Washington, DC, July 2, 2018 — The U.S. Navy has unveiled a retesting plan for the troubled Hunters Point Shipyard Superfund cleanup that rests on the mind-boggling assumption that the site is too clean. The plan raises the disturbing possibility that the Navy is playing methodological games to dodge its cleanup responsibilities, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The Navy’s “Parcel G Removal Site Evaluation Work Plan” unveiled this June for public comment concerns a major portion of the overall site where both the Navy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have confirmed widespread fabrication and data manipulation of soil sampling to minimize the extent of radiological contamination.
Yet, the plan’s Executive Summary contains the following stunning statements:
“This [measurement] method was known by stakeholders at the time to be biased high. A large amount of soil (estimated 80%) was likely mischaracterized to be contaminated…Soil that was considered contaminated could have been attributable to naturally occurring radioactivity or anthropogenic fallout.”
In the wake of revelations that its contractor had falsified large numbers of measurements to assert soil was clean when it was contaminated, the Navy now claims that it has secretly known since 2011 that in fact the opposite is true and that 80% of the soil at Hunters Point was not radiologically contaminated at all. Yet, the Navy does not explain why, if true, it continued this cleanup for years. Nor does it identify the “stakeholders” who were privy to this supposed knowledge for all this time.
“The premise of the Navy’s new plan is that it has spent more than quarter-billion taxpayer dollars on a phantom problem,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Further, the Navy kept spending money for years after it supposedly knew the cleanup was a waste of money.”
To “prove” its new assertion that contamination was in fact due to naturally occurring “background” radioactivity, the Navy’s plan on page 27 states:
“therefore, RBA [reference background area] samples and measurements will be collected and evaluated to provide generally representative data sets estimating natural background and fallout levels of man-made radionuclides for the majority of soils at HPNS.”
The plan, however, proposes to take “background” samples from the midst of the contaminated parcel and from one of the contaminated buildings. In other words, the Navy is going to check for background radiation in soil and structures that might already be much more than naturally contaminated.
“How can the public be confident in a plan premised on such extraordinary wishful thinking?” asked Ruch, noting that Derek Robinson, the Navy’s environmental coordinator for the shipyard, has said about the new retesting plan: “We want the public to be confident in this.”
Even more confusing, the Executive Summary concludes:
“A determination as to whether contamination exists at the site cannot be made until additional data are collected, analyzed and compared to RGs [remediation goals] and background concentrations…Allegations of previous sample collection fraud, improper sample and document custody/controls, and data manipulation could indicate that contamination was potentially left at the site.”
“It is disquieting that at this late date, the Navy admits that it has no idea what is going at Hunters Point,” Ruch concluded. “Given that this massive cleanup is lost at sea, perhaps it is time for EPA to step in and relieve the Navy of this wayward command.”