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African American Worker Blew the Whistle on Treasure Island Radioactive Contamination
by Michael Steinberg ( blackrainpress [at] hotmail.com )
Tuesday Mar 18th, 2014 10:24 PM
An African American contract worker who first discovered high amounts of radioactive contamination on Treasure Island was subsequently fired, and blew the whistle by reporting this contamination to public officials.
An African American contract worker who first discovered high amounts of radioactive contamination on Treasure Island was subsequently fired, and blew the whistle by reporting this contamination to public officials.
In recent years evidence has mounted about dangerous amounts of radioactive materials left behind by the US Navy on its former base at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.
Recently, on February 16, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a Sunday edition front page story, “Tenants Ask: Is Treasure Island Toxic?” The report profiled residents of Treasure Island living in former Navy housing, who believe they have been contaminated by living there and suspect toxic substances in and around their homes have caused them health problems.
Shortly thereafter, on February 25, the San Francisco-based Center For Investigative Reporting (CIR) published “Treasure Island cleanup exposes Navy’s mishandling of its nuclear past.” This article added lots more evidence of Navy radioactive malfeasance at Treasure Island to the CIR’s already impressive dossier on this subject.
At this point, plans at San Francisco City Hall to turn Treasure Island into high rise, primarily luxury housing, may be in jeopardy. The cause of this problem is the Navy’s and its allies continuing propensity to play fast and loose with the truth about the radioactive contamination of Treasure Island. In so doing it may be causing peoples’ health, indeed their very lives, to be in jeopardy.

Surprises

But perhaps no attention would be being paid to this situation were it not for Robert McLean.
As reported in the Center For Investigative Reporting February story, in 2007 Robert McLean was working on Treasure Island for the New World Environmental company, which the Navy hired to assess, and, if necessary, clean up radioactive materials left behind on the island.
As McLean, an African American man from North Carolina says in a You Tube video accompanying the CIR report, “My role was to see if there was a need for cleanup.”
The navy had led McLean’s employer to believe that there would be little in the way of radioactive materials to be found
But that’s not the way it worked out.
On his first day of work, McLean said, while riding around the island in a truck with a radiation measuring device thrust out the window, the device registered the presence of radiation—inside the truck.
“We picked up readings without even getting out of the vehicle,” McLean said in the video. “To see something just riding by was a surprise.”
When McLean asked his employer for a more powerful device to assess how hot the radiation was, he was told the company didn’t have the money in the budget for that and “you’ll have to use what you have,” he stated on You Tube.

McLean’s employer at the time, New World Environmental, has an office in Livermore, CA, as well as one in Irvine in Southern California. The company describes itself as “a Native American/Veteran owned firm; provides exemplary professional services in environmental consulting and remediation, specializing in radiation safety and radioactive waste management services.”
The company’s clients include the US Navy, Army and Air Force; the Departments of Defense and Energy; Chevron and General Electric. NWE also is working on the shutdown commercial nuclear plants Ranco Seco in Sacramento County and San Onofre in SoCal
NWE contracts with private sector clients as well, such as Theravance, a biopharmaceutical company in South San Francisco.
NWE’s services for that company include providing “radiation safety technicians and health physicists (the latter monitor worker radioactive doses) routinely and as needed to insure safe use of radioactive materials.”
The contract between the two companies has been in effect since 2006, and its value to NWE is $200,000.
The New World Environmental motto is “Restoring the Environment for Future Generations.”
All NWE info is from the company’s website.

Contaminated and Fired.

