Nuclear Radiation On San Francisco’s Treasure Island: We Don’t Need To Know, Apparently

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter

“That amount of radium found to date cannot be explained by gauges, deck markers, and decontamination activities,” wrote Stephen Woods, an environmental cleanup manager at the California Department of Public Health, about Treasure Island, the rectilinear speck of land in the San Francisco Bay two-and-a-half miles of white caps from our kitchen window. It summed up decades of US Government efforts to bury nuclear sins under layers of ignorance.

The US Government created Treasure Island from fill in 1937 and connected it to Yerba Buena Island, the overgrown rock in the middle of the Bay Bridge. After the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939/1940, it became a naval base. In 1993, the Navy started the process of cleaning up the island so that the City of San Francisco, which had agreed to buy it for $105 million, would accept it—pending approval by state health officials.



Meanwhile, 2,800 people, oblivious to what was buried on the island, moved into the housing units they rented from the Navy. Developers are scheduled to break ground on a high-rise complex next year. The population could eventually swell to 20,000. Alas, in an excellent piece of reporting, The Bay Citizen, a nonprofit news organization, reveals a homegrown nuclear debacle kept out of public view by decades of deception.

After World War II, Treasure Island became a training center for nuclear decontamination. In a 2006 report on the cleanup, the Navy concluded that the locations of the USS Pandemonium, the mockup of a ship used for decontamination training, were free from radiation, and that a 170-acre area was ready to be transferred to San Francisco. But contractors hired by the Navy kept running into radioactivity of such magnitude that one worker was exposed to the maximum radiation dosage allowed under Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines and was sent off the job.

In 2007, the Navy tried to mollify resident with a newsletter that stated that lingering radiation from the discarded glow-in-the-dark buttons handed out during the Golden Gate International Exposition was no worse than that of a smoke detector.

But on December 17, 2010, state public health official Peter Sapunor wrote in an email that “Navy contractors had dug up and hauled off 16,000 cubic yards of contaminated dirt, some with radiation levels 400 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s human exposure limits for topsoil.” And worse, radioactive material in the soil around those excavations exposed children at a Boys & Girls Club and a child development center to contaminated dust.

The Navy’s report wasn’t forthcoming on other issues, according to The Bay Citizen:

For one, the Navy had failed to fully detail what had happened to the remains of the USS Pandemonium, used to train sailors in “Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare,” according to a July 2011 health department review. The Navy contractor recently dumped debris from the two training sites into an undisclosed landfill, the report alleged, then declared the training site clean without testing for radiation. “The Navy has not responded to requests for the location of the landfill,” the review added.

In early 2011, Stephen Woods lambasted the Navy for still using the 2006 report to support its claims that parts of the island had been cleaned: “The large volume of radiological contaminated material, high number of radioactive commodities (individual items or sources), and high levels of radioactive contamination … have raised concerns with CDPH regarding the nature and extent of the radiological contamination present at Treasure Island.”

In June 2011, CDPH issued a notice of violation against the Navy’s chief cleanup contractor “for repeatedly digging, piling, spreading and transporting dirt from sites contaminated with toxic chemicals” without testing them for radioactivity, “potentially spreading radiation beyond its original location.”

Finally, these and many other actions and pressures induced the Navy to hire civilian researchers and do a new historical analysis. The Bay Citizen “obtained” a draft report, dated August 6, 2012. Turns out, Treasure Island was “ground zero for repairing, scrapping, recycling and incinerating material from ships that might have absorbed radiation from atomic bomb tests in the Pacific.”

After many decades of suppressing this information, it is now finally seeping to the surface, thanks to the Navy’s reluctant glasnost, worried state health officials, and investigative reporters at the The Bay Citizen. A bit late for the families who’ve lived on the island for years, and for some of the clean-up workers who weren’t always aware of what exactly they were dealing with.

Here is a harbinger of things to come: California Sales Tax Revenues Nosedive By 33.5%, by hard-hitting Chriss Street.

And this came Friday evening..... Moody’s Warns Of Mass California Municipal Bankruptcies, also by Chriss Street.

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Blue Dog's picture

So what? It's way too small to be concerned about.

dunce's picture

This is just more enviromental hysteria promoted by a worthless bureaucrat, thousands of people have lived and worked there for over 60 years . Where are the cancer cases? Just another chicken little running around screaming that the sky is falling. Zero tolerance in anything  is radical extremism and in particular in regards to radiation. Hundreds of studies conducted to confirm bias do not a real argument make. A gram of radio active material containing 1000 radioactive  atoms in a cubic yard of earth does not make a biohazard unless it was plutonium.

steveo77's picture

I spent, well, a few hundred hours aggregating many of the lies of the military industrial nuclear cartel, and indeed there are few worse.


