesters also criticized the department for failing to open up the work plan governing the parcel A-1 survey to a community review process.

State health officials declined to address the protesters. CDPH Division Chief of Radiation Safety and Environmental Management Anthony Chu later told reporters that “highly sensitive” equipment will be used in the scanning survey, which he called the “most effective way to detect any radiation” because it is able to cover a wider surface area than soil sampling.

“We welcome the community to engage with us to submit any questions if needed and we welcome comments for review,” said Chu. “But out of an urgent desire from the community here to get out there to do this survey, we needed to come out here and do the work.”

On Monday, a cart mounted with a so called Radiation Survey 700 combed a paved block along Innes Court, immediately outside of residents’ homes, at a speed of no greater than “one meter per second,” according to a health physician conducting the survey.

“Our instruments are highly sensitive and will be able to pick up a vast array of radiation sources. Nothing is set in stone. But we wanted to use science to guide what we find,” said Chu. “We have no preconceived notion of what we will find and not find.”

Allegations of fraud have plagued a more than a decade-long radiological cleanup effort at the shipyard led by U.S. Navy contractor Tetra Tech, prompting the Navy to say it will retest areas where the civil engineering firm has conducted work.

In one area known as Parcel G, internal reviews by the Navy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made public earlier this year found that up to 97 percent of soil samples verified as free of contaminants by Navy contractor Tetra Tech may have been compromised or intentionally falsified.

In May, two former Tetra Tech supervisors were sentenced to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to falsifying records.

While as other sites of the shipyard were used decades ago for cleaning ships exposed to atomic bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean, Parcel A-1 was largely used for housing and offices. The site has been deemed safe by local and state regulatory agencies over the years, but its residents have repeatedly called for it to be included in the Navy’s retesting efforts and held to the same standards as other areas where soil excavation is planned.

“They are limiting the scanning to areas that are only publicly accessible, they are not scanning courtyards, they are not doing soil samples,” said Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, a former member of a now-dissolved citizen oversight board to the shipyard’s development. “They are not doing core sampling, they are only doing a gamma survey that will …not detect alpha and beta radiation particles.”

Among other things, Porter criticized the Parcel A-1 work plan for setting the standard for detecting anomalies too high — at three times the measured background level.

“We know that this is a radiation contaminated property — anything above background [level] should be significant. By setting it three times above background, they are setting a standard that is 99 percent above the mean,” said Porter.

David Anton, an attorney representing whistleblowers who have alleged fraud in the shipyard’s cleanup, said that the work plan for “minimal scanning” on Parcel A-1 “is not designed at all to see if there is hazardous radioactive on this parcel.”

“That plan is designed to cover up their failure over the last ten years, a failure to oversee this project properly,” he said.

A physician with the California Department of Public Health scanned a paved road in the Hunters Point Shipyard development for radiological contamination on Monday. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner).

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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