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State health department testing finds no radiation health risks in Shipyard residential area

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A scan of “Parcel A” at the Hunters Point Shipyard, where apartments have been built in the SF Shipyard development, found the area clean of contamination. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Despite the discovery of a radioactive deck marker, a scan of a portion of the Hunters Point Shipyard known as Parcel A-1 that is home to a residential development has found no risk to the health or safety of residents and workers, a preliminary report released this month by the state health department concluded.

The California Department of Public Health has released weekly updates on the radioactivity scanning, which started on July 16 and covers the time period until Oct. 26. A final progress report signaling the end of the scanning effort was released on Nov. 16.

Residents of the hilltop shipyard site as well as advocates pressing for increased transparency in the shipyard’s ongoing radioactive cleanup have criticized the work plan guiding Parcel A’s scan as insufficient. The probing was limited to a “walkover scan” and towed array scan of the publicly accessible areas, but did not examine the areas beneath residents’ homes or include soil sampling.

According to a statement released by the California Department of Public Health on Friday, the scanning “also included common areas between residences, a large soil stockpile, and most of the slopes of A-1” due to “input and requests from the residents.”

The preliminary report indicates that a total of 89 anomalies were detected in the scanning, with “40 from the walkover scan and 49 from the towed array system.”

All but one of these anomalies were determined to be potassium-40, which is a “substance found throughout nature, including in plants, animals, various foods and our bodies” and is “not unusual for a radiation scan of this type” to detect, according to CDPH.

But calls for more scrutiny and testing increased after a radioactive object was found near Galvez Avenue and Donahue Street in an undeveloped area in close proximity to the newly built homes on Parcel A in September.

RELATED COVERAGE: Shipyard residents, advocates call for more testing after radioactive discovery

The naval deck marker, buried some 10 inches beneath the soil, was the “one exception” to the otherwise clean report, the state health department concluded.

“The amount of radiation output by this deck marker would not have resulted in a health or safety hazard to anyone who happened to be at that spot previously. It was removed by a Navy contractor under CDPH observation,” said CDPH in the statement. “The hole which contained the deck marker was scanned as was the removed soil. No radiation above background was detected, which indicated that the deck marker was intact and that no radium leaked out of the marker.”

The results were met with continued skepticism by environmental and health advocates pushing for an investigation into the shipyard’s toxic cleanup, which spans more than a decade and is riddled with allegations of fraud.

“[CDPH’s] claim that no health risks were found is a lie, and continues their cover up,” said Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, who pointed out that the scanning “never checked under homes or more than a foot down or for all the types of radiation that might be present.

Parts of the shipyard have long been known to be contaminated with radioactive materials such as Cesium-137, Radium-226, asbestos and pesticides, among other things. Its dry docks once served as cleaning stations for ships exposed to atomic tests in the Pacific Ocean, and the former naval base also housed a nuclear warfare research lab.

Due to its hazardous history, the 500-acre shipyard was designated as a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1989, requiring remediation by the U.S. Navy prior to any development of the site.

Reviews by the Navy and U.S. EPA conducted last year found up to 97 percent of data produced by Tetra Tech, the navy-contractor that was largely responsible for the shipyard’s remediation between 2002 and 2016, to be unreliable.

Since 2013, more than 300 homes have been developed on the hilltop, with more than 10,500 residences planned, but land transfers to The City were halted by the EPA in 2016 after initial reports of malpractice came to light.

In May, two former Tetra Tech supervisors were sentenced to federal prison after they admitted to falsifying records and swapping out dirty soil samples for clean ones.

“Despite the inadequate testing, a highly radioactive object was found right next to homes, where [CDPH] and other agencies promised radiation would not be found,” said Angel. “That radioactive object was a health risk, as is the government’s ongoing cover up of the toxic and radioactive truth.”

Bayview District residents filed a $27 billion class action lawsuit in May against Tetra Tech and the shipyard’s developer, Lennar Inc. and its offshoot Five Point Holdings, claiming that they have suffered adverse health impacts as a result of fraudulent business practices at the shipyard.

That lawsuit was followed by legal action from Parcel A homeowners who claim they were misled about the extent of the contamination at the shipyard by those same parties.

 “I’m still very skeptical of whether our family is safe living at the Shipyard. That’s because this community has been lied to repeatedly about the condition of this Superfund site for decades,” said Linda Parker Pennington, one of the Parcel A residents who filed the lawsuit.

“These most recent cleanup efforts still appear to have cut corners and they have not addressed some specific requests that we homeowners made when this all started back in June,” she added. “I’m frankly pretty disappointed with CDPH that they think we should accept this report.”

A full report including final data and “a complete archive of all work performed” is expected to be published next month, according to CDPH.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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