A story published on Tuesday by the Center for Investigative Reporting looks at recent findings of radioactive contamination on Treasure Island, and examines the legacy of radioactive materials used by the U.S. Navy. The report also questions whether the island is safe for current residents and explores the implications for San Francisco’s plans to build thousands of new units on the former base. We talk to the reporters about the Center’s yearlong investigation.

CIR Reporters Test Treasure Island Soil

Katharine Mieszkowski, senior reporter for The Center for Investigative Reporting
Matt Smith, reporter for The Center for Investigative Reporting
Jan Beyea, nuclear physicist and chief scientist consulting in the public interest in New Jersey; and co-author of papers on environmental epidemiology, including a study of the Three Mile Island accident

  • Robert Thomas

    It would be refreshing and useful to begin the discussion with a brief explanation of the following terms, crucial in understanding any meaningful examination of the topic. The pre-SI units are of course those used when the material was initially encountered and so would be those appearing in the history. I’m eager to know the results of this investigation.

    Curie (Ci)
    Becquerel (Bq)
    Roentgen (R)
    Gray (Gy)
    Sievert (Sv)

  • Guest

    If there were a citizens’ effort to map the radioactivity, this could be done by a group of people who own geiger counters going to numerous spots on the island to make measurements and then map these. How long would that take? A few months? If it’s worthwhile and I think it is, just do it. Do surface tests, and dig holes and do tests inside the holes. Be citizen scientists!

    • Kathryn Lundgren

      We are currently working on that process, including in home readings for residents who wish to gain confidence in the testing. We also have performed health surveys to identify health trends and will place that that on the website when we reload the site in March.

  • Doug

    I worked for a environmental cleanup company in the 1990’s and it was broadly known there that the island had radioactive waste. The military was aware, had been notified and the company was not able to do such cleanup. The Navy just reburied everything.

    • Kathryn Lundgren

      Please contact me.

  • nancyob

    A big question that I’ve always had: how is TI feasible in light of rising sea levels?

    • Kathryn Lundgren

      They would have to do major improvements to the islands stability, seismically and to address global warming issues. Currently, during king tides, we are experiencing extreme sea level rise, even if temporary, that bring waves splashing over the perimeter. Remember, we are below sea level in the housing areas.

  • sailormike

    My partner lived on TI for 8.5 years until 2011 and I lived there for 1 year. My partner is a scientifically minded person and now in medical school. She was told during her entire tenure on TI that small buttons were found with a tiny amount of radioactivity but they were harmless to human health. Many fliers and meeting announcements were sent out to residents, leading residents to believe they were safe. If there were known dangerous amounts of radioactivity, there needs to be an investigation into whether there was active cover-up campaign.

    • Guest

      You don’t know if a “small button” is safe until you have a measurement.

      Argument From Authority is a logical fallacy where something is assumed to be true just because an “authority” said it.

    • Kathryn Lundgren

      On January 29th, they dug a disc from the sidewalk in front of my home, I happened upon the process, videotaped it and am waiting to hear from them the true nature of that object. My children, all under ten at the time, sat atop this area for years. Incidentally, they scanned in October/November but didn’t remove it for nearly two months. This is why they need to be more transparent in a timely and data friendly manner.

    • Lindsey G

      So, I am the partner SailorMike speaks of. I also wanted to mention that my long time neighbor Susan who lived there even longer than I, had breast cancer while she lived there. She managed to be in remission for 5-7 years, then found out that it had metastasized to her spine a few years before I moved. She passed shortly after I left. I believe she was part of the original group that was given the opportunity to live there. She had a city contract with her pressure washing business. Back in the day you had to have some sort of connection like that to get one of the houses. It is a beautiful place to live. I wouldn’t have moved but for the commute with school. We were constantly assured that the radioactivity was localized to areas that were cordoned off and had no more radiation than one could get from a television or microwave. I suppose we could have reacted to that information differently, but everyone we talked to, John Stewart Co, US Navy, etc reassured us.

    • sailormike

      I am looking forward to seeing the soil testing results from this video: Nice work @Reveal

  • Ben Rawner

    I don’t understand why people are waiting for the city to remove them, the people. It’s so rediculous. If I is known that there is radioactive waste in the island, why don’t they just leave. Sounds like they jus want to get paid to leave.

    • Kathryn Lundgren

      While I appreciate your opinion, there are many reasons why we have not moved. Trust in the assurances that we were safe, who would jump up and leave unless they had proof that the contamination was a problem? Thanks to articles within the last few years, we have begun our own investigation and now are preparing to relocate in most cases. The bigger question is why the powers that be didn’t provide adequate evaluation and transparency to begin with, that would have been the best tactic.

      • Ben Rawner

        I am not from the Bay Area but somehow I have known since I have moved here the TI is not a clean place to live. Supposedly they use to reset the Pacifica nuclear subs near the island. Two years ago I think it was the sf chronicle that ran an article about how developers were waiting for the govnt to pick up the billion dollar cost to really clean up the island. This isn’t new to me and it shouldn’t be new to anyone. Is the Navy negligent? Obviously. Are the people who live there who NOW know that the island contaminated in their right mind to stay? Get off the island or keep fighting the Navy (which historically led u nowhere). U might say u are fighting the good fight, but is u or ur families health worth it? What’s the point if you win in court but die from radiation?

        • Kathryn Lundgren

          Everyone has to make arrangements within their ability. Moving people will stop continued exposure and prevent further damage to civilians but won’t erase the damage that may have already occurred, to people and the environment. The defense of the situation is not going to be eliminated because people aren’t here, given historical exposures to an unknowing citizenship and the Bay Area because of this atrocity. Thank you for your input but please think in broader terms of what and who this truly effects.

    • Guest

      Sounds like you jus want to troll, so jus have another glass of your rediculous wine, Ben. Jus don’t strain your brain on such complicated subject!

      • Ben Rawner

        Who’s drinking wine at 9 am. I am at work like most people.

    • lakko

      Sounds like you jus want to troll, so why don’t you jus have another glass of your
      rediculous wine, Ben, and don’t strain your brain on such a complicated

  • Kathryn Lundgren

    To speak on the groundwater contamination mentioned, there IS, a high risk of chemical and rad contact via groundwater. Potential includes, but are not limited to:

    14 radionuclides, approximately 27 chemical contaminants, asbestos,lead

    High water table with recurring flooding and inundation bay water during normal tidal fluctuation

    Seismic instability, liquefaction and suspected sinkholes

    Over 50 year old pipe systems that may or may not promote constant water pressure
    Note: there was a major rupture in the delivery system at the primary delivery site that rendered the island residents waterless for three day, during which the residents experienced discolored and odorous tap water for days after.

    During rain, water seeps from sites currently being worked on, often flooding, and into drains leading to the bay. Even straw bails cannot hold back the action, nor are they an appropriate filter for contaminants that are carried in the runoff.

    Just a factor of what we consider risk here, again our newly aware residents and public might be interested.

  • Jay

    As a business owner on Treasure Island for many years, the “investigative” reporting could be much, much better. Specifically,

    1. The housing on the northwest corner of TI was built on the old dump and ammunition depot for the base. That I why the contamination and radioactive disk are being found there(easily obtained public records). The whole island is not a radioactive site. Hunter’s Point, Mare Island and Alameda are much worst in contamination given they based nuclear ships and submarines there.

    2. The Navy’s records on the bases are non existent or poor at best. Intentional or simply incompetence was common place.

    3. More reporting should be done on the lack of transparency with TIDA, City, Navy and the developers. This is the real story.

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