Meanwhile, as Robert McLean’s job on Treasure Island went on, he continued finding, “radioactive materials scattered all over the site, in places where they said there wasn’t supposed to be any material,” he says in the You Tube video. “We found radiation contaminated materials in playgrounds, and in areas that previously had been playgrounds.”
“We found it in front yards,” McLean said in the Center for Investigative Reporting article. “We found it in yards, and along roadways.”
McLean also worked with the now infamous Treasure Island 6-sided radium disks. These disks consist of radium 226, which has a radioactive life of over 16,000 years.
In a December 26, 2012 article in the East Bay Express, “Alarming Levels of Radiation on Treasure Island,” radiation expert David Brenner of Colombia University says of these radium disks, “Had someone got hold of one of the metal disks and put it in his pocket for a few days, the outcome could have been very bad—significant radiation sickness or even death within a few days.”
In the video Robert McLean says, “I was asked to determine the dose on the hexagonic devices: ‘Either you do it or we can find someone else that can do it.’ “ his employer told him.
McLean reported that the doses he found testing the disks spiked dangerously as he tested excavated ones, as opposed to disks initially found near the surface.
On another job assignment on Treasure Island, McLean subsequently found he had been radioactively contaminated. Not only that, but the degree of his contamination was higher than allowed by New World Environmental.
According to the CIR February report, NWE president Don Wadsworth said the Navy told the company to fire McLean for being contaminated or risk losing its contract.
Wadsworth also said “Under normal circumstances, he would not have been fired,” but that McLean should have been wearing protective equipment.
McLean, for his part, maintains he was working in an area the Navy said was not contaminated, and that his supervisors ordered him to work without the protective equipment.
Robert McLean is succinct on the firing in the video: ”When they found out that I had received exposure, they said they no longer required my services.”
No concern was raised by anyone over the possible consequences of McLean’s overdose of radiation on the job.

Whistleblower

So Robert McLean was misled by the Navy into a highly contaminated former military site that it said was pretty much safe; then denied the use of necessary equipment by his employer, New World Environmental; pressured into working with the potentially lethal radium-226 disks by that same employer: radioactively contaminated on the job because of (let’s be generous, for the moment) the negligence of his supervisors; and then fired at the insistence of the party that should be taking responsibility for this whole mess, the US Navy.
According to the way the story usually goes, this would have been the end of the Robert McLean story and Treasure Island.
But instead it was just the beginning.
Because his name surfaces again, in a June 25, 2008 email, obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, that circulated amongst various California Department of Health personnel involved in the toxic cleanup of Treasure Island. The document came from Kent Pendergast, then head of the state health department’s radiation health division. It reads, in part:

"FYI I received a phone call from a Mr. McLean, former NWT Contractor who worked at Treasure Island. Mr. McLean indicated that they are finding radium sources to 25mr/hour (25 millirem per hour, a radiation dose measurement) at many locations on the west side of Treasure Island. Mr. McLean said he was concerned that the sources could represent a hazard to children or something the bad guys could use to make a dirty bomb."

Say what? That’s right, a dirty bomb, which could be packed with the radium disks and detonated…Whoa, don’t want to go there.
You would think that, after McLean’s assertions, the area would have been cordoned off by Homeland Security, or the US Marines. Or at least the SFPD, maybe a Peoples Occupation force complete with organic Green protective apparel. Somebody!
That it would have been quarantined, evacuated and declared a permanent disaster area. That the residents would have been granted permanent residency, for the rest of their natural lives, at the mayor’s office, and similar digs. around San Francisco City Hall.
But no, almost six years later, it’s still a stinking mess. After all, prime real estate, and the US Navy’s very reputation are at stake!
Fortunately for us, the Center for Investigative Reporting and other independent media sources have been taking this story and running with it, so that it’s even making the front page of the Chronicle these days. Residents on the island are organizing and speaking out as well.
But it’s dubious any of this would be happening now without Robert McLean’s efforts. Most of us, in his place, would just have walked away from it all as just another hopeless mess.
So why didn’t he?
In concluding his You Tube statement, McLean says, “I have concerns because I really don’t know how far it goes. It bothers me now the more I think about it”.
And neither do we know how far it goes. But thanks to Robert McLean’s courageous actions, maybe one day soon we will.

Center for Investigative Reporting
cironline.org

Michael Steinberg is veteran activist and writer based in San Francisco.
blackrainpress [at] hotmail.com