SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - In a class action filed Thursday in a California state court, current and former residents of the decommissioned nuclear training site on San Francisco’s Treasure Island claim they were deceived for years about radioactive contamination near their homes.
The class is represented by 47 named plaintiffs who say the U.S. Navy, local authorities, developers and major engineering firm Tetra Tech knew that radiation levels were much higher than the Navy disclosed in a 2006 survey, but chose not to tell them.
The Navy, the complaint says, failed to properly assess levels of nuclear fission byproduct cesium 137 in soil samples dated from the 1970s.
“In reality, contamination levels are some three times higher than the Navy reported, and 60 percent higher than the Navy’s own safety guidelines,” the lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, states.
After the Navy handed the site over to the city of San Francisco for residential use, toxic cleanup contractor Robert McLean found radioactive material near some Navy housing being turned into civilian apartments, a discovery reported in 2014 by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
While the class could number up to 2,000, the complaint names 47 people who have been directly affected by the contamination and seek $2 billion in damages. All have lived on Treasure Island at some point since 2006, though many have been evicted to make way for a redevelopment project that will add 8,000 new homes to the area.
Named plaintiffs Andre Patterson and his partner Felita Sample have already been displaced, and are suffering from mysterious health conditions their attorney Stanley Goff believes are connected to radiation exposure.
“Andre Patterson has been diagnosed with three tumors on his back, he has rashes, he has family members who have lost kidneys and he’s lost several of his teeth,” Goff said in a phone interview Thursday. He said Sample has also lost teeth and has been diagnosed with a heart murmur.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Goff said, both have been evicted by property management company John Stewart since complaining about contamination.
“We believe John Stewart Company colluded with Tetra Tech and the Navy to get rid of anybody who was raising concerns about radiation exposure,” Goff said. “There are people right now who are scared to be named on the complaint because they do not want to face retaliation by John Stewart and other property companies they pay rent to. San Francisco is so expensive and people are so desperate to have housing that they’re not even willing to say anything about being exposed to radiation and toxins just to have a roof over their heads.”
A call made to the company’s general inbox after business hours was not immediately returned.
The lawsuit also names environmental cleanup companies Tetra Tech EC and Shaw Environmental as defendants. Tetra Tech performed “limited radiological work” on the island between 2007-2008 and 2013-2016, overseen by the Navy and California Department of Public Health.
In a report from March 2019, the Navy said various cleanup sites posed no public health risk.
“The Navy wants the public to know that the site conditions at Treasure Island present no health risk to those who live on, work on, or visit Treasure Island,” the Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure Program Management Office said in the report.
But a BRAC bulletin in September 2019 said the Navy had uncovered a “basketball-sized amount of soil” beneath the concrete of a residential unit in which a low level of radiation was detected.
“Following the excavation, the Navy scanned the excavated area again and confirmed that all contaminated material was removed. The hole was refilled with clean soil and the concrete entrance was repaired,” BRAC said. In an October update, crews also excavated a "degraded radium painted dial or gauge."
The Navy did not respond to a request for comment on the residents' lawsuit.
Tetra Tech spokesman Sam Singer said the company cannot comment as it has not yet been served with the complaint.
The residents also blame San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, saying it knew the land was tainted but held back the information.
City Attorney spokesman John Coté said in an email that this is not true.
“The safety of San Francisco residents is our top priority. We take that responsibility very seriously,” he said. “The information that we have from state and federal regulators is that the parts of the island where people live, work and visit are safe. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of the allegations in this 23-page lawsuit do not involve the City and County of San Francisco. The only allegation involving the City claims that officials withheld information from residents. That is false.”
Goff pointed to the planned multi-billion development project already in the works as an incentive for local authorities to stay mum.
“We feel they knew all this was going on and they looked the other way because they’re trying to make money off of that land,” he said. “If development and growth is allowed to take place, they stand to make a lot of money.”
But in addition to the $2 billion, the residents are seeking an injunction that would halt the development project.
“We’re asking San Francisco to simply stop the development of any housing from taking place on the island until the island is fully eradicated of toxins, which I feel will never happen,” Goff said. “We’re asking the court to make them stop.”
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