Experts Back Hunters Point Testing Process

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A panel of experts brought in from the University of California issued a report Friday vouching for the testing of the contaminated Hunters Point shipyard development site.

The panel was convened soon after surface tests uncovered a radioactive radium disc – which once glowed to help guide sailors to safely navigate a World War II ship deck – buried 10 inches below the ground.  It was on a site called “Parcel A,” where more than 400 condominiums have already been built.

The site had not been tested before because the Navy and developers assumed it was at low risk, given it was used to house military officers.

But after the disc discovery in 2018, anxious residents requested deeper ground sampling around and under their units to assure there was no radioactive waste contamination from when crews sandblasted ships at Hunters Point when they came back from nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Then, early last year, Mayor London Breed called in four independent experts, all affiliated with the University of California, to review the testing process around Parcel A as well as nearby Parcel G, which was heavily contaminated.

That was the site where much of the sandblasting work actually took place – and where two supervisors from a military testing contractor, Tetra Tech, acknowledged they switched out contaminated soil samples with “clean” ones.  The panel appeared to back the retesting process for that site, pending EPA approval.

In the case of Parcel A, the panel said surface scans of soil around their units were “appropriate” in determining safety. Much of the top soil had been removed before surface testing, the panel noted, so deeper level contamination was “unlikely” given the site had been used for housing.

“That’s not science, that’s wishful thinking,” said Daniel Hirsch, a longtime critic of the Hunters Point cleanup effort who formerly headed the Environmental and Nuclear Policy Program at UC Santa Cruz.

He said  the only way to be certain about the site is to dig down and test deeper soil samples, beneath the condos.  He said the panel took nearly a year to issue just a four page report that cited no data in making its conclusions.

But in a statement Friday, Mayor Breed thanked the experts for their “thorough and independent scientific review” of the test procedures.  

The next step, the mayor said, is to have panel members brief the community on their findings at a meeting set for Jan. 28.

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