Don’t Drink the Water

April 9th, 2005 - by admin

Dennis Kyne / SF Bay View – 2005-04-09 09:33:48

SAN FRANCISCO (April 6, 2005) — From 1946 to 1958, the United States tested atomic and thermonuclear weapons at Bikini in the Marshall Islands.

After talking the islanders into leaving their homes, the Navy moved in 240 decommissioned World War II ships and anchored them around the test site to see how they would withstand the bomb blasts. The ships were contaminated with fission products, including strontium 90 and cesium 137, as well as residual plutonium from the bombs.

Something had to be done with the ships; these dead vessels that had now been irradiated needed to be cleansed. The Hunters Point Shipyard (HPS) Historical Radiological Assessment (HRA), which is available in San Francisco at the Main Library as well as the Bayview branch library, states very clearly that “the most severely contaminated ships were eventually transferred to HPS for decontamination.

Radioactively contaminated marine growth attached to ship hulls was removed with sandblasting.” Fuel contaminated with plutonium and fission products was burned and evaporated into the air, and many materials were welded off and stored or disposed of at the Shipyard.

The radioactive sand from the blasting had to be discarded. Questionable standards for capturing contamination existed during this period, and with certainty we can say the radiation didn’t get separated from the water via a true pollution prevention mechanism. Thus it dropped in the bay or flowed out through broken storm drains.

The HRA states that the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory (NRDL), operational at the Shipyard until 1969, was responsible for organizing and shipping other radioactive garbage in addition to the sandblast remains. After housing the local community‚s radioactive waste at the Shipyard, it was to be dumped offshore near the Farallon Islands.

Along the way, drums containing the waste developed leaks, and whatever records were kept have been lost. Some days the fog wouldn’t let up, and traveling all the way to the Farallon Islands was out of the question. Hidden from witness by the fog, some 55-gallon drums are believed to have been dropped to the bottom of San Francisco Bay.

The May 2004 Community Window on the Hunters Point Shipyard states that many land sites still are contaminated by cesium 137 and strontium 90 from bomb testing and still need to be cleaned. This same document also describes the way containers of radioactive materials were used to calibrate radiation detectors and asserts there may have been leaks in large containers.

Smaller containers used in field studies would be thrown out with ordinary garbage. “Ordinary garbage” does not normally include radioactive elements. As a matter of fact, none of these elements are ordinary; they are manmade.

Corroding from Inside and Outside
Here’s the kicker (and an even greater concern if they did dump these barrels into the bay): water isn’t just wet, water is corrosive. And when it meets metal, it steals the ions and causes rust. If you have a 55-gallon drum eroding from the radiation inside, and the water outside, you have a potentially deadly experiment going on.

This is one good reason to stop the Lennar home building project that is slated to break ground soon on Parcel A at the Shipyard. The need for housing does not outweigh the damage to the health of local people should this turf be razed, liberating an incredible amount of toxic dust and exposing arriving community members to a water table that is nothing less than uranium soup.

First off, if you move human beings into these new homes and than bulldoze surrounding sites and parcels, the strontium and cesium will be liberated and will expose the residents to death. There is no excuse for selling a community on housing when they will end up in their grave.

Government cannot put people in, then clean up the mess later. The entire mess must be cleaned up first. The fact that the mess is there is confirmed by documents available at the library.

If all this isn’t sad enough, Rongalup, an atoll where the inhabitants hadn’t been evacuated, became a study group when it was drenched in the same radioactive ash as the naval carcasses. Jonathan Weisgall, the attorney representing the Bikini Islanders, observes with irony that „we had a pretty nice laboratory of exposed people.”

Radioactive Ash Returned to Hunters Point
The same radioactive ash was brought back to Hunters Point. Carl Sagan, on page 322 of Cosmos, explains that “Rongalup residents ended up with strontium concentrated in their bones, and radioactive iodine concentrated in their thyroids. Two thirds of the children, and one third of the adults later developed thyroid abnormalities, growth retardation or malignant tumors.”

Not everyone is killed by the flash of a bomb or the meltdown of a reactor or even the fallout. However, the fallout will be around for quite some time as Sagan tells us. Most strontium 90 decays in 96 years and cesium 137 in 100 years.

The ships returned to Hunters Point decades ago, but the metal they left behind is still present. Studies conducted on Rongalup can be cross applied to the current situation in Northern California, where we can say without question that contaminated ships returned to Mare Island and Hunters Point. We know that a nuclear ship sank in Mare Island, and we know that a detonation rocked through nine counties at what is now called the Concord Naval Station, formerly known as Port Chicago.

There is no place in the world that has higher rates of breast cancer than these areas. It is absolutely imperative that the Hunters Point community take a hard and deep look at the implications of low level radiation on the human being. If two-thirds of the children developed an abnormality or retardation in the Rongalup community, what can we expect in Hunters Point, where people were repeatedly exposed to radiation testing, cleaning and research facilities that were not made public knowledge until long after they had discharged deadly poison all over the soil.

It gets worse. Community Window states, “Most sites are contaminated primarily by radio nuclides, … particularly by cesium 137 and strontium 90 from bomb testing. However, some sites are also contaminated with long-lived radio nuclides such as Ra-226, and so require a very long-term assessment of the potential risk caused by the radioactivity.”

It gets worse, because the more we understand how long these elements stick around, and how horrific they are to the human gene pool, the sooner the developer wants to build new homes alongside the toxic dump sites.

There is a sense of urgency to get this construction going. The most powerful forces at City Hall are saying we have been waiting around too long.

Inadequate Clean up of Radwaste at Hunters Point
The sense of urgency should be on cleaning the Hunters Point Shipyard, a facility that once collected and analyzed samples of fallout materials from nuclear test sites. Effects of radioactivity on animals were studied at Hunters Point. Mare Island Shipyard was still using berths and drydocks at the Hunters Point Shipyard to repair nuclear powered ships from 1985 to 1989. Surely there are some byproducts in the water table from four years of nuclear fuel being moved around in the area.

The Navy didn’t clean up though, and until they clean it up, you cannot put people in the vicinity of a water table contaminated with cesium 137 and strontium 90 and a drydock area that just two decades ago housed nuclear powered ships. It would be lunacy to accept this as responsible civics. The model of civics this employs is the building model.

The model of civics that should be employed is the maintenance model. Until this area is maintained and brought to 100 percent clearance of radiation and radioactive particles, not one ditch should be dug.

If the leaders of San Francisco choose to dump a housing project onto an area that is exposed to low level radiation, they will be sentencing two thirds of the young children to some form of abnormality based on the short time period covered at Rongalup.

Leaders of San Francisco are responsible for the health and welfare of the residents of Hunters Point, both current and future. Responsibility requires these leaders guarantee with certainty that there is no radiation exposure. Anything short of that is negligence.

Dennis Kyne is a combat veteran with 15 years in the US Army. He holds a degree in political science cum laude from San Jose State University with an emphasis on nuclear proliferation. Email him at and visit his website,

Posted in accordance with Title 17, USCode, for noncommercial, educational purposes.