Check it out here

Sharkalchemy's picture

Sonaofabitch... I subleted an apartment there for a summer a few years ago to get away from the heat.  


the irony.   

dannynewmexico's picture

no big surprise here, the government has always used our ignorance as a weapon

paint it red call it hell's picture

nothing to look at here folks, move along...........

knotjammin2's picture

World's Biggest Tsunami


The largest recorded tsunami was a wave 1720 feet tall in Lituya Bay, Alaska

I'm just saying.  Also with all the siesmic activity in the Bay area, some of this could have perked up from it's original burial depth.

BigInJapan's picture

Yes, the numbers are true, but the wave directly opposite a huge rockslide in a sheltered corner of a bay have zero relevance.

Just around the corner, you had waves 90% smaller.

Reach much?

Just saying

diogeneslaertius's picture

If this were SimCity you would have lost by now

Winston of Oceania's picture

Must be we tested suitcase bumbs in the caverns before the ng was discovered in them...

SaveTheBales's picture

You'd think Garmin or Apple would have an app for that by now.

divide_by_zero's picture

You shouldn't go anywhere without a geiger counter anymore.

GoingLoonie's picture

Especially if you are eating fish from the Pacific.

booboo's picture

USS Pandemonium, how appropriate.

GoingLoonie's picture

The US Government, many states and municipal governments have been covering up poisonous situations of all kinds. The laws that have made these actions acceptable are the laws that limit the liability of the various government employees and their employees.  These laws were initially designed to protect these government entities from the occasional rougue employee that does something stupid.  The result however has been the same massive increase in moral turpitude we have seen in the financial area.  "Why not cover up our actions?  We can never be held accountable."  And so radiation, poison gas exposure and other dangerous actions have become the norm for governments on all levels.  In fact many government entities actually exist to cover up the same recklessness of big business.  Moral hazzard exists in all facets of government and business dealing with the environment.

This happens in many kinds of exposure.  Radiation, poison gas, etc.  But let us stick to those two areas.  Have you ever seen a large coal fired power plant with it's billowing smoke stacks?  Did you notice the close by mountain of coal ash? Did you know that environmental inspectors at all levels are not allowed near these ash piles with a geiger counter? True. There is usually legislation hidden somewhere protecting the polluter, the government and other knowledgeable people. The near by citizens are never warned.  (By the way, that is where Madame Currie got her radioactive materials, coal ash.)  

Finally, let's talk the other increasingly abused pollutant, poison gas.  The poison gas that kill most people worldwide year after yeat is hydrogen sulfide.  Think refineries, fracking, waste dumps, manure pits, sewer system, etc.   Gases come and go like ghosts in the night.  One can die from just one breath of hydrogen sulfide that is only 500 ppm (parts per million).  That is correct think of one million pennies with only five hundred being the poison gas.  That is a relatively small amout but it is lethal, but one breath of that proportion can kill. One breath of as little as 20 to 500 ppm may destroy a life by leaving a person with brain and other nerve damage.  Think of the old MG with lucas electrics, when the wiring or nerves are destroyed things break or malfunction.

The only solution to these environmental cover ups need to include:  1. to do away with all laws protecting government and government employees for endangering the lives of others, or covering up such actions by industry;  2.  Start prosecuting individuals in government for criminal action; and, 3.  Implement a law making lies or incomplete disclosure to the public a criminal act.

DCFusor's picture

While coal ash is indeed somewhat radioactive (as is coal), when you said that's were Curie got her stuff, you lost me - because it's not true.  She got tons of pitchblende (uranium ore) for her work.

I'm only a nuclear physicist, what the hell would I know about the history of my own speciality, after all.

GoingLoonie's picture

I do not know who you are, but you are wrong.  Pitchblend is a uranium ore.  Madame Curie used radium from 2 tons of coal ash.  Check it out.  I make mistakes too, so no harm done, but you really should not hold yourself out as an expert if you are not.  oooops- just found another source that says pitchblend????  HUmm...  I guess you may possibly have me-too much information.

torak's picture

Well honey, I say that we should move into those new condos on Treasury Island.  The government says it's it must be OK!!!

