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Radioactive USS Independence
The bomb-scarred radioactive hulk of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Independence was docked along the historic Gun Mole Pier beneath the towering Gantry Crane at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. It operated as a floating radiation laboratory from 1948 to 1951.

The Greatest Story Never Told!

•••••••••• June, 2023 ••••••••••

The African proverb “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” embodied the foreign diplomacy of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, whose “Great White Fleet” traversed San Francisco Bay on May 6, 1908, en route to "The World's Greatest Shipping Yard" at Hunters Point..

Fleet welcomeing
Welcoming the Great White Fleet
Library of Congress San Francisco Call
April 26, 1908

“Roosevelt’s idea was to show that the United States was a power to be reckoned with.” — Richard Abrams - Professor of History UC Berkeley

Newspapers called it “the grandest spectacle of the age” as Roosevelt’s Atlantic Fleet of 16 gold-gilded battleships steamed through the Golden Gate en route to the Hunters Point Dry Docks.

Following two months of respite, recovery, maintenance and refueling, on July 07, 1908, the Great White Fleet departed Hunters Point on a fourteen-month tour de force around the world.

A historic archive of photo, cartoon and media reports chronicle the magnificence of the spectacle witnessed by over a million people who gathered to view the flotilla enter San Francisco Bay.

T Roosevelt's diplomacy
Theodore Roosevelt and his Big Stick,
William Allen Rogers
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In memorializing Asian Pacific Heritage, let us remember Roosevelt’s use of “big stick diplomacy” to denounce efforts by the San Francisco Board of Education to segregate Asian students and the Mayor’s racist attempts to block the influx of Japanese immigrants.

“Gunboat diplomacy is an aggressive foreign policy applied with the use of highly-visible displays of military — often naval — power to imply a threat of warfare as a means of forcing cooperation. The term is typically equated with the “Big Stick” ideology of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and the globetrotting voyage of his “Great White Fleet.” — Robert Longley Gunboat Diplomacy: Teddy Roosevelt’s “Big Stick”

Aerial view of Hunters Point Navel Shipyard
Aerial view of Hunters Point Navel Shipyard

The coastal wetlands and ancient hills of the promontory extending eastward into a pristine San Francisco bay were cultivated by the Ramaytush Ohlone for 4000 years before the arrival and colonization by Spanish explorers in the 1700s.

Ohlone
Habitants de Californie - Painting by Louis Choris -wikiwand.com

Surrounded on three sides by the bay, the Ohlone navigated the promontory by canoe. In 1816 Louis Choris created an artistic depiction of the Ohlone in a canoe constructed of tule reeds harvested from the coastal marshes of San Francisco Bay.

California Historian Helen Marcia Bruner wrote the essay titled The Story of Hunters Point in the September 1953 National League.

The first Pacific Coast dry dock was constructed in 1867 after New York real estate investors and brothers — Phillip Schuyler Hunter, Robert Eugene Hunter and John Hunter — gained the deed of title to a portion of a four thousand acre land grant awarded to Jose’ Cornelio Bernal during the California Gold Rush in 1849.

Named “Kali Forno” by Native Americans and “Califas” by Spanish colonizers, California joined the Union as a free state in 1850 with a Constitution that expressly prohibited slavery.

quotes

KT lives within 100 feet of the shipyard’s most heavily contaminated regions — the Parcel E-2 industrial landfill, shoreline, and the radiation-contaminated western panhandle region of the Federal Superfund site. She returned from Mexico in May from for chelation therapy to leach her body of radioactive chemicals. ”

Site of Hunter family mansion and dairy farm
Hunters View public housing and playground
at the Crisp Road intersection with
Palou Avenue, Griffith Street, and Oakdale Avenue
— site of the Hunter family mansion and
dairy farm, circa 1860. Photo by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai

On July 28, 1849, the Hunter brothers arrived in San Francisco on the Clipper Memnon. The Hunter family resided in a mansion and dairy farm located at the intersection of Griffith Street and Oakdale Avenue in modern-day Hunters Point — site of Hunters View Public Housing and the Crisp Road entry to the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard!

TEXT Phillip Schuyler Hunter & Grace Schuyler Hunter
Phillip Schuyler Hunter &
Grace Schuyler Hunter New York
Historical Society Museum & Library

By 1870 the Pacific coast dry docks at Hunters Point were hailed as “The World’s Greatest Shipping Yard!”

