KCBS Radio/Megan Goldsby

Hunters Point Radioactive Contamination 'Was Far Greater' Than Thought, Researchers Say

Scott Lettieri
October 19, 2018 - 3:36 pm

SAN FRANCISCO — Contamination is more widespread in San Francisco's Hunters Point section than previously acknowledged, according to a pair of reports from a non-profit based in Santa Cruz.

The amount of land that's been tested for radiation represents only a fraction of the Navy's land there, according to researchers. 

Plans for developing the former shipping center with thousands of new housing units has turned into a major controversy. Employees from Tetra Tech, the environmental firm hired to oversee the cleanup, were sentenced to prison in May for fabricating test results 

Now, the reports by Committee to Bridge the Gap indicate that the contamination was more prevalent while safety testing has been less extensive than residents knew.

One report cast doubt on the Navy's assurance that the vast majority of the former shipyard could not be contaminated. According to the Navy, 90 percent of sites were not contaminated, but the Santa Cruz team found that that 90 percent of land was not tested. In sites where samples were tested, the researchers said that they did not have faith in the accuracy of the results. 

"The scandal that the public knows about — that Tetra Tech fabricated up to 97 percent of the measurements it made — is the tip of the iceberg," said Daniel Hirsch, who led the studies and is the former director of UC-Santa Cruz's environmental and nuclear policy program. "The real scandal is that 90 percent of the property they didn't test at all."  

Officials with the Navy have previously vowed that environmental tests have been trustworthy and accurate. 

The other report details the wide variety of radioactive sources that were brought into the Navy's shipyard. 

In the middle of the 20th century, the Navy cleaned 80 ships in Hunters Point that were tainted from nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. Sandblasting and steam-cleaning those ships "had the potential to transfer the contamination throughout Hunters Point," the report said. 

The Navy also burned 600,000 gallons of fuel that had been exposed to radioactive material n boilers in Hunters Point, the report said. Debris from atomic and hydrogen bomb tests was also brought to the neighborhood. 

"The magnitude of operations with large amounts of a wide array of radionuclides over many decades at [Hunters Point> was far greater than generally understood," the report said. 

The reports have been seized upon by an attorney representing 20 residents, many of whom are people of color. 

"This is the worst case of environmental racism I've ever seen," said lawyer Joe Cotchett. "They weren't about to let white families move out here, so what do they put out here? Low-income people, African Americans. That's who got dumped out here," 

Navy officials did not respond to KCBS Radio's inquiries. 

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, the report's author was not identified correctly. Daniel Hirsch is a retired UC-Santa Cruz researcher, not a current one.