San Francisco

Former Tetra Tech Workers Sentenced for Falsifying Records in Hunters Point Radiation Cleanup

Two former radiation control technician supervisors for Tetra Tech, the company hired to clean up radiation at the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco, have been sentenced to eight months in prison for falsifying records.

Stephen Rolfe and Justin Hubbard supervised a team of radiation control technicians hired to remediate radiation at the superfund site. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of California, both admitted to switching clean soil samples with the soil they were supposed to have been testing in order to fake the results of the cleanup.

United States District Judge James Donato sentenced the men on Wednesday after they pleaded guilty to falsifying documents last year.

As part of his plea agreement, Rolfe admitted he broke Navy testing protocols, which require the company to clean up soil that had elevated levels of radiation. Instead, he says he directed radiation control technicians to get “clean dirt” from areas that had already been remediated and substitute them for the samples they should have been testing.

Rolfe, who had worked for Tetra Tech since 2008, said he wanted his crews to switch samples so the soil “would pass the laboratory analysis and not require further remediation.” He said he directed this about 20 times in 2012. He also said he watched his coworkers fill out government documents with inaccurate information.

Rolfe testified that he did not receive extra compensation for switching soil samples and that his motivation came from “pressure applied by the Tetra Tech supervisors.”

Hubbard, as part of his plea agreement, admitted that in 2012 he drove his company truck to an area outside the marked survey unit he was tasked with cleaning up, filled a bucket with clean dirt and fraudulently substituted it for legitimate soil samples. He then placed bar codes on the bags of dirt that misidentified the locations where he had taken the samples.

Hubbard worked for Tetra Tech at the Hunters Point Shipyard for about 15 years until he was fired in 2013.

Both men no longer work in the remediation industry, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Rolfe is currently serving his sentence. Judge Donato ordered Hubbard to self-surrender by July.

A Tetra Tech spokesperson says the company supports the action of the Department of Justice.

“Tetra Tech vehemently rejects this type of activity and will pursue all legal actions available to it to recover the harm that the actions of these former employees have caused to Tetra Tech, the Navy, and the local community. We have zero tolerance for violations of established protocols and procedures on any project site,” the company wrote in a statement.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit first exposed in 2014 that the Navy caught Tetra Tech mishandling soil samples and falsifying data in 2012. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigated. The United States Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of California also began an investigation.

Tetra Tech has acknowledged those records were falsified. But the company said last week it stands by its work at Hunters Point since then. It offered to pay for an independent retesting of the shipyard to prove it’s safe for redevelopment.

Former radiation control technician Anthony Smith revealed to NBC Bay Area in 2016 that his supervisors ordered him to switch potentially contaminated soil samples with clean ones. Though Rolfe and Hubbard admitted to misconduct in a small area of the shipyard, Smith alleges the fraud is more widespread.

In response to Smith’s accusations, the Navy reviewed all of Tetra Tech’s cleanup data at the 900-acre site and found nearly half of it had inconsistencies. The Navy said much of it is likely fraudulent. Officials are currently coming up with a plan to retest the shipyard and make sure it’s free of radiation.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it’s possible much more of the site could be in question. A December 2017 letter from the EPA to the Navy, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by a Washington, D.C., advocacy group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, states that on parts of the shipyard, between 90 and 97 percent of Tetra Tech’s radiation data looked “suspect,” and parts of it may have been falsified.

Tetra Tech spent 12 years testing for and cleaning up radiation at the shipyard. The company was awarded a quarter-billion-dollar contract. The future of the shipyard is in limbo as regulators figure out how to move forward. The site is slated for parks, shops and thousands of homes.

Later this month, the city of San Francisco will hold hearings on a timeline for the cleanup.

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