Benjamin Glutton's picture
Nuclear bomb theory

The Port Chicago explosion was studied by the Los Alamos National Laboratory team working on the Manhattan project. The resulting damage was seen as being similar to the effects of a relatively small nuclear explosion with destructive power equivalent to 2,000 tons of TNT. Paul Masters—a photo technician at Los Alamos—made copies of some of the study documents and stored them at his home. In 1980, Peter Vogel discovered one of Masters' documents in a rummage sale and noticed that one section of text read "Ball of fire mushroom out at 18,000 ft in typical Port Chicago fashion".[104] Vogel—a New Mexican information officer-turned-journalist—began to research the possibility that the Port Chicago explosion was caused by a nuclear bomb. Beginning in 1982, Vogel publicly voiced his theory, raising a storm of controversy in the Bay Area press.[105]

Vogel continued to hunt for clues for the next 20 years, eventually writing a book and, in 2002,[106] establishing a website delineating various circumstantial reasons why the Port Chicago explosion could have been nuclear. After failing to find hard evidence to support his theory, Vogel abandoned it in 2005.[105] Vogel's website was remounted in 2009 under a different URL.[107]

Vogel's theory has not had any traction amongst mainstream historians. Nuclear historians Lawrence Badash and Richard G. Hewlett, in an article from 1993, took issue both with Vogel's alleged evidence of weapons effects residues as well as Vogel's proposed timetable for the production of the bomb itself. "It is impossible that there would have been no noticeable effects that later would have been identifiable as nuclear," they wrote, "Yet rescue and investigating personnel combed the area immediately after the blast, and the ammunition depot, which was quickly rebuilt, is in use today. These activities, without any reported injuries resulting from residual radioactivity, clearly indicate that only conventional explosives were detonated." They criticized Vogel for being "silent" about all of the evidence against his theory, and found the persistence in the propagation of the Vogel theory in the media "even in the face of evidence to the contrary" as exemplifying "the process by which conspiracy theories and other astounding knowledge claims gain popular attention."[108]

DCFusor's picture

Ammo depos can really go up with a bang, my friend.  Get Hatcher's notebook and read it, complete with pictures of serious damage 10 miles away.  If a nuke went up in Chi - even a tiny one, you'd read it on a geiger, very loud, from miles away - still.  So, no need for theory or tinfoil hats, send someone there you trust with a geiger counter.  They won't have to get close to the site, even. Low yield nukes make quite a mess....since most of the fuel didn't "go up".

Dead Canary's picture

"Federal Appeals Court Rules Brokerages Can Use Segregated Client Funds to Pay Creditors"


Bear's picture

 Not only do we have a broken market ... if you have money in a finanacial institution you cannot be certain it will stay there and in the long run you can be certain it won't. Maybe time to safen-up an go physical

(Reuters) - A ruling in the case of failed futuresbrokerage Sentinel Management Group could make it more difficult for customers to recoup money lost in the much larger collapse of MF Global, according to Sentinel's bankruptcy trustee.

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a ruling that puts Bank of New York Mellon ahead of former customers of Sentinel in the line of those seeking the return of money lost in the 2007 failure of the suburban Chicago-based futures broker.

The appeals court affirmed an earlier district court ruling that the bank had a "secured position" on a $312 million loan it gave to Sentinel, which turned out to have been secured by customer money.

Futures brokers are required to keep customers' funds in dedicated accounts to protect them from being used for anything other than client business.

However, Thursday's ruling suggests that brokerages can use customer funds to pay off other creditors, Sentinel trustee Fred Grede told Reuters.

"I don't think that's what the Commodity Futures Trading Commission had in mind" with its requirement that brokers keep customer money separate from their own, he said.

"It does not bode well for the protection of customer funds."

Worse, Grede said, is that the ruling suggests that a brokerage that allows customer money to be mixed with its own is not necessarily committing fraud.

That may raise the bar for proving that MF Global Holdings Ltd, under then-CEO Jon Corzine, misused customer funds as it scrambled to meet margin calls to back bets on European debt in the brokerage's final days. A $1.6 billion customer shortfall remains.

Corzine has said he did not know about the transfer of any customer money.

"I'm sure Mr. Corzine's attorneys will get ahold of this ruling and use it for all it's worth," Grede said.

A lawyer for Corzine, who has not been charged with any crimes, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Catullus's picture

Wow.  The US Court system is an absolute disgrace.

Privatize the the judicial system.  The precedents set be these government employees is so far beyond basic property right that a market is not going to form.  People are just going to pull money out of brokers and anyone let behind is going to lose their money. 

Nehweh Gahnin's picture

It is simple enough to step outside the judicial system for most controversies between individuals, and companies, insurance companies and the like do it all the time.  Arbitration, mediation, and just face-to-face negotiation of disputes are the vehicles for that.  Only when the government itself grabs you is it unlikely or impossible, as that government tar-baby likes to keep its fingers in the pie, if I can mix my metaphors.  So criminal prosecutions, bankruptcies and regulatory actions will land you in the system.  Most other instances of judicial adjudication of controversies, including divorces, are self-inflicted.

steveo77's picture

The mediation and arbitration systems are run by lawyers, and most state laws absolve those lawyer OF ANY laibility for their deicsions, even if they are 100% clearly wrong in their interpretation of the law, even if they failed to release information about conflicts of interest.


It is all a joke.

