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Excerpt: "Internal documents and emails from the navy and public health officials reveal that the contamination, a legacy of ships exposed to atomic blasts and radiation training during the cold war, is more widespread than previously thought."

A woman walks her dog on Treasure Island, San Francisco. (photo: David Madison/Getty Images)
A woman walks her dog on Treasure Island, San Francisco. (photo: David Madison/Getty Images)

San Francisco Bay Island Radioactive Contamination

By Rory Carroll, Guardian UK

21 August 12


Contamination left by US navy found to have 400 times the EPA's human exposure limits, but military branch denies report.

t was called Treasure Island in honour of Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate classic, but the artificial island off San Francisco bay has nothing but trouble buried in its soil: radioactive contamination left by the US navy.

Internal documents and emails from the navy and public health officials reveal that the contamination, a legacy of ships exposed to atomic blasts and radiation training during the cold war, is more widespread than previously thought.

The navy reportedly bungled a clean-up, leaving topsoil with 400 times the Environmental Protection Agency's human exposure limits.

The revelations have alarmed some of the island's 2,800 residents and cast a shadow over plans to start building high-rise apartments for 20,000 more people next year.

The documents were disclosed by the Bay Citizen, a nonprofit news organisation covering the bay area. "The large volume of radiological contaminated material, high number of radioactive commodities [individual items or sources], and high levels of radioactive contamination ... have raised concerns ... regarding the nature and extent of the radiological contamination present at Treasure Island," Stephen Woods, an environmental clean-up manager for the public health department, wrote in a 2011 email.

A burgeoning file of radiation discoveries, Woods said, undermined the navy's continued use of a 2006 report as a basis for claims that some parcels were clear of radiation and ready for housing development.

The navy and a separate state regulatory agency, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, said California's public health officials were wrong and that there was no health risk.

Treasure Island, spanning 535 acres, was created by the federal government from landfill in 1937. It was named in honour of Louis Stevenson's book because he lived in San Francisco from 1879 to 1880. It hosted the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition before being handed to the navy.

The island used the base to repair and salvage vessels exposed to atomic blasts during the 1940s and 1950s. Cannon sights contained radioactive glow-in-the-dark material. A training ship, the USS Pandemonium, was intentionally doused in radiation so sailors could practise scrubbing it. The navy had a radiological "counting room" to test personnel and equipment for contamination.

In 1993 the navy agreed to hand the island back to the city for $105m, a deal which required inspection and approval from state health officials.

Naval operations ended there in 1997 and in a 2006 report the navy gave a clean bill of health to affected sites, saying 170 acres were suitable to transfer to San Francisco, paving the way for ambitious plans to create a new neighbourhood.

The island found a new lease of life as a set for films including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Flubber, Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man and The Caine Mutiny. Some visual effects from The Matrix were also filmed there.

However in recent reports and emails state health officials faulted the navy's 2006 report. They noted that contractors removed 16,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil, some with radiation levels 400 times the EPA's human exposure limits. Residents on the island are required to grow plants in above-ground pots to avoid soil-borne chemicals.

Emily Rapaport, president of Good Neighbors of Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island, who has lived on the island for a decade, said residents were not fully informed about contamination. "They should have been more open and upfront, because there would have been people who would have chosen not to live here," she told the Bay Citizen.

In a May memo to the Department of Toxic Substances Control Woods, the state environmental cleanup manager, accused the navy of rushing its evaluation of Treasure Island's radioactive legacy.

It had delayed releasing sample data to state health inspectors and failed to test for radioactive soil at sites where it had found toxic chemical waste, he wrote. As of May, he noted, contractors had transported 1,000 truckloads of radioactive waste off the island with more still in the ground.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control, however, said there was no risk to health, a version echoed by the navy's environmental cleanup co-ordinator, James Sullivan, who said concerns were exaggerated and inconsistent with the navy's commitment to safety. your social media marketing partner


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+23 # DPM 2012-08-21 09:31
People should be "dismayed", not "shocked". Our government has become almost completely untrustworthy.
+4 # phrixus 2012-08-22 07:53
"...almost completely untrustworthy?" I believe they tell the truth only by accident.
+14 # Glen 2012-08-21 10:09
One must also wonder how many other landfill properties might be contaminated in the Bay Area. Earthquakes of any size might cause the release of further contamination on that island, but might also destroy the island, which would release god knows what.

