Navy Changes Course after 7 Years, OKs Testing for Radiation on Treasure Island

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Navy has changed its mind and decided to test all the homes for radiation on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, where about 2,000 families have lived in former military housing since 1999.

The decision ends seven years of resistance to demands for a systematic testing of the former naval station for radioactive materials.

The Navy is the lead agency in charge of cleaning up the manmade island for transfer to the city of San Francisco. That includes identifying and cleaning up nuclear contamination from various military operations in the past.

The island, which was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, served as a naval base in World War II. It was decommissioned in 1993 and preparations were made to transfer it to civilian control.

It was known at the time people first moved to the old Treasure Island Naval Station that contamination from  lead, arsenic, asbestos, pesticides, PCBs and other contaminants needed to be dealt with. But there was no discussion of its radioactive history.

It wasn't until 2007 that the Navy acknowledged what others already knew: radioactive residue was scattered across the island from its work on ships and aircraft with materials using paint that glows in the dark.

Over the years, the Navy has alternated between denying and downplaying media allegations (some of them recalled here and here) and evidence that radiation could be a health hazard to people living there. Right now, those people are mostly lower-income people getting a real good deal on rent.

But they won't be there for long. San Francisco approved plans in 2011 for a 20,000-resident redevelopment project on the island, estimated to cost $1.5 billion. There are visions of turning the island into a second downtown.

The Navy has found around 600 radioactive objects since it first started looking in 2006. Almost all of the items, like rusted dials and gauges, were found in the former waste disposal areas used from 1942 to 1960. But dirt and objects were moved around the island for various reasons, including other cleanup efforts, without concern about  radioactivity.

The latest radioactive discovery to garner attention was in January, when the Navy found a radioactive piece of something in the ground in front of Kathryn Lundgren's home in January, a year after finding two other radioactive items nearby.

Lundgren was not mentioned by name in the Navy's announcement (pdf), in which it credited “a recent radiological finding beneath a non-leased housing unit, and requests from residents” for deciding to survey the interiors of everyone's home. An accompanying letter to residents from the director of the Treasure Island Development Authority said it was his understanding that the Navy would survey the concrete slabs with radiation equipment.

The Navy reiterated its position that there are “no known public health hazards” on the island.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

In Reversal, Navy to Survey Treasure Island Residences for Radiation (by Matt Smith and Katharine Mieszkowski, The Center for Investigative Reporting)

Navy to Test Treasure Island Homes for Radiation after Uproar (by Marisa Lagos, San Francisco Chronicle)

Navy to Test All Treasure Island Homes for Radiation (by  VIcky Nguyen, Liz Wagner and Jeremy Carroll, NBC Bay Area)

Treasure Island Cleanup Exposes Navy’s Mishandling of Its Nuclear Past (by Matt Smith and Katharine Mieszkowski, The Center for Investigative Reporting)

Journalists’ Own Testing on Treasure Island Turns up More Nuclear Material than Navy Found (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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