Navy cleanup of Treasure Island to last five more years

An abandoned pier stretches out toward the city skyline along the shore of Treasure Island. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

By  on November 24, 2017 (

One of four remaining Treasure Island areas from which the U.S. Navy is removing toxic material is expected to soon receive a clean bill of health.

By the end of January, the Navy, as part of its required ongoing radioactive and chemical cleanup of the man-made island, is expected to transfer ownership of this area’s batch of parcels to San Francisco, which plans to build thousands of new homes and commercial space there.

The remaining three areas are scheduled to be transferred in the coming years — the last is scheduled for Dec. 31, 2021 — but the results of a radioactive feasibility study next year could shorten that time line.

The Navy used the island as a base from 1941 to 1997, and its activities there — largely during World War II — contaminated the island with radiological materials and other toxins. The agency is required under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act to clean it up, and that work is being overseen by San Francisco’s Department of Public Health and state agencies like the California Department of Public Health and the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The Navy has already cleaned up about half the island and transferred it to The City in 2015, a milestone celebrated by Mayor Ed Lee.

“It’s taken almost two decades to get to this point, and we’re eager to transform this former naval base into a vibrant community,” Lee said at the time.

The Treasure Island Development Authority’s Board of Directors praised the progress of the Navy cleanup during a Nov. 15 hearing when it received an update on the cleanup effort by Dave Clark, lead environmental project manager for the Navy working on Treasure Island.

“Even that, the 2021 [time line], is still very impressive that we have done all this work, just now getting to that tail end,” said TIDA board member Linda Richardson. “Overall, I think this is great news.”

The first of the remaining four areas expected to be transferred to The City are referred to as Parcels 30, 30 north, 30 south and 31.

“Site 30 was the day care center, and the building itself acts as a cap,” Clark said. “If the building were ever to be removed, The City would remove the debris underneath the building. Site 31, there was no building. The debris has been removed from Site 31.”

Clark said the Navy is waiting to “receive a clean bill of health from the California Department of Public Health” for those sites this month and then would transfer them to The City.

“We are well underway to make that happen by the end of January,” Clark said.

As for Site 24, a former dry-cleaning facility and one of the four remaining areas, the Navy will continue monitoring the remediation work there for two more years before the transfer.

“We got about 80 percent of the contamination removed,” Clark said. “We were effectively using bioremediation to naturally break down the chlorinated solvents used in the dry-cleaning process.”

The scheduled date of this site’s transfer to The City is Jan. 30, 2019.

“I think we will be able to get full cleanup of the site and, ultimately, when we transfer the property, there will be no land use controls to monitor,” Clark said. “That’s why the date of 2019 gives us time to collect more data to represent statistically decreasing trends in both soil and soil gas.”

A third area being cleaned up is grouped together as Site 6, the historical fire-fighter training facility; Site 32, a training and storage area; and Parcel 2, the wastewater treatment plant, are slated for transfer by Dec. 31, 2020.

“Site 32 was a storage facility, and in 2010, we did a large PCB [Polychlorinated Biphenyls] cleanup,” Clark said. “The reason why we haven’t transferred it is we use it as a lay down area, mainly for soil from Site 12.”

Clark said the former storage facility is used for testing and scanning soil from Site 12 to determine whether it contains radioactive material, which would be hauled away for disposal.

Site 12, which includes residential housing, will have the most activity moving forward and comprise both chemical and radioactive material cleanup.

The solid waste disposal areas, where materials with radioactive Radium-226 were buried, is the source of “99 percent of all the radiological contamination” on the island. The Navy used radioactive Radium-226 glow-in-the-dark paint for dials and gauges and deck markers.

“Less than 1 percent of anything on Treasure Island from the solid waste disposal areas has been found outside of the solid waste disposal areas,” Clark said. “But this presents a unique challenge to figure out what is the ultimate remedy going to be for Site 12.”

There are four solid waste disposal areas: Westside Drive, Bayside, Bigelow and Northpoint. Clark said that work at Bigelow and Bayside is complete.

“We have to go back to Northpoint in 2018 for another additional dig. But after that, we should be out of there,” he said.

Next year, the Navy will complete a radiological feasibility study for Site 12.

“The feasibility study is key, really, to the open spaces because that is really the most challenging technical question that we have, ‘What is the final remedy to ultimately support property transfer?’” Clark said.

On the chemical remediation front, Clark said, “We are going to go to the northern area of Site 12 for a lot of those small chemical digs. After this is done, we basically should not be going back into the neighborhoods for any remedial action outside of the solid waste disposal area.”

Even as the remediation work draws to a close and state and local health agencies have said that the radiological material and other toxins don’t pose a health risk to the nearly 2,000 residents currently living there, the island’s reputation may forever remain clouded.

“I came to this area from New York about 30 or so years ago, and when I came, word on the street was, ‘No, don’t ever go over to those islands. They are radioactive.’ So I haven’t spent much time here,” said Ruthie Sakheim, who attended the on-island TIDA meeting.

“And I know a whole community has developed here, and I worry about the health of the people here.”

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