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Treasure Island Revisited
A recent visit to San Francisco's Treasure Island reveals how much of its treasure is toxic, and how badly its residents are threatened.
In early April I once again visited Treasure Island, the former Navy base near the Bay Bridge smack dab in the middle of the SF Bay. I’d last been there in late March with Sandy LeonVest, editor of Solar Times.
Numerous media reports of late have documented the literal unearthing of radioactive materials in and around residential housing—originally built for Navy enlisted personnel and their families—on the northwest side of Treasure Island.
My own contributions to this growing dossier includes “ Hot Spots: Radioactive San Francisco,” which appeared on the front page of the January edition of SF Bayview newspaper.
Over 2000 people are living on Treasure Island these days. Many of them were low income or homeless folks when they moved into the old enlisted personnel quarters a decade or more ago.
Today their homes are threatened by surfacing information about radioactive hot spots and other toxic materials in their environment, as well as pressure building to clear them out to make way for the construction of luxury housing on the island by the likes of Lennar corporation.
As before, I was carrying addresses located in this northwestern part of the island.
I’d obtained these addresses from a Bay Area NBC TV Investigative Unit report from December 12th of last year That report stated that the addresses were sites where residents would be forced to move from, starting in April of this year. The official reason for these evictions was arsenic contamination of their homes.
But the Investigative Unit also reported that all of these sites were on or next to “a newly identified radiologically impacted site.”
Earlier than this, on November 27, 2013, KTVU, Channel 2, reported, “24 Treasure Island families received notices that they will have to relocate.” One of these residents, Tony D., said he found his notice “stuck to his front door.”
The letter stated that the eviction notices “were not related to the ongoing radiological survey of Treasure Island.” Also in the KTVU report, Robert Beck, head of the Treasure Island Redevelopment Authority, said the six buildings where the 24 families were then still living might have to be demolished.
Meanwhile, on March 25th the Navy, which still owns the residential buildings on TI, announced that it would soon begin testing them for the presence of radiation.
So this was how the stage was set when I returned to Treasure Island with a photographer friend on April 7.
Hazardous, Radioactive, Boarded Up, Keep Out
We first proceeded to an area adjacent to 1325 Gateview Drive, one of the addresses on the eviction list. Gateview Drive is a thoroughfare that runs near much of the ‘radiological impacted’ areas on the island, and includes two other addresses on the eviction list.
We stopped near an excavated area off Gateview. On my previous visit we’d noticed it, because Hazardous, Radioactive and Keep Out signs were all over fencing adjoining the area.
The excavated grounds appeared to have been the former green space between two derelict boarded up apartment buildings on either side of it.
We pulled over and spotted someone with a camera. This turned out to be another associate of Solar Times. She informed us that, unlike the last time I’d been here, there were active workers in the area. The workers had told her to stop taking pictures of it, and them.
We mulled that over and then started taking snaps, discreetly. Was this the “recently identified radiologically impacted site? It certainly appeared to be. Above it was a dirt road that ran along the Bay. But it was fenced off, the fencing festooned with warning and get lost signs.
From there we moved on to a number of other sites off Gateview Drive. With one exception, all were on the eviction list. First was Mason Court, where on my last visit we’d spotted a number of apparently vacant units. There were still all there, all still looking empty.
We went around to the back of the buildings and found the same dirt road we’d just been on, where it was fenced off down the way. We tracked back down it, to where it was blocked off, with all the cautionary signs abundant. This provided another vantage point to look down on the “hot” area. A few workers in hardhats started heading our way, perhaps the same camera shy ones our associate from Solar Times had run into.
We decided to exit stage left, playing sightseers. “Oh look, there’s Angel Island, you can almost reach out and touch it. “And that, that must be Alcatraz.” “Wow, The Rock!”
We proceeded on to two circles off Gateview, Bayside Drive and North Point Drive. Residences along Bayside Drive, with perhaps 100 units, appeared mostly boarded up. But it has been reported that Kathryn and Eric Lundgren and their three teens still live on this street.
Kathryn Lundgren is a founder of the Treasure Island Health Network and has been an outspoken critic of the Navy’s negligence and indifference in dealing with the toxic substances in Treasure Island residents living environments. Pretty much everyone in the family has experienced health problems they believe are linked to Treasure Island’s polluted landscape.
The Navy’s recent decision to test all the island’s residences is at least in part motivated by Kathryn Lundgren’s’ repeated recent reports in the media about the discovery of highly radioactive radium in her yard in a spot where her children used to play.
After circling Bayside, we did the same on North Point Drive, which looked to have about as many housing units as Bayside. North Point didn’t appear as derelict as Bayside Drive, but neither was there much activity.
We had one more spot to visit. It wasn’t on the eviction list, but was also revealed in the NBC Investigative Unit report last December.
That was 1101 Bigelow Court, also a short jaunt off Gateview Drive. The NBC story reported that site had been found to be super hot, so much so that it was a million times more radioactive than allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency for habitation. Supposedly when this discovery was made, no one was living there.
When we found the entrance to Bigelow Court, it was blocked off and locked up, similarl to what we’d seen before, complete with all those signs.
After gazing at this spectacle for a bit, we followed our noses and eventually came in sight of Bigelow Court from its other side. It was fenced off there too, but allowed us to look in on the site.
Determining which unit was 1101 was difficult. All the Bigelow buildings in sight were boarded up tight. But there was a sizable rip in nearby chain link fencing, that would allow anyone easy access.
This approach to Bigelow Court was adjacent to another closed up facility, the Treasure Island Boys and Girls Club.
The February 14 SF Chronicle this year reported, “The Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco had concerns about having kids near a cleanup site and in November (2013) decided to shutter its Treasure Island center until the work is over. Until its closure, the area was next to a fenced-off area plastered with contamination signs that for months was covered with piles of dirt topped with green dust-control spray. Nearby is another plot of deep pits filled with water.”
How much radioactive dirt has the Navy hauled off Treasure Island, and to where?
On December 26, 2012, the East Bay Express reported, “very little information has been publicly released on the eight hundred plus truckloads of radiologically contaminated soil that were shipped off the island in recent years.”
On April 9 SF Bayview reported, “There have been several (high radiation0 shipments and about a thousand intermodal (containers) of radium waste shipped from Treasure Island. In the two years since 2012, many more have been shipped…As of May 2013 these rectangular caskets were reported being shipped off-island to a western toxic dump in Clive Utah,” where they become someone else’s problem.
But all that matters little to the residents of Treasure Island, where the problem is right at home.