Journalists’ Own Testing on Treasure Island Turns up More Nuclear Material than Navy Found

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Unhappy with claims by the U.S. Navy that radiation levels on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay are suitable for expanded civilian development of the former naval base, journalists at The Bay Citizen gathered their own soil samples and had them analyzed by an independent laboratory.

Equipped with special gloves and shoe covers and packing radiation survey instruments, the reporters scooped up dirt from areas that the Navy said had very low levels of cesium-137, a byproduct of nuclear fission, and had it tested. The results showed levels of radiation up to three times higher than what the Navy had claimed.

The reporters, whose parent organization is the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), focused their attention on an area of the island targeted for development in the near future.

The Navy was not impressed and told the center that the sample was too small, and “taken out of context,” to warrant further investigation. A San Francisco mayoral representative coordinating Treasure Island development said he saw no reason for the city to get involved. The California Department of Public Health also took a pass, saying it doesn’t comment on research conducted by others.

The state agency overseeing the Navy’s ongoing substantial cleanup, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, reserved judgment for later.

The Navy is the lead agency in charge of cleaning up the manmade island―which served as a naval base in World War II―for transfer to the city of San Francisco. That includes identifying and cleaning up nuclear contamination from various military operations in the past. Although the Navy still officially refers to radioactive contamination on the island as negligible, it has hauled away at least 1,000 truckloads of radioactive material.  

The Navy cleanup of the now-shuttered base focused until recently on highly toxic chemicals like dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). But new concerns were raised after a Navy report released last August described extensive radiation-related activities on the island during the war and mapped, for the first time, potential hot spots.

San Francisco approved plans in 2011 for a 20,000-resident redevelopment project on the island, estimated to cost $1.5 billion. A $1.7 billion loan from China to Lennar Corp. for development there and at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard fell apart last week when China demanded more control of the project.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Nuclear Byproduct Levels on Treasure Island Higher than Navy Disclosed (by Matt Smith and Katharine Mieszkowski, The Bay Citizen)

Deal Collapses for $1.7 Billion Chinese Investment in San Francisco (by J.K. Dineen, San Francisco Business Times)

Alarming Radiation Levels Found on Treasure Island (by Ashley Bates, East Bay Express)

Positioning Opportunity Analysis of Treasure Island Market-Rate Housing (The Concord Group)

Navy Steams Ahead on Treasure Island Cleanup, but Public Health Department Not Fully on Board (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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