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Navy Won't Investigate Nuclear Pollution At San Francisco's Treasure Island 121

Posted by timothy
from the charming-fixer-upper-quaint-'50s-charm-must-see dept.
Lasrick writes "The Center for Investigative Reporting spent a year investigating whether San Francisco's Treasure Island is contaminated with radioactive material left over from the decades the island was a naval base. Treasure Island is being transferred into civilian hands, and the city of San Francisco has plans to turn it into a 'second downtown.' Despite the fact that radioactive debris has been found around the island, the Navy refuses to conduct testing that might show whether radiation cleanup should be started before development begins, Independent testing by CIR and others has found high levels of cesium 137 and other radioactive substances at several spots on the island, and by examining unclassified military documents, CIR has found that the history of the nuclear work done at Treasure Island and the lack of safety protocols at the time mean the contamination is most likely wide-spread. Complaints by current residents has only resulted in bureaucratic infighting among state health departments and the Navy."
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Navy Won't Investigate Nuclear Pollution At San Francisco's Treasure Island

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  • Caveat emptor x2 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:10AM (#46334097) Homepage Journal

    Let the buyer beware, and be extra wary when the seller is the one responsible for enforcing the safety of sellers.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      It's more like if public servants want to play with nuclear material they need to take responsibility for it. What would you do if your employee took this attitude?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sumdumass (711423)

        The navy isn't a public servant.

        That aside, they probably do not want to risk their already shrinking budget getting stuck with the cleanup. Instead, once it changes hands to another government entity, congress will allocate money through the superfund process already in place to deal with stuff like this. Its a wash to the tax payers as it would only be an accounting gimmack.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          Isn't the US military controlled by the civilian government? They serve the civilian government, and by extension the civilians that the government represents.

        • The navy isn't a public servant.

          That aside, they probably do not want to risk their already shrinking budget getting stuck with the cleanup. Instead, once it changes hands to another government entity, congress will allocate money through the superfund process already in place to deal with stuff like this. Its a wash to the tax payers as it would only be an accounting gimmack.

          More likely, if it is like similar instances in WA, they are trying to push it off on the state and thus it is a fight between the state and federal governments as to who gets to pay for it.

          • by sumdumass (711423)

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org]

            You may be right but it appears the biggest difference would be who is in charge of the remediation. Also, since this would be considered a hazzardous material, access to the superfund monies can bipass congress and simply use and administrative order. I'm sure it is more complex than i'm making it sound though.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And Admiral... it is the Enterprise

  • get the mythbusters to test for it

    • "Jamie... I'm glowing!"
      "Well there's your problem! I'd say that's Myth Confirmed!"
      "That's all well and good for you but I look like a dead Jedi Knight now! Although that's pretty cool!"

    • Just get yourself a shiny Geiger–Müller counter and be done with it.

      • You can't just assume that one type of radiation meter will yeild accurate results in all circumstances, GM (Geiger–Müller) type meters frequently under-mesure beta radiation and are barely able to detect the presence of alpha radiation, the CS-137 is primarily a beta emitter and radium is primarily an alpha emitter, so both would likely be under-detected using GM survey meters. Both nucleotides would represent a significant inhailation hazzard to the TI residents while being under-detected. If

    • by Pseudonym (62607)

      Wrong show. What we need is the Prototypers to build something to clean up the site.

      (Unless it was them who actually contaminated the site in the first place.)

  • by NReitzel (77941) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:12AM (#46334121) Homepage

    If the area is going to end up paved, without wells or agriculture, then low level cesium contamination is beside the point.

    When Los Alamos (of Plutonium era) was refurbished for civilian use, the walls were painted over with bright red paint, followed by white paint. The paint was adequate to block plutonium alphas and daughter betas. The rule for the buildings was "if you see red, call maintenance."

    • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:24AM (#46334253)

      Stop pointing out the facts!! The alarmism sells so much better, especially when it involves R A D I A T I O N ! !