TahoeBilly2012's picture

California is full is fruits and nuts, always said I was nuts.

falak pema's picture

Meredith got that right. But she says its country wide, the nuttiness. 

Absinthe Minded's picture

That island looks like a memory card for a digital camera.

Clowns on Acid's picture

It's beyond. Let's take control.

White.Star.Line's picture

We shouldn't worry so much about Domestic radiation.

I believe we are getting the high grade imported from Japan now.

stacking12321's picture


even in radiation we're running a trade deficit...

lolmao500's picture

Who cares. Commiefornians live there.. not to mention, these are the same folks who elect and reelect that bitch Pelosi.. so good riddance. Did you care about the Soviets when Chernobyl blew up? Didn't think so.

Dad Was Right's picture

It's not so much that scum like you come on here, a place where free thinking people of all kinds and from all over the country, and even the world, have the right to benefit from the news and analysis not reported by the MSM, to listen to and consider the opinions of those who may have different ideas and viewpoints, and to express their own thoughtful ideas. It's to be expected that a few assholes like you would express an opinion like this but that 12 others actually gave you an up arrow in agreement wounds my heart. 

Yes, I live in California. No I didn't vote for Pelosi. I am a homeowner (with the bank) and I am not underwater in my loan unlike so many others. We didn't pull out our equity and throw it away on toys we couldn't afford. I am a small business man. I have owned my own business for fifteen years. I built it (even with the help of a SBA loan). I employ three men full-time. It used to be five just a few years ago. I used to provide health insurance but I had to end that last year. I just couldn't afford it anymore. Of those three men two are married with small children. Including myself my little business provdes the food. shelter, clothing and security for twelve Americans.

We are no different from the good and valuable Americans all over this country, and good citizens of the world, that live, work, fight and die for their little piece of the dream. Parents that want nothing more than to provide a decent home and a happy and safe childhood for their children, a little security in their old age, and with hard work and perserverance a shot at something better. We have more than our share of corrupt politicians, greedy lying cheating businesmen, illegal aliens and all the rest, And yes, we have our share of sheeple here too. I can only be happy that you don't live here too. God help your children if you have them. To be raised in such an hateful environment as you would provide would be a crime against the innocence of childhood.

Even with all the issues and opinions reported here on ZH, from government corruption, massive manipulation of markets, interest rates and precious metals,of cronyism, of crimes of ommission by the press, the great apathy that has blinded our working middle class to the theft that is happening right in front of them, the entitlement mentality that has become the leech sucking the lifeblood from our country, the worst thing I have read here in recent memory is your post that would condemn me and my family, my neighbors, my employess and their families to a fate such as radiation poisoning. Even if we were Russians, you prick.

cherokeepilot's picture

I do not think anyone could have stated the objection to that imibicile's post better than you.

BigInJapan's picture

I have owned my own business for fifteen years. I built it (even with the help of a SBA loan). I employ three men full-time. It used to be five just a few years ago. Of those three men two are married with small children. Including myself my little business provdes the food. shelter, clothing and security for twelve Americans.

12 people. That's something to smile about when you're old.

You deserve a reward. If there were more folks like you, the developed world wouldn't be in this mess. Stand up and be heard you beautiful Californian Capitalist, you!

Arthur's picture

Land of Regan you dick.

lolmao500's picture

Reagan! LOL! The guy was a fucking joke. He was a puppet... and that's when the unlimited credit bubble started. Not to mention he raised taxes again and again.

Sorry but Reagan was a fucking hack.

Ookspay's picture

Ronald Wilson Reagan should be the next face on Mount Rushmore!


Bicycle Repairman's picture

"Charlie Chan at Treasure Island"

minus dog's picture

This information isn't very useful without telling us what sort of radiation sources we're talking about and the actual nominal measurements.

That said, radioactive stuff is used for all sorts of engineering and training purposes, for both military and civil engineering.   They very well could have dumped all manner of things here that would violate EPA guidelines.

The Alarmist's picture

Get with the programme, dog ... radiation bad.

slewie the pi-rat's picture

USS Pandemonium

can't make this shit up -dawg

not to mention the glow-in-the-dark buttons from the '39-40  Golden Gate International Exposition

they were collectibles till this; i wonder if the  Golden Gate Exposition - So-Called Dollars are "hot"?  

knukles's picture

The DoD dump shit in violation of EPA guidelines?
No Fucking Way.
And in any case even if the EPA knw, they'd do fuck all about it.
More interetsed in pig shit piles in the Centrral Valley.

Boooyah America!

hidingfromhelis's picture

No matter what evidence may exist of criminal acts committed, the Justice Department is prepared to fast and furiously ignore this...unless of course, a whistleblower has something to say.

holdbuysell's picture

Somebody warn Biderman, he's nearby in Sausalito.