Public health advocates have accused the U.S. Navy of covering up dangerous levels of radioactive waste pollution at a former shipyard in California, according to a report from The Guardian on Sunday.
The 866-acre Hunters Point Naval Shipyard located in San Francisco was once home to a secret research laboratory operated by the Navy that injected animals with strontium-90, a radioactive isotope commonly found in glow-in-the-dark paint.
This isotope could have been washed down drains or off ships used in nuclear testing in the Pacific, and this 40-acre tract of land is slated for residential development as soon as 2024. The Navy initially indicated elevated strontium-90 contamination on the site but performed an additional reassessment that reported sub-zero levels for the isotope, which has been met with outcry from environmental toxicologists and activists alike.
Dr James Dahlgren, an environmental toxicologist, expressed his disbelief at these results: “It is completely erroneous, it is false, it is offensive to me scientifically” (NBC News). Similarly, Ray Tompkins – an environmental activist involved in the cleanup project back in 2011 – pointed out how scientifically impossible it was for strontium levels to read as negative numbers:
“To have a negative figure on the data for strontium 90 – you can’t have it; it’s impossible; any data that says that you must reject if you have any integrity” (NBC News).
For more than 20 years now, Hunters Point Naval Shipyard has been listed by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a superfund site – meaning it’s one of many hazardous sites scattered across America contaminated with hazardous material and pollutants posing serious risks to human health and safety.
Arieann Harrison’s mother died of lung disease that she believed was tied to her work and activism at the Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard, a site that was used for radiation testing back in the 80s. Arieann continues her mother's fight for action and cleanup of the toxic site. pic.twitter.com/iz7omsQ5bx
— KQED Science (@KQEDscience) July 5, 2022
According to the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, a variety of cancers in residential areas around a shipyard were suspected to be linked to the shipyard’s radioactive contamination.
Strontium-90, which is known for its affinity for human bone tissue, was one of many radionuclides that could cause cancer over time if deposited into the body. This fact was confirmed by Dr. Dahlgren in an NBC report.
Despite these findings, a May 2019 environmental impact assessment report published by the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program concluded that no increase in radioactivity above normal background levels had been detected at harbors where U.S. naval nuclear-powered ships are based, overhauled or constructed.
The EPA, however, revealed different information concerning Hunters Shipyard—namely the presence not only of strontium-90 but also other radioactive elements and heavy metals classified as contaminants of concern (COCs).
Furthermore, EPA data showed that the site was not ready for its anticipated use due to contamination concerns. Given these conflicting reports and findings about Hunters Shipyard and similar sites around the country, it is important to further investigate this issue and understand what implications it may have on public health and safety—particularly for those who live near such sites or work within them directly.
As reported by The Guardian news report, twelve lawsuits related to Hunters Shipyard have already been initiated by Navy representatives working on behalf of the U.S Department of Justice.