TEXT
Hunters Point SF 1871 - Hunters Point Images - OpenSFHistory
Berths
Hunters Point Naval Shipyard berths
and dry docks jammed with ships 1957 - Photo: Prelinger Archives

THE ARSENAL OF AMERICA

On December 29, 1939, the Navy purchased the 934-acre property using eminent domain to quickly build out capacity at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard. The Health Department burned down a village of Chinese fishermen dependent on the lucrative shrimping industry that operated along the Hunters Point dry docks. [The Chinese Shrimp Fishery].

Rosie the Riveter
Rosie the Riveter

“December 1941: A sudden attack on a distant US naval base transformed America overnight into the ‘home front.’ Everything changed, especially the swelling industrial workforce. It included millions…in particular African American women embodied by ‘Rosie the Riveter’. [American Rosie The Riveter Association]

Eastine Cowner works on a ship under construction.
Eastine Cowner, a former waitress, works on a
ship under construction - image from Wikipedia

Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park near San Francisco.

An estimated six million women entered the workforce during the war. The government initially recruited single white women but minority women — who had always worked — became half of the defense workforce. By 1944, women comprised half of the workforce in roles that included clerical and administration, bus drivers and lab technicians.

Hunters Point Shipyard from the Sky
Tour of Hunters Point Shipyard from the Sky

The West Coast became the epicenter of wartime shipbuilding. The San Francisco Bay Area alone launched 45% of wartime cargo. The Shipyard operated as a repair facility from 1945 until 1974 when it was deactivated and renamed the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. [Tour of Hunters Point Shipyard from the Sky

Labs
US Naval Radiological
Defense Laboratories

The United States Naval Radiological Defense Laboratories (NRDL) operated along the southern shoreline from 1948 to 1969. NRDL experimented with 108 radioisotopes. Thirty-three are listed as radionuclides of concern by the Historical Radiological Assessment including cesium, uranium and plutonium.

In 1974 the Navy ceased shipyard operations and from May 1976 to June 1986 leased the entire base to Triple A Machine Shop, Inc. In May of 1988, civil and criminal prosecutions by the State of California and San Francisco District Attorney’s office led to an injunction against Triple A Machine Shop for witnessed unlawful disposals of hazardous waste documented to include “oily waste, chemical liquids, PCBs and sandblast grit containing lead, copper, zinc and arsenic.

In 1986 the shipyard was reclaimed by the Navy as the homeport of the USS Missouri as the Treasure Island Naval Station at Hunters Point. Dry Docks 2 through 7 operated until it was disestablished in 1989 and closed under the Base Realignment and Closure Act in 1991.

Hull
Nuke-Blasted Hulk of Aircraft Carrier USS Independence Located Off San Francisco Coast - Photo: Todd Lappin

“While moored at San Francisco’s Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, Independence was the primary focus of the Navy’s studies on decontamination until age and the possibility of its sinking led the Navy to tow the blast damaged carrier to sea for scuttling on January 26, 1951.”-Todd Lappin

The bomb-scarred radioactive hulk of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Independence was docked along the historic Gun Mole Pier beneath the towering Gantry Crane at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. It operated as a floating radiation laboratory from 1948 to 1951.

Fat Man Bomb
21 kiloton Fat Man Plutonium Bomb

Exposed to the detonation of two 21 kiloton Fat Man plutonium bombs, the Independence was part of a fleet of up to 100 target ships hauled back to Hunters Point following Operation Crossroads nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific in July 1946.

Power plant
Shipyard Power Plant Parcel C -
Photo: Ahimsa Porter Sumchai

According to the shipyard’s Historical Radiological Assessment, the Navy burned over 600,000 gallons of nuclear fuel from Operation Crossroads ships in power plants on the base over a neighborhood with an estimated 30,000 people. That fuel contained plutonium!

“We can’t do anything about this!”

KT is a veterinary technician disabled by work injuries. Additionally, five expert doctors verify that she has signs, symptoms, risk factors, blood and urine toxicology tests, lab findings and health effects caused by exposure to radioactive heavy metals at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

TEXT
Hunters Point Biomonitoring Field Survey Western Fence Line
Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Photo: KT

KT (a resident who wishes to remain anonymous) lives within 100 feet of the shipyard’s most heavily contaminated regions — the Parcel E-2 industrial landfill, shoreline, and the radiation-contaminated western panhandle region of the Federal Superfund site. She returned from Mexico in May from a trip she financed to undergo chelation therapy to leach her body of radioactive chemicals. Exposure to the documented dangers present in shipyard landfills, soils, sediment, groundwater, air and radiation laboratories continues for KT.

quotes

Following the advice of Hunters Point Biomonitoring doctors, KT went to San Francisco General Hospital in 2022, seeking supportive care and expert toxicology consultation. She brought the urinary screening that detected 20 dangerous chemicals in toxic concentrations and reports being told at the reception desk, “We can’t do anything about this!

