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Indybay Feature

Environmental Racism Cited in Earth Day Protest at City Hall

by Leon Kunstenaar
Bayview Hunters Point & Treasure Island Residents deliver Earth Day Demands to Mayor Breed & Board of Supervisors
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Photos: Leon Kunstenaar / Pro Bono Photo

On Thursday April 22nd, on the front steps of San Francisco's City Hall, residents of Bayview Hunters Point and Treasure Island spoke out.

The residents demanded that San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors take immediate action to support urgent community demands for health and justice regarding radioactive and toxic contamination at the Hunters Point Shipyard Superfund Site and Treasure Island. Twenty-seven community, environmental justice, environmental, climate and social justice organizations united to co-sponsor the rally.

Furthermore, they demanded that city officials protect the people in communities being harmed by the dangerous pollution at these sites instead of protecting the Navy and the corporate profits of Lennar and other luxury developers.

Located in San Francisco Bay, Treasure Island was created in 1936 and was developed for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. In 1941, the City of San Francisco leased it to the Navy for the duration of World War II and then turned it over to the Navy. Activities conducted at Naval Station Treasure Island included military firing areas, weapons storage, ship and aircraft storage and refueling, illegal dumping, open burning of "debris," and repairing ships with deck markers painted with radium.

After WWII, the Navy established a training center for radiological decontamination, where the mock ship USS Pandemonium helped Navy students prepare for radiological warfare. The land-based vessel contained cesium-137, a radioactive isotope. Students practiced decontamination by scrubbing the ship.

Over the next 30 years, the Navy dumped radioactive material and other contaminants in large rubbish pits. Starting in the 1960s, Navy families lived on the base, which closed in September 1997.

Though San Francisco plans up to 8,000 new residences, hotels, shops and offices on Treasure Island, contaminants of concern found at Treasure Island include radioactive wastes, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, lead, PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic. pesticides, paints, waste oil and fuel, solvents, asbestos, acids, and heavy metals, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency/Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

While the Navy says it is cleaning up the area, activist say that in addition to the fact that significant contamination remains, including next to homes, there is concern about the adequacy of cleanup activities.

One of the main companies involved in "cleaning up" contamination at Treasure Island was Tetra Tech - the same company that has been found to have committed massive fraud in the botched cleanup of the Hunters Point Shipyard Superfund Site in Bayview Hunters Point. Whistleblowers who worked at Treasure Island have come forward with alarming reports of similar fraud at Treasure Island - yet the government has refused to investigate.

After the Navy base closed, it was turned over to the City of San Francisco. City legislation required the city to use Treasure Island to help house low income people. It has continued to provide subsidized housing - according to the census, 1,561 residents of the total 3,129 live below the poverty line.

Many low income people of color live in subsidized housing literally feet from radioactive and toxic waste sites. Most residents live on Site 12, which was previously used by the Navy for an ammunition bunker and storage area, and contains contaminants including polychlorinated biphenyls, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, arsenic, lead, and radium 226.

Residents are advised not to dig, garden, or drag soil inside their homes. Soil samples taken by the Navy contained elevated levels of lead, DDT, dioxins, PCBs, PAHs, motor oil pollutants, arsenic, and vanadium. These contaminants are located in resident's backyards, the elementary schoolyard, and daycare center. Because of these contaminants, digging is prohibited.

Speakers were:
  • Arieann Harrison, Marie Harrison Community Foundation Leaotis Martin, Bayview Hunters Point Mothers and Fathers Committee
  • Gwen Woods, Hunters Point Community Lawsuit Plaintiff
  • Sabrina Hall, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice
  • Gloria Berry, SF Democratic County Central Committee member
  • Dr. Mark Alexander, Epidemiologist
  • Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai, Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Project
  • Aude Bouagnon, PhD, neuroscientist, medical student, member of San Francisco Physicians for Social Responsibilit
  • Stanley Goff, Attorney, Treasure Island Community Lawsuit
  • Carol Harvey, Investigative Journalist
  • Alyce James, former BVHP resident •
  • Chalam Tubati, BVHP resident
  • 30 second statements from Mothers/Fathers and anyone we forgot to include
  • Bradley Angel, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice
  • Elaine Brown
  • Margaret Gordon, California Environmental Justice Coalition, and the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project


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