There's this really quite nifty fake island in San Francisco Bay, just north of the more natural Yerba Buena Island that serves as anchor between the east and west spans of Interstate-80's San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It's called Treasure Island, built of dredged fill in 1936-37 as the site for the 1939/40 World's Fair The Golden Gate International Exposition.
Built by the federal government, once the Exposition was over Treasure Island was to be an airport for Pan American's flying boats. But in 1941 the U.S. Navy commandeered the island to serve as a base and soon became a Cold War home and major training center in preparation for nuclear war, known as "USS Pandemonium." The base also hosted contaminated ships that had been involved in the Bikini Atoll atomic tests, and over the years served as somewhat of a dumping ground for various chemical and radiological wastes. Despite the fact that it's been known for decades in this earthquake-prone area that the island's fill land is subject to "liquification" during earthquakes. It's survived a few, but most who live in the region are quite familiar with cracked foundations and slabs that result from the land's tendency to dance around a bit on occasion.
In the late 1980s some of the large warehouses and buildings on the island served as sound stages for television and film productions, and the old barracks buildings have served as home to ~2500 people [2010 census]. The naval station closed in 1997 as a result of the 1991 Base Closing Realignment and Closure Commission's findings, and was subsequently sold to the City of San Francisco in 2007 for $108 million. In 2011 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a neighborhood development project planned over 20-30 years that will eventually house 19,000 people amidst offices, commercial and retail spaces and 300 acres of parkland. As part of the transfer of the island to the city, the Navy agreed to clean things up a bit more than they'd done when the base was closed. Unfortunately, it still hasn't cleaned things adequately.
A NBC Bay Area News investigative report details information provided by a Navy subcontracted health physicist hired to test various sites on the island for leftover radiation, that the mess is much bigger than the Navy has admitted. Under the concrete slab of one unoccupied building, the HP - identified in the report as Don Wadsworth of New World Environmental, Inc. of Livermore - a previous Navy report showed radiation levels of 80,000 cpm, or 30 microrem per hour.
Which, Wadsworth translates, is a million times what the EPA or California Dept. of Public Health would allow for human occupancy. There are problems all over the island, Wadsworth said, including in areas adjacent to occupied buildings.
So, just before Thanksgiving the Treasure Island Development Authority [TIDA] sent letters to the 24 households living in six 4-unit residential buildings telling the families that they need to vacate their homes beginning in April of 2014. For a Navy BRAC Cleanup Team meeting later this month a nifty powerpoint detailing the necessary cleanup work was produced.
The Navy, of course, isn't specifying any radiological hazards the long-time residents in the work area have been or are facing, which is SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] whenever there are real hazards to the public. Their one-paragraph statement assures one and all that the State of California, the City of San Francisco and the U.S. Navy "do not have any data" indicating a risk to human health, and "all agree there is no imminent health risk to current tenants and/or users of the leased property."
Sure, why not? Living in a building next to or on top of nuclear waste is no big deal. No one is going to be vaporized by those pittance levels, so there must be no "immediate" health risk! Nifty how that works.
On page 7 of that Navy BRAC powerpoint there are photos of the previous Navy contractors measuring the radiation levels under the slab of the 1101 building, so it's likely they knew there was a broader issue when they were supposedly cleaning up their mess after the Naval Station was closed. According to the NBC report...
But past events show that the Navy may not have been upfront with regulators and residents when it comes to the radiological legacy on Treasure Island. In March 2001, the state’s Integrated Waste Management Board urged the Navy to conduct radiological surveys in the residential area because the Navy hadn’t performed tests to prove its claim that the area was clear of radioactive material. And in February 2006, the Navy wrote in its Treasure Island Naval Station Historical Radiological Assessment report that there is “no evidence that radioactive material was deposited in any debris disposal area on [Naval Station] Treasure Island.”Heh. Contamination "may be more extensive" than initially reported? Color me unsurprised. Apparently it takes a consortium of Uber-Developers with Big, Big Bucks and even Bigger Plans for some seriously desirable real estate to insist at long last they honor their contracts. Nobody cared about the people willing to live in the old buildings. No matter how high a price they've been paying ('Frisco isn't exactly cheap) to live there all these years.
The Navy has since acknowledged that radioactive contamination may be more extensive than it had initially reported.