Navy Used Outdated Standards to Clean Up Radiation at Hunters Point Shipyard, New Report Finds

A new report released Tuesday by a nuclear policy expert concluded the public’s health is at risk because the Navy is using radiation cleanup standards at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard that are weaker than required by law.

Daniel Hirsch, the retired director of the Environmental and Nuclear Policy Program at UC Santa Cruz, was asked by residents of the Bayview-Hunters Point community to review the adequacy of the cleanup of shipyard, a federal superfund site in San Francisco.

Hirsch and a team of students reviewed thousands of government documents. They found the Navy is using outdated cleanup guidelines and that it refuses to update them, despite what Hirsch says are repeated recommendations by the Environmental Protection Agency to do so.

“You are required to use EPA guidance; they didn’t,” Hirsch said, referring to the Navy. “They used something else and that would be leaving hundreds to thousands of times more contamination.”

According to Hirsch’s research, the public would be at a vastly higher risk of cancer under the Navy’s cleanup standards than they would be if they Navy used current EPA cleanup guidelines.

Hirsch says the Navy’s cleanup standards for shipyard buildings are four decades old and “thousands of times less protective” than the EPA’s current cleanup goals. His team performed calculations and found if people were exposed to radiation inside buildings at levels allowed by the Navy’s cleanup standards, the risk – estimated by the EPA – is that every 37th person exposed would get cancer from the exposure.

The shipyard is slated for a massive redevelopment complete with homes, shops and parks.

“We stand by our existing clean-up goals at Hunters Point,” said Derek Robinson, environmental cleanup coordinator for the Navy at Hunters Point.

Robinson said the Navy’s standards “have been confirmed by expert review across multiple regulatory agencies to be protective of human health.” He added, “While different methodologies can be used to calculate goals and risk, the Navy has consistently evaluated EPA risk criteria” and “leveraged their expert guidance in our calculations.”

An evaluation of past cleanup actions have confirmed the Navy’s standards are protective of human health, Robinson said.

The EPA declined to comment, but pointed NBC Bay Area to letters it wrote Navy officials this year encouraging them to use “current versions” of cleanup standards.

Hirsch is a longtime critic of the radiation cleanup at the Hunters Point Shipyard. The report is the third in a series issued by Hirsch through the nonprofit nuclear policy organization, Committee to Bridge the Gap.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has reported a series of stories on the Hunters Point cleanup. See the latest investigation here.

Contact Us