      • Radiation! Half-baked goggle-box do-gooders telling you it's bad for you! Not at all!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yes, I agree that demolition, paving, and construction does not throw up any dust. They can just paint the whole thing red first. No biggie . .. no need to test anything.

      You must always be giving out your brilliant ideas as random acts of kindness to humanity . . . or work for the NSA . . .
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't see any issues with them using the island. Cs-137 is pervasive as well as plutonium. As long as no one is ingesting or inhaling particles it shouldn't be a problem. I want to know just how "contaminated" this place is. If readings are a few CPM above background I wouldn't worry in the least.

      The story stems for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who have been nothing but scaremongers ever since the Cold War about nuclear destruction.

    • by jythie (914043)
      Eventually yes, but generally construction involves a lot of digging up and moving materials around first. So if there is significant contaminated dirt it then becomes contaminated dust and that is a bit more of a problem.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Unfortunately to pave the area they have to dig up all the contaminated topsoil, which is a worker exposure issue. The soil's two orders of magnitude above the statutory limit.

      Then there's the issue of what you do with the topsoil that you do not intend to pave over.

      • by demonbug (309515)

        Just toss it in the bay; with the radiation plume arriving from Japan, no one will ever notice!

    • The Red Paint was, likely, what the navy calls Red Lead. It's a lead-based primer used on ship to protect against corrosion. Perfect for stopping alpha and beta particles. The white paint is also, likely, lead-based but suitable as a base for regular paint.

      I just wish they would use lead-based paint when painting the lines on roads...the new, non-lead stuff wears off too quickly. But, the eco-folks would probably have a bear (not literally).

      • by Tharkkun (2605613)

        The Red Paint was, likely, what the navy calls Red Lead. It's a lead-based primer used on ship to protect against corrosion. Perfect for stopping alpha and beta particles. The white paint is also, likely, lead-based but suitable as a base for regular paint.

        I just wish they would use lead-based paint when painting the lines on roads...the new, non-lead stuff wears off too quickly. But, the eco-folks would probably have a bear (not literally).

        We have to protect the children who crawl onto highways and eat the paint off the roads.

    • by spongman (182339)

      red paint isn't going to stop the gammas from Ba137.

    • Wen Ho Lee called home instead of maintenance.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • Yeah, sounds about right.
  • So pick your (radioactive) poison.
  • The wind shifted
    back in the fifties particles drifted
    A wave set in motion
    the Pacific Ocean
    test of the hydrogen bomb
    There from would come
    too close to home
    ships from the test
    put to rest
    and convalesce with heavily armed guard
    in Hunter's Point shipyard
    Heavy metal sandblast
    Facemask

    Deoxidize
    Remove the radiation from the outside
    a hazardous cargo
    dumped into the harbor
    went farther then that though
    Sand from the blasting
    made into sidewalks
    played on by kids
    that just got over chicken-pox
    Glowing faces
    All races
    Hop-scrotch

  • Ooh Scary! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:22AM (#46334235) Homepage

    You have to read to just about the end to get this:

    Those concentrations do not confirm a health hazard, according to Jan Beyea, a prominent nuclear physicist specializing in the health effects of low-level radiation. They are no greater than common contamination worldwide from 20th-century nuclear fallout.

    • Re:Ooh Scary! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by compro01 (777531) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:53AM (#46334611)

      That line only applies to the cesium. The radium contamination is more relevant, as it means the building will have radon problems that will require dealing with.

      • by demonbug (309515)

        Radon is generally only an issue in poorly ventilated areas, usually cellars or basements where the radioactive gas can build up. These are rare in California in general, and unlikely on Treasure Island where groundwater is present at ~4-8 feet below the ground surface. Direct exposure to radiation, especially through inhalation or ingestion of radioactive dust, is probably a bigger issue.

