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SF BayView: 'Toxic land! Walk carefully!' Notes on the UC-led independent review of the Hun

Mayor Breed, in her first State of the City address in January 2019, announced that she has partnered with Bayview District Supervisor Shamann Walton to request an independent analysis by representatives from the University of California San Francisco and University of California Berkeley to clarify questions around the testing at the Hunters Point Shipyard Project.

The Hunters Point Shipyard Project is part of the Candlestick Point-Hunters Point Shipyard Development Plan located along the southeastern shoreline of San Francisco, in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. It will create a new mixed-use community consisting of approximately 12,000 homes and several million square feet of retail, entertainment, hotel, office and open space.

Part of the redevelopment, Hunters Point Shipyard Phase II, sits on the former naval base, and has been under a massive remediation work led by the Navy and supervised by several federal and state regulatory agencies. It is conducted by a few different firms, including Tetra Tech Corp.

In 2017, an EPA evaluation of the remediation activities found widespread deliberate data falsification by Tetra Tech. For example: in Parcels B and G of the shipyard, covering 40 percent of the site, over 90 percent of samples were suspect.

Phase I of the Hunters Point Shipyard project in Parcel A, adjacent to Phase II, has been under construction since 2012, and with more than 300 residential units, is now home to hundreds of families. After revelation of the botched cleanup, residents of Parcel A demanded re-testing.

The California Department of Public Health conducted a surface scan from the public areas of the site and found no risk to the health or safety of residents and workers. But this re-testing, which was criticized for being incomprehensive and insufficient, did not help residents and community members feel safe or protected. Now, the mayor and District 10 supervisor believe that an impartial panel of health experts from two leading universities will end the controversy over safety.

For a while, no details were released about the panel – nothing about its composition, plan etc. Neither community members nor journalists nor my colleagues at UC Berkeley knew about the plan or research team. My requests for details from Supervisor Walton’s office did not succeed.

On April 17, a press release from the Mayor’s Office finally provided more details. We learned from this announcement that Mayor Breed, City Attorney Herrera and Supervisor Walton had asked UCSF officials in January to put together a plan to conduct an independent review of the radiation testing procedures used at the Hunters Point Shipyard.

We also read that the review has three phases and includes 10 weeks of information gathering and data analysis and four weeks of public presentation. But this announcement was anything but transparent; it didn’t say who the members of this expert panel are or what their expertise is. There’s no information on how these members were selected, why they have not been introduced to the public, what exactly their plan is, what “interviewing” people means – and there are still many other questions.

Fortunately, the UCSF staff introduced in the press release were kind enough to respond to my email, send me the names of the panel members, and a two-page document that explains the goals and scope of the review. Here is what I got from this plan and from my communication with UCSF:

This document is called “UCSF-UC Berkeley Committee to Review Hunters Point Radiation Testing Protocols and Data.” This suggests that the review is limited only to analyzing the “Hunters Point Radiation Testing Protocols and Data.” Members of the panel are John Balmes, MD; Tom McKone, PhD; Kirk Smith, PhD, and Kai Vetter, PhD. They are all senior experts from UCSF and UCB and are highly respected scholars from the fields of medicine, public health and nuclear engineering.

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