Efforts to get an update on the cleanup of toxic materials on Treasure Island were hampered after the U.S. Navy declined to attend a hearing at Monday’s San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting.
Supervisor Matt Haney, whose supervisorial district includes the island, initially called the hearing, bringing out a bevy of local and state agencies, whistleblowers, environmental advocates and Treasure Island residents.
Treasure Island was formerly home to a naval base, but when the base closed in 1998, some 2,000 formerly homeless residents were moved into former Navy housing. The city then began developing the island after supervisors in 2011 approved a massive project to build 8,000 homes over the next two decades.
The Navy’s cleanup continues to be performed at select sites on the island with oversight from the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, although the last time the Navy reported on the cleanup effort was in 2014.
“As a city we have a responsibility to protect all of our residents,” Haney said. “Radiological objects continue to be discovered very close to homes that were not expected to exist, raising questions to how much we really know and their impacts on residents.
“I have spoken to numerous Treasure Island current and former residents who have reported health conditions that they believe are directly tied to the radiation and toxins. Some have reported bronchial diseases and lung cancer,” he said.
Anthony Chu, CDPH chief of radiation safety and environmental management, admitted that past cleanup efforts by the Navy were “inadequate in the sense that the sites were not properly identified with the contaminants and that they were not properly characterized.”
But, he added, “We urged the Navy to take more action and over time, and this process has been gradual, we did see improvements in their efforts and right now I would characterize the efforts as being much more improved.”
Attorney David Anton is representing several whistleblowers, many former workers contracted by the Navy for the cleanup effort, who have alleged fraudulent cleanup efforts that failed to remove hazardous materials.
“Beginning in 2013 and continuing, workers at Treasure Island have approached me and reported fraud in the cleanup,” he said, describing instances in which workers were allegedly told to dismiss findings of contamination.
“Highly radioactive foils have been found around the residences since 2008 and the homes were built over these radioactive wastes,” Anton said.
Anton, as well as the group Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide more oversight on cleanup efforts.
Although Navy officials did not attend the hearing, the Navy said in a statement that so far, 88 percent of the island has been decontaminated and transferred to the city for redevelopment.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, several former and current Treasure Island residents gave testimonies, going into detail about long-term health effects they suffered after moving to the island.
“Based on the information today, I can tell you that I’m even more concerned of the health of current residents and the status of the cleanup,” Haney said. Haney called for a newer, more updated report to replace the Navy’s 2014 report.
The committee ultimately voted unanimously to continue the meeting to a future date to continue the conversation.
-Daniel Montes, Bay City News
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of attorney David Anton’s name.