        • Speaking of "ground water", I believe the island is susceptible to high tides now and it (the island) is not getting any higher. A recent study (http://www.bcdc.ca.gov/planning/climate_change/TreasureIslandStudy.pdf) used 55" as a plausible/high level for sea level rise (SLR) by 2100. It rose 8 inches in the last 100 years, according to the same study. Plus the island is isolated as far as public transportation - perhaps people are looking to build in a place near SF that most people have trouble getting

    • by mspohr (589790)

      "McLean reported finding radium pieces that emitted enough radiation for a person at close range to receive, in an hour, five times the maximum radiation a nuclear worker is allowed to absorb in a year."

      "In addition to the dangerously radioactive radium pieces, McLean’s readings showed that soil surrounding the objects was contaminated with traces of the material."

      "For 46 years before the base was selected for closure, Treasure Island was home to nuclear war academies that used a variety of radionucli

      • Don't assume this is just an isolated case, just google Fort McClellan. [wikipedia.org] Agent Orange contaminated with dioxin, PCB, Sarin and Mustard are all still there.

  • ... all over again for those who lived through Love Canal.
    • I found out years later I lived pretty close to a superfund site. Not a happy discovery. Hmm, I wonder if there are any funds available if its govt?

    • Re:It's deja vu ... (Score:5, Informative)

      by voodoo cheesecake (1071228) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @11:52AM (#46334603)

      Thought you might like this from Troubled Lands The Legacy of Soviet Environmental Destruction by D. J. Peterson
      http://www.rand.org/pubs/comme... [rand.org]
      (Chapter 5)

      "For example, in the town of Sillamae in northeastern Estonia, nearly
      300 children attending two kindergartens suffered a loss of hair in 1989.
      When the story first broke in March of that year, the Soviet press agency,
      TASS, reported that specialists initially had suspected the cause to be
      natural radioactivity emanating from local shale deposits. Subsequent
      tests, however, revealed that background radiation in the town was
      normal. After months of speculation and controversy, the former director
      of the Baltiets enterprise, a local defense industry, revealed that his com-
      pany had dumped radioactive wastes in the town. The two kinder-
      gartens were built over the dump, separated from it by only a thin layer
      of sand."

      • I have long held that the former Soviet Union and its satellites provide the best example of the costs extracted from a society by the most common form of corporate welfare, being allowed to pollute. Unfortunately, it is a lesson the West has largely ignored.

        Thank you for your insightful post

  • no numbers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It is telling that this news article, published in "The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists" contained zero quantitative radiation or dose rate information within its several thousand words. Lots of "He Said" stories but no numbers. Did the authors of the article labor under the false assumption that their intended audience was numerically illiterate or do they have nothing but unsubstantiated anecdotes?

    • Despite it's title - the "Bulletin of Atomic Scientists" is and always has been a political rag. They publish numbers when it suits them, and fall back on unsubstantiated anecdotes when it doesn't.

  • Can't imagine anyone would ever think building on a toxic radioactive dump would be a good idea

    • by Nimey (114278)

      But there's big money involved, so that's okay.

    • They'll just take care of that through a disclosure form in the 8 inches of paperwork that a prospective homeowner has to go through. And, when that one comes up, the realtor will just say "Aww, that's just one of those forms the State makes us put in there. This next one deals with..."

  • >Complaints by current residents has only resulted in bureaucratic infighting among state health departments and the Navy."

    Complaints by current residents have...

  • Look into their recent Richmond CA HUD reporting. They sort of chose to ignore huge chunks of stuff in favor of sensationalism

  • by cyn1c77 (928549) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @12:13PM (#46334873)

    ... now the corporate sector is getting impatient that they can't profit off of it! Ridiculous.

    The most cost efficient solution would be to just remove the highway exit leading to the island.

    Build a new island if you want to build high-priced condos to continue to overpopulate San Francisco. Or let the corporations that will profit off of the condos actually pay to cleanup the island.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MrEricSir (398214)

      Except it was built for the World's Fair and intended to be re-purposed as an airport. The Navy base idea came later.

