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Hunters Point re-testing plan doesn’t include toxic areas ‘tested’ by firm at center of scandal

Navy’s insistence that two areas, including former shipyard’s most toxic site, are free from fraud scandal contradicted by records, whistleblowers

Photos by Chris Roberts

Two areas of the former Navy shipyard at Hunters Point have so far not been included in plans to re-test the heavily polluted EPA Superfund site, on the basis that a disgraced contractor at the center of a widening fraud scandal at the site’s $1.1 billion cleanup did not perform work there.

However, public records show that Tetra Tech EC—one of the many subsidiaries of Tetra Tech, Inc., a company paid $300 million by the Navy to remove toxic pollution, including radioactive material, from the shipyard in order to prepare it for redevelopment—did do work in both areas.

Between 2005 and 2007, Tetra Tech EC was the lead contractor assigned to remove radioactive and chemical contamination from an area called “Parcel E-2,” where the Navy dumped waste during almost 40 years of shipyard operations.

And Tetra Tech EC was responsible for radiological testing, data-keeping, and safety operations for another contractor’s work at Parcel D-1—the location of the massive, iconic gantry crane appropriated for the marketing materials for “The Shipyard SF,” the area’s housing development. This area also housed a building used by the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, a top-secret nuclear warfare research lab that operated at the shipyard between 1946 and 1974.

There are currently no plans to re-test either of the two areas in question. And neither parcel was part of a base-wide review of other data collected by Tetra Tech EC, which revealed that nearly half of cleanup data collected by the company beginning in 2006 showed signs of fraud.

Nor does the Navy plan to test a hilltop area occupied by more than 300 units of market-rate housing, despite that area never being fully tested for radiological contamination, and despite several reports from former Tetra Tech project workers that radioactive material was discovered there.

The rationale behind this reluctance is unclear.

The Navy did not respond to multiple requests for comment on why the areas aren’t part of the re-testing plan.

A spokeswoman for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which is tasked with overseeing the decades-long cleanup project, said only that the agency is currently focused on re-testing two other areas.

“As we move forward, we will assess proposed retesting at all parcels where Tetra Tech EC Inc. did radiological work,” EPA spokeswoman Michele Huitric wrote in a brief email on Friday.

Map showing areas implicated in fraud scandal and intended for re-testing. The two areas not shaded in yellow are E/E2 and D1—neither area has been part of retesting despite records showing Tetra Tech EC performed work on both sites.

Environmental advocates are baffled and outraged, and say this reticence is further proof that health and safety have been compromised in order to speed along a real-estate deal. The 450-acre former shipyard is slated to someday be the hub of a new neighborhood with more than 10,000 units of housing and millions of square feet of office space—the biggest redevelopment project in San Francisco since the 1906 earthquake.

“Unfortunately for the government agencies still covering up fraud and lies, we can read,” said Bradley Angel, the executive director of Greenaction, an environmental advocacy nonprofit that’s been pushing for transparency and accountability at the shipyard project, and has long been demanding that the entire base be retested by a third-party outfit, with community oversight.

So far, two former Tetra Tech EC workers, Justin Hubbard and Stephen Rolfe, have pleaded guilty in federal court to fraud and were sentenced to eight months each in prison. Tetra Tech itself has escaped punishment almost entirely. The company was assessed a $7,000 fine from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a penalty later waived on appeal.

On Wednesday, Charlie MacPherson, Tetra Tech Inc.’s chief Pasadena-based spokesperson, repeated an earlier claim that “Tetra Tech EC did not perform radiological work on parcels D1 and E2.”

On Thursday, Sam Singer, a San Francisco-based communications consultant hired by Tetra Tech in April, confirmed that the company did do work on both areas.

Singer neither provided an explanation for the earlier discrepancy nor clarified if Tetra Tech’s earlier offer to pay for a base-wide retesting of its work extended to those two parcels.

Housing at the Hunters Point Shipyard. Photo by Chris Roberts

Allegations that Tetra Tech EC’s work at the shipyard was rife with outright fraud have thus far been sustained by a review conducted by other third-party contractors hired by the Navy.

An initial Navy review found that nearly half of Tetra Tech EC’s work at the shipyard showed signs of data manipulation or falsification. An analysis of that review conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency found that in some areas up to 97 percent of Tetra Tech’s work could not be trusted.

So far, Tetra Tech Inc. has denied these allegations and defended its work, going as far as to offer to pay for third-party testing to prove it.

“The bottom line is the work that Tetra Tech EC did at the Hunters Point Shipyard is 100 percent valid and is safe,” said Singer in comments to the San Francisco Examiner. Singer issued a press release Wednesday declaring that the Navy has “shown interest” in the offer.

However, the Navy’s take is more nuanced. In a statement issued Wednesday, the Navy said it “requires a more concrete and specific proposal to evaluate the appropriateness” of Tetra Tech’s “broad public offer.”

Other public statements from the Navy, including materials available to the public online and at the Navy’s site office at Hunters Point, have not deviated from the earlier line that parcels E2, where the Navy sited its toxic landfill during the base’s heyday as a ship repair station and hub for nuclear warfare research, and D1 are not implicated in the fraud scandal.

However, public records on file with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control—and posted on the internet—outline extensive work performed on both parcels by Tetra Tech EC.

At Parcel E-2, the dirtiest area of the 450-acre shipyard, Tetra Tech EC was hired to clean and test an area called the “metal debris reef/metal slag area.” Here, the Navy deposited waste contaminated with cesium 137, radium 226, and strontium 90—radioactive elements created during nuclear fission that can lead to cancer and other health problems in humans.

At the reef area, Tetra Tech removed 11,200 cubic yards of “soil, metal slag, and debris” that had been excavated to 3 to 6 feet.

The company also claimed to have removed “163 pieces of radioactively contaminated debris” over a two-year period between May 2005 and May 2007. The company also found “chemical contamination” at the area. Other toxic materials at the shipyard include petroleum byproducts, banned solvents, and pesticides.

At Parcel D1, the location of the prominent gun mole pier, another firm, Shaw Environmental, was the lead contractor.

However, Tetra Tech EC was still responsible for radiological testing and record-keeping, according to a work plan for the site on file with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Tetra Tech EC was also responsible for operating the “portal monitors” that checked whether soil leaving the base from Parcel D1 was still radioactive. The company reportedly faked that process and allowed soil potentially contaminated with low-level radiation to be sent to landfills all over California, whistleblowers have alleged.