The Bay Area is not the only dumping ground for radiation and chemicals, and there is little concern for citizens.
+9 # vergez 2012-08-21 11:00
It should be of little surprise that women in Marin County, Japan, and Hawaii have such high incidence of breast cancer. Between atomic tests and various other sources of radiation, prevailing winds and currents, we are in a hot spot to receive radiation and toxins. Now with Fukishima, we are doubly cursed.
+4 # robniel 2012-08-21 14:33
The #1 source of breast cancer is very likely repeated mammograms. I began rejecting annual chest x-rays in 1976 for that reason. Nuclear leakage has since become another serious concern.
+11 # Majikman 2012-08-21 11:08
I'm shocked! Shocked! that the military lied.
Notice that except for the tiny non profit "Bay Citizen" news organization, The Guardian, UK seems to be the only major news outlet reporting on this as well as on other US events that get disappeared. My comment on the NYT, WaPo, and other US MSM is "Bollocks".
+4 # Glen 2012-08-21 13:02
Check on this site, Majikman for serious reporting:

And then read up on Horn Island off Mississippi.
+5 # Majikman 2012-08-21 16:38
Thanks, Glen (I think). Before I got to the section on dolphins I was already connecting the dots to the "mysterious phenomena" of beached whales & dolphins.
My next thought was: "OK all you men outta the pool and let the women take over before there's nothing left to save".
+3 # Glen 2012-08-21 18:00
Yep, we hesitate with held breath when learning something new and deadly. That reminds me of the moments, after learning about emerging viruses, and destruction of the atmosphere in which comes the dawn. It is all fascinating to fit together research puzzles, with the synchronicity of discovery and missing people in that puzzle turning up unexpectedly, and the amazing results of research of ancient times and ice and all things serving as clues to the atmosphere.

It came to me just as it did the general in Dr. Stangelove. He was asked if the B52 could make it through with the nuclear weapon, which would cause the Doomsday weapon to kick in, decimating the planet. The general described with enthusiasm the capabilities of the B52 in getting through, only to suddenly stand upright in the realization of the truth.

That was me when realizing the truth of the destruction of our planet.
+7 # patmonk 2012-08-21 11:48
This is just another example of 'crimes' committed by a succession of corrupt SF politicians, including Lt Gov GAVIN NEWSOM, in their deals with suspect speculators and developers headed by LENNAR Inc. Our struggle continues to combat the same situation in the HUNTERS POINT SHIPYARD.
Patrick Monk.RN. SF. Ca.
+10 # KittatinyHawk 2012-08-21 11:49
Thanks Guardian..yes there is lots of radiation here just look at our political clones.
But there is also a large Media blackout about the Pacific and Indian Ocean...Watch what your eating Monsanto is half the problem.
Don't buy Eastern or Western Imports. Please help Africa say NO to Monsanto.
Thanks for your reporting.
+6 # jwb110 2012-08-21 12:43
My father, who served in the Navy in the Pacific during WWII, said of the Navy, "It is the most chicken shit outfit I ever worked for." Seems nothing has changed in the last 67 years. For all the tax dollars that the Navy eats up in the name of national security they could at least provide for the security of the folks back home.
+7 # PABLO DIABLO 2012-08-21 13:10
And where did those 1,000 truckloads of contaminated soil go?
+6 # patmonk 2012-08-21 13:38
On November's ballot in California we have PROPOSITION 37.
It would require all Genetically Modified foods sold in the state to be labeled. It is just one small step in the struggle to prevent Monsanto and the Agrichemical Industry for further poisoning the planet, but could set a powerful precedent for other states that are mounting their own campaigns. Please spread the word and support us. More info at:-
International news at:-
Thank you.
Patrick Monk.RN. SF. Ca.
+5 # Street Level 2012-08-21 16:20
We need disclosure, no, we demand disclosure. We are just cannon fodder, gears of the money machine to them and are only as expendable as we allow ourselves to be.
Just getting a simple label on a package is a bigger deal than Romney's tax returns.
It's clear what they think our "worth" is, it's time to stop "asking".
+3 # Willman 2012-08-21 19:41
I wonder about the insect and animal life if it is existent, how it fares with the rads.
All the soil that has been removed is prolly dumped out to sea so it can mix with the fukishima water for a real good stew.
I guess the current property holders didn't think of radioactivity levels before purchase. Ouch on the resale if anyone is foolish enough to buy.
+3 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-08-21 19:44
They lie like Tokyo Power Corp.
+4 # John_White 2012-08-21 21:34
Its funny how I live in San Francisco and I have to find out about this issue from a paper on the other side of the world. Where in the SF Chronicle?
0 # Bee 2012-08-23 22:46
FukushimaRespon is trying to get Fukushima stabilized, so those spent fuel rods in broken building #4 don't loose their cooling water and start a fire that sends high levels of radiation to our west coast and come to find out we already have our own here in the Bay. I want Pabllo's question answered: where did that contaminated soil get shipped to? Anybody know?

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