      But hey, no reason to let facts get in the way of your knee-jerk response, right?

      • by cyn1c77 (928549)

        Not sure what your point is: The island was still built by the Army Corps of Engineers.

        The Navy base idea came after Pearl Harbor, when the Navy needed an area to stage its ships before sending them out to war. They requested that San Francisco submit a purchase price. After San Francisco decided that the island was not for sale, the Navy seized it. They then traded Mills Field for the island. (Mills Field eventually became the San Francisco International Airport, which probably would not have fit under

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Contracts are already signed; it's not "impatience" when you've been sold the goods and told that, hey, turns out they might be more radioactive than permitted by state law.

      • When the Government gives something away or sells it, your due dilligence should be much more dilligent than usually due. If it really had any value the chances are someone's cronies would have had the first refusal, so if you really get a crack at it, it most likely has a negative value.

  • morons (Score:2, Funny)

    by slashmydots (2189826)
    Since it's San Francisco, the planners probably think the nuclear radiation will help their quantum auras if they wave around new age crystals and hang them from the mirrors of their Toyota Priuses.
    • I'm with you on any new age bashing you can think up. But if you bash my prius, I'll run you over, and then run you over another 99,000 times with all the extra gas I have. </joke>
  • Humans are radioactive too. The question is, how much? What are the numbers? Without that information, the article is 100% completely useless.

    The state of California once proposed standards for formaldehyde levels that would have categorized human beings as dangerous carcinogens, because our bodies produce formaldehyde needed for certain body processes. With no numbers and no sense of scale, anything, even your own body van be made to sound scary.

    • by Krigl (1025293)

      The question is, how much? What are the numbers?

      Well, the question "how much" led to my skimming of both articles (I've clicked the link to The Bullshit already, so what), but strangely enough, neither "scientists" nor "investigative reporters" could be bothered with such trifles. In absence of evidence, let's feel free to call it morons' nonsense until someone is able to produce actual data.

  • These are some stupid corporations. Start selling the dirt in the middle east. Best case scenario: you'll make bank from selling it to stupid terrorists who think it will be useful for making dirty bombs (and it will be, for certain definitions of "dirty"). Worst case scenario, the government will decide maybe they SHOULD clean it up.
  • Michael, Trevor or Franklin to clean it up in a submarine

  • Why would you even want the Navy investigating nuclear contamination if they are the ones who are responsible for it in the first place? Honestly, what do you expect them to find?

    That's a bit like asking BP to determine if there is any oil contaminating the Gulf of Mexico or asking Union Carbide if there happens to be any toxic chemical pollution in Bhupal.

    The Nuclear Regulation Commision is the agency that oversees radioactive material safety, have them do it.

  • "Piss off, you hand-wringing, liberal, enviromentalist weenies. Your federal government is all about privatizing profit and socializing expenses. You want it cleaned up? You pay for it."
  • I guess they figure that the radioactive material coming from Fukushima would
    equalize it all given enough time and decided not to bother....

    What most ppl don't realize is that the US taxpayer paid for this happen TWICE....

    The 1st time for what this article is talking about, and the 2nd time when stuxnet
    either caused or made worse the disaster in Fukushima.

    http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/no... [berkeley.edu]

  • I've always enjoyed the bracketed indication of target domain behind links in discussion, I think it would be nice to implement this also for the main page. In some cases, wording indicates some inconspicous page and people tend to click links that actually lead to the pages like Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which no self-respecting nerd should read (hint: If you can't include actual levels or link to the data you're not an Atomic Scientist but Alarmed Shill).
  • Get thee to a decomissioned Navy facility this very night, carrying a radiation detector in one hand, and a shovel in the other. Get out there and get those radiation sources dug up and into your safe hands before some irresponsible person comes along and "cleans them up"!

    You could probably even defend it as performing a public service. As long as you keep it separate from your dispersal device until just before you want to trigger your "dirty bomb".

Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.

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