City health department tests conducted at a police crime lab in the heart of the former Hunters Point Shipyard, parts of which are known to be contaminated with radioactive and other toxic materials, found no health risks for the employees who work there, officials said Wednesday.
Police officials in August called for retesting of the air, soil and water quality at and around Building 606, a former police outpost which still serves as a crime laboratory, after concerns were raised about health risks to the 41 officers still working there. The department expects to vacate the building by 2020.
Health Department spokesperson Rachael Kagan said that “all of the testing done to date confirms that there is no evidence of health hazards at Building 606 related to the Shipyard cleanup and restoration.”
The Health Department is expected to present the test results to the San Francisco Police Commission Wednesday evening.
But advocates seeking transparency in the Shipyard’s cleanup, as well as some Police Commission members, remain skeptical of the results.
“What the results don’t say is more important than what they do say,” said Daniel Hirsch, retired director of the Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy at UC Santa Cruz. Hirsch said that the initial report does not indicate what standards were used to determine whether the measured levels of contaminants pose actual health risks.
“At the moment it doesn’t tell you anything except that they are finding contaminants — we just don’t know if it’s at levels where it’s horrible or not too bad,” he said.
Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus said regardless of the results, she wants the police officers stationed at the Shipyard to be pulled out.
“My position is pull them out now. We don’t need to do any more testing,” she said. “They will remove them anyway. Why not pull them out now?”
Parts of the shipyard, which is a U.S. EPA Superfund site, have long been known to be contaminated with radioactive materials such as cesium-137 and radium-226, as well as asbestos and pesticides. 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.
Building 606 sits in a fenced-off area known as Parcel E, which also contains landfills where for decades toxic materials— such as parts of ships exposed to nuclear weapon testing — were disposed of.
Questions over the site’s water and ventilation systems, which reportedly have been tainted with toxic gases, and radioactive materials discovered adjacent to the building, prompted the testing effort.
Soil samples were analyzed by Engineering/Remediation Resources Group Inc. for heavy metals, pesticides, and radionuclides, among other things, and sent to third-party analytical labs for review.
The soil pile sampling found all radionuclide parameters to be below “release criteria” — safety standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Navy.
According to Kagan, the soil has been “accepted at landfill and will be removed.” A date for the soil’s removal has not been set.
Tests of drinking water found no traces of radionuclides, although samples collected at two indoor faucets by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission found lead, with one of the faucets in the men’s shower room testing at above the federal action level of 15 PPB.
Health department officials pointed to “low water usage in the building with old piping materials” as the source of the lead contamination and recommended flushing out the tap for several minutes before use.
A previous examination of settled dust in a warehouse at the site found neither asbestos or lead, per the health department.
Still to be completed at Building 606 is the testing of stagnant rain water accumulating in a 4.5-5 foot crawl space beneath the building, as well as a radiological screen of the interior and exterior of the building. Those tests are expected to be released mid-January.
Retesting is also underway elsewhere on the Shipyard, including an area already developed into housing, following revelations about fraud in the shipyard’s toxic cleanup.
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.