A 60-day public comment period on the retesting plan for a portion of the Hunters Point Shipyard where fraud has riddled a radioactive cleanup ended last week, but the Navy’s proposed strategies have been blasted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and citizen watchdogs.
While the EPA has criticized the work plan for not reflecting a “scientifically driven retesting strategy” it had previously recommended and for not providing information on a “path forward,” should contamination be found, community advocates — including long time Bayview-Hunters Point residents — say they don’t trust the process unless they can oversee it.
The San Francisco Examiner and the SF Weekly teamed up for a special, in-depth report on the Hunters Point fraud. Read the full story here.
For decades, Bayview-Hunters Point residents and advocates have fought for oversight of the shipyard’s cleanup and for health and economic justice in a disenfranchised community living on the city’s edge.
Marie Harrison is one of them. A campaign adviser with the national environmental and health justice group Greenaction, she’s been a resident of the neighborhood long enough to raise her own three children, her grandchildren, and “several other children who were not mine,” she says. Having been a civilian file clerk specialist for the Navy, she also served for 16 years on the RAB. Now 68, Harrison is bound to an oxygen tank she carries to community meetings and protests due to a rare lung disease that she attributes to years of working on the shipyard.
Harrison says she grew suspicious years before Tetra Tech’s contract even began, when Navy and public-health officials were unable to cite the cause of a month-long, underground fire in 2000 on a different site of the shipyard, Parcel E. Firefighters couldn’t even extinguish it, in fact.
Adjacent to Parcel G and a stone’s throw away from Parcel A, where homes cropped up a decade later, Parcel E is still the site of an SFPD crime lab and a landfill where hazardous materials — including radioactive waste and contaminated soil — were discarded.
Repeated attempts to douse the blaze with water or by digging up the landfill were unsuccessful, according to news reports at the time. Surrounding residents reported seeing a colorful plume of smoke rising as Parcel E smoldered.
“You know when there’s flames shooting out of the ground in pretty colors, the smoke is dark and all you see is the heat waves, you see these beautiful colors — bright yellows, reds, and blues — that something toxic is burning,” Harrison says.
According to her, residents in the nearby housing projects were not given information about the blaze until some 20 days after it started.
“You’d think this was important enough to notify us,” she says. “This whole notion that they didn’t want to explain themselves, or bring someone in with the ability to tell us what was down there, what was burning. … At that particular juncture, I was ready to go in on them, full-force. I could not accept anything they were saying, and it went from bad to worse.”