SF's treasure island, ready for a construction boom, was listed on the Superfund site

SF's treasure island, ready for a construction boom, was listed on the Superfund site Jason Fagone and Cynthia Dizikes September 19, 2019 Updated: September 19, 2019 4 & nbsp;

The San Francisco Treasure Island, once a naval base converted into a $ 6 billion apartment and shop building, was once considered dangerous enough to be a federal Superfund landfill, but was never officially named, according to newly released documents.

While it's not clear why Treasure Island was ever named the country's most polluted site, the Superfund site, the release of the data called for some environmentalists Wednesday to investigate more federally.

The island's developers, who plan to build more than 8,000 homes on the site by 2035, said several government agencies have thoroughly inspected and addressed the clean-up, rejecting any suggestions that the area is unsafe for settlement.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pays special attention to contaminated sites that are on the list of national priorities, commonly known as Superfund sites. Remediation requires thorough soil and water testing and public documentation of these activities. Typically, site owners pay for most of the cleaning work, while the EPA reviews the shoulder.

The listing of the Superfund site begins with the EPA's hazard system, which measures risks to human health and the environment on a 100-point scale. A score above 28.5 qualifies for the location of the Superfund, which would make harvesting a federal priority.

In 1991, the EPA calculated the Naval Station Treasure Island Dangerous Choir, which covered the entire Treasure Island flat and 400-acre cool artificial island at the center of the Gulf Bridge, and parts of neighboring Yerba Buena Island.

The vessel score was 51.78, according to new documents, almost twice the threshold for weighing the Superfund and slightly higher than the result of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in southeastern San Francisco, which in 1989 was named the Superfund Site.

However, listing a Superfund is not mandatory if the score exceeds 28.5 and Treasure Island was never rated. Instead of leading the cleanup, EPA took a back seat, allowing the California Toxic Substances Control Department to monitor the project.

Environmental groups said the decision resulted in a functional and delayed clean-up, making the process less transparent and leaving thousands of Treasure Islanders in the dark near their homes for years in the dark. In 2007, when Navy contractors began discovering radioactive objects throughout the island that were allegedly not there, EPA officially dropped out, without explaining to the end why.

Federal documents on EPA and Treasure Island were forwarded to The Chronicle and a nonprofit environmental monitoring group, Public Sector Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), as requested by the Freedom of Information Act. The Chronicle obtained related EPA emails and documents through a different query.

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"We call Treasure Island a 'shadow superfund site' - a toxic stain left in the shadows," said Jeff Ruch, director of PEER's Pacific region, in a statement on Wednesday.

Bradley Angel, executive director of the San Francisco Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, a nonprofit, called on the EPA to reassess the area's risk and investigate the work done so far. "No one thinks of the store," Angel said. "This is just another example of a different search for government agencies."

Treasure Island Community Development, the site's private developer, said in a statement on Wednesday that the reference to the inadequacy of the clean-up was "false false", calling the allegations false.

"Over the past three decades, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to identify and remove pollutants by California state standards to ensure the island's development security," the statement said. "This work has been closely monitored by a number of government agencies and inspected by independent entities." The Treasure Island community development said it will supply "much-needed housing in the city of San Francisco."

The records from The Chronicle and PEER do not make it clear why Treasure Island never made the Superfund list. However, in a 1998 document, the EPA cited state opposition as a "moderate factor" that the island was not included in that list. A federal review of the Superfund program later found that some state governors cited "perceived stigmatization and potential adverse economic effects" of listing (list of national priorities) as reasons for not supporting lists of eligible areas.

Pete Wilson, the head of government in California at the time, did not respond immediately to the request for comment. EPA did not answer specific questions as to why Treasure Island never compiled the list, and the Navy did not respond to the request for comment.

An official from the National Toxic Substances Control Department said the level of danger was just the beginning of the listing process.

"While acknowledging that EPA is implementing the Superfund program, the final number of the queuing system does not mean that one site is more dangerous than another," said Grant Cope, deputy director of the department responsible for site mitigation and restoration. "It requires more investigation."

Robert Beck, director of the city's Treasure Island Development Agency, defended the clean-up and surveillance of the island, which he called extensive.

"The Treasure Island Development Agency is confident that the Navy will take steps to identify and adequately mitigate the environmental concerns of Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island, and to oversee the measures proposed by the State of California," Beck said in a statement.

A government official said in a 2017 email from The Chronicle that although Treasure Island is not on the Superfund list, "it will still be treated like the Superfund site because it passes the same stringent cleaning requirements."

The real estate project could bring thousands of new homes and residents to the area. More than half of the island, currently home to about 1,800 people, has been declared free of radioactive hazards and taken to the city by navy. Much of the rest is still being studied for radioactivity and toxic substances.

The Army Corps of Engineers built Treasure Island in 1936 to host the Golden Gate International Exhibition of San Francisco's Iconic Bridges. The navy then turned the island into a vibrant base during World War II and throughout the Cold War, where thousands of sailors and civilians lived, worked, trained and repaired.

These activities polluted the earth with unknown amounts of metals, industrial chemicals and radioactive substances, some of which were used in exercises to prepare for possible nuclear bomb attacks.

In September 1991, an EPA employee completed an 18-page worksheet to determine the Treasure Island hazard score of 51.78. Noting that "the types of waste and pollutants deposited on site are mostly unknown," the worker thought that mercury and PCBs, chemicals banned in 1979, had caused some damage to the soil. An EPA reviewer called it a "worst case scenario," but did not consider the possibility of radioactive waste.

When Navy contractors began exploring the island, the Navy reported that they found "extensive distribution of chemicals in soil and groundwater" at potentially harmful levels, including PCBs, dioxins, lead and volatile organic compounds. The Marines began to identify and remove contaminated soil and sediment.

Later, after the Navy closed the base and the city began using some of the buildings in the building, the Navy's contractors made a number of worrying discoveries, locating and removing more than 600 individual radioactive objects, some in residential areas.

However, the EPA kept Treasure Island off the Superfund list. An EPA employee wrote in a one-page 2008 document that the cleanup had "made great strides ... under state supervision" and that assessing Treasure Island's condition in the future was a "lower" priority. There are no data on EPA estimates for the past 11 years.

An EPA spokesman said in a statement Wednesday that the agency "regularly checks with its state and other federal agency partners about the condition of the site's cleanup."

In May 2014, Saul Bloom, head of Arc Ecology, a non-profit organization in San Francisco, wrote to EPA executives that the agency should reassign the site and potentially add it to the Superfund list. He argued that the EPA was the only sufficiently powerful and neutral institution to find credible answers on pollution.

"The simple fact is that we've learned more about TI (Treasure Island) over the past three years than in any previous program since the beginning of (cleanup), and the story is worrying," Bloom wrote. "Currently, TI residents do not know where they can seek an impartial view of their health and exposure in government."

Bloom, who died in 2016, also filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents about the site, asking EPA for details of its decision to remove Treasure Island Superfund from the list. His questions were stumbled upon by some EPA officials initially.

"No one is sure if it was ever rated and ranked," the regional project manager emailed a colleague in 2014. After research, he added in another email that "the site exceeded the listing score. I don't know the history of why it was never listed."

Jason Fagone and Cynthia Dizikes are staff members of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected], [email protected]

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