by Matt Smith and Katharine Mieszkowsk, The Bay Citizen
San Francisco will ask the state to conduct its own investigation of the cleanup of radioactive waste on Treasure Island, after receiving complaints that contractors hired by the U.S. Navy might have mishandled contaminated material.
“We would like (state officials) to go out and conduct independent scans,” Michael Tymoff, project director for the city's Treasure Island Development Authority, said in an interview.
Tymoff said his office is preparing a formal request for the California Department of Public Health to conduct a new study, and he will provide more details to the Board of Supervisors during a hearing today.
San Francisco has asked the agency "to provide assistance in addressing concerns about radioactive contamination at Treasure Island," a state health department spokesman, Ken August, confirmed in an email, adding that the agency has asked San Francisco to provide more specifics about the proposed independent survey.
The Navy is preparing to transfer the former Treasure Island Naval Station to San Francisco next spring, allowing for a planned 8,000-unit housing development. Under a 2010 agreement signed by former Mayor Gavin Newsom and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, the city is to pay the Navy $105 million plus a share of development profits – as long as the Navy meets a series of transfer deadlines, which hinge in part on a timely cleanup of hazardous waste.
But state officials have complained that the Navy rushed its evaluation of Treasure Island's radioactive past and present and that the contractors it hired overlooked radioactive contamination and improperly handled soil containing radioactive material, according to internal memos and emails obtained by The Bay Citizen. The Navy also failed to thoroughly examine the island for low-level radiation, according to the documents, leaving the possibility that it has not identified all of the radioactive waste.
The Navy and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control say that Treasure Island poses no health risk to residents and that the government is conducting a complete cleanup of the area.
After The Bay Citizen reported that radioactive contamination on the island was more widespread than previously disclosed, two dozen of the island’s 2,500 residents met with Navy officials to ask why they had not been informed about the potential dangers.
Long-term exposure to radium, the most common radioactive material found on the island, potentially can increase the risk of diseases such as leukemia and bone cancer. Those diseases, when they do occur, often appear years after exposure. But even then, it can be difficult to prove a connection between exposure and illness. The Navy decommissioned the Treasure Island Naval Station and opened it to the public in 1996.
In an Aug. 31 letter delivered to Treasure Island residents, Tymoff said that in the future, San Francisco would approach the Navy’s cleanup claims with skepticism.
“The city will review, examine and question all reports, testing and analysis from the Navy, and the regulatory agencies, to ensure the Navy fulfills their promise to clean the island,” Tymoff wrote, adding that San Francisco will “uphold the highest standards to ensure that human health and safety is protected.”
Supervisor Jane Kim said during a hearing last week that she has received complaints from several residents who fear the island is not a safe place to live. She and Supervisor John Avalos called for today's hearing to learn more about radioactive contamination on the island.
“I worry that just with the word ‘potential’ and with the word ‘radiation,’ and with the history that’s there, that gives me great concern,” Avalos said.
This story was produced by The Bay Citizen, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Learn more at www.baycitizen.org.