Allegations of Radioactive Waste Cover-Up

The US Navy is facing allegations of covering up dangerous levels of radioactive waste on a 40-acre former shipyard parcel in San Francisco’s Hunters Point neighborhood, as charged by public health advocates.

The land, set to be turned over to the city for residential redevelopment, has come under scrutiny after navy testing in 2021 revealed high levels of the cancer-causing radioactive isotope, strontium-90.

Dispute Over Testing Accuracy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initially expressed alarm over the test results. However, the navy disputed the accuracy of the testing in 2022, presenting a new set of data claiming strontium-90 levels lower than zero.

Environmental health experts dismissed this claim as impossible, leading to concerns that the Navy is suppressing unfavorable data.

Calls for External Investigation

Jeff Ruch, an attorney with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer) nonprofit, has called on the Navy’s Office of Inspector General to investigate the alleged cover-up.

Ruch highlights the lack of external scrutiny, raising concerns about the navy’s ability to deceive local officials and the public without facing consequences.

Navy’s Response and Inspector General’s Decision

The Navy has not yet responded to requests for comment regarding the allegations.

The inspector general, in a letter to Peer, cited ongoing litigation as the reason for not opening an investigation at this time, leaving the issue unresolved.

Secret Research Lab and Contamination Suspicions

The 866-acre shipyard, once home to a secret navy research lab, is suspected of being the site where animals were injected with strontium-90.

Officials speculate that the waste may have been flushed down the drain.

Additionally, the radioactive isotope was used to create glow-in-the-dark paint on the shipyard and might have washed off ships used in Pacific nuclear bomb testing.

Superfund Site and Proposition P

In 1989, the US government designated the shipyard as a “superfund” site, indicating its status as one of the nation’s most contaminated lands.

Proposition P, passed by San Francisco voters in 2000, requires the cleanup of the shipyard to the highest standard established by the EPA, enabling unrestricted use of the property.

Concerns of Unremediated Contamination

Residents living on a parcel of the shipyard already transferred by the navy have reported health problems they attribute to unremediated contamination, adding urgency to the cleanup efforts.

Rising Sea and Ground Levels Complicate Cleanup

The cleanup process faces additional challenges due to rising sea and ground levels, which pose a threat of pulling radioactive contamination into the nearby bay, further endangering the surrounding ecosystem.

Legal Battles and Lack of Inspector General Investigation

The Navy and the US Department of Justice are currently entangled in 12 lawsuits related to the shipyard.

Jeff Ruch highlights the DoJ’s typical aversion to inspector general investigations, fearing complications in ongoing government cases, leading to concerns about unreviewed transactions.

Silence from the EPA and Lawsuit for Disclosure

Although the EPA initially raised concerns, it has remained silent on the issue in recent months.

Furthermore, the Peer’s Freedom of Information Act Request for emails related to the testing has gone unanswered, prompting a lawsuit to compel the release of the requested documents.

Mayoral Praise and Condemnation

San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s praise of the EPA and navy’s cleanup efforts drew condemnation from public health advocates and the city’s board of supervisors.

In response, the board initiated its own investigation into the matter, reflecting concerns over the transparency and efficacy of the cleanup process.

Uncertain Future and Need for Transparency

As the investigation proceeds, the revelation of the truth behind the suspected radioactive waste cover-up remains uncertain.

The resolution of this contentious issue holds significant implications for the future of the Hunters Point shipyard and underscores the critical need for transparency and accountability.