KT has lived for over a decade half a block west of Fitch Street — the western boundary between the densely populated south central Hunters Point neighborhood and the Shipyards Parcel E-2 industrial landfill and radiation-contaminated panhandle region. A former veterinary technician, KT has witnessed the cancer deaths of several companion animals and reports seeing dead raccoons.

An unfortified chain metal fence separates south central Hunters Point from deep soil excavations and heavy equipment operations actively conducted by Navy contractors along the shipyard’s western fence line.

Heavy-vehicle-operations
Heavy vehicle operations
and deep soil excavations
conducted by the Navy
and its contractors within
100 feet of the Fitch Street
chain metal fence that spans
the radiation-contaminated
western panhandle region.
Photos: KT
Western Panhandle Region
Western Panhandle Region

The Shipyard’s Panhandle Region may pose a greater risk of radiation exposure to nearby “sensitive receptors” than the Parcel E-2 Industrial landfill due to its proximity to residents, schools, churches, playgrounds, businesses, and nonprofit community-based organizations located within the half-mile perimeter at 3rd street coursing south along Quesada, Revere, Shafter, Thomas, Underwood, Van Dyke and Williams Streets — all the way south to the north shore of Yosemite.

Parcel F
Parcel F
TEXT
Western fence line Fitch
at Quesada & Revere
Photo: Ahimsa Porter Sumchai

Slough

radiologically impacted Shipyard regions
Radiologically impacted Shipyard regions

A frequently referenced graphic map, created by the NBC Investigative Team, highlights radiologically impacted Shipyard regions (shown in pink). Regions designated “hot pink” are heavily contaminated and include —most notably — the western panhandle. The Navy deposited radioactive metal slag in the reef area adjacent to thousands of people “live, work, play and pray”! According to the EPA EJScreen, approximately 23,000 people live within the one-mile perimeter of an indicator pin placed at the Crisp Road corridor of entry to the Federal Superfund system.

Yosemite Slough
Yosemite Slough

In 2016 the EPA designated Yosemite Slough a Federal Superfund Site. — a horizontal channel extending west into south-central Hunters Point — a quarter of a mile from the transit center, Southeast Health Center, MLK swimming pool, Bayview playground, and a “nest” of homes, restaurants, non-profits, and businesses operating along the 3rd Street corridor.

Aileen Harrison
Parcel E2
Map of Landfill/Panhandle Region:
US Navy Parcel E-2
Record of Decision

“The Navy disputes that the site harms the health of area residents. Doctors who launched an effort to test families for exposure disagree.”

City Planners Targeted a Black Community for Heavy Pollution. — Darryl Fears & John Muyskens / Washington Post 05/07/23

Chart

Following the advice of Hunters Point Biomonitoring doctors, KT went to San Francisco General Hospital in 2022, seeking supportive care and expert toxicology consultation. She brought the urinary screening that detected 20 dangerous chemicals in toxic concentrations and reports being told at the reception desk, “We can’t do anything about this!”

KT was referred to a UCSF environmental medicine expert and underwent blood lead testing that came back elevated. They told her it could not be treated because “she would continue to be exposed to lead where she lives.”

In July of 2022, KT underwent a definitive 24-hour “speciated” urinary test capable of detecting radioisotopes of uranium, plutonium and potassium conducted by an environmental toxicologist and founder of a human biomonitoring laboratory.

Radioactive potassium K-40 was detected using gamma spectroscopy in concentrations of 3.92 pCi/g - eight times the allowable limit of 0.47 pCi/g!

Plutonium

Isotopic plutonium by alpha spectroscopy detected Pu-238 and Pu-244 in concentrations exceeding allowable limits.

Uranium 233/234, 235/236, 238, and total uranium were all detected in concentrations exceeding allowable limits. Total uranium was detected in concentrations of 0.058 pCi/g - over four times higher than the 0.014 pCi/g limit.

Uranium 236 and 233 are designated anthropogenic uranium isotopes generated by Atomic Era human nuclear activities, including global fallout and discharges from civil and military nuclear industries.

Chart

Uranium-235 is by far the most radioactive isotope in nature. With a half-life of 700 million years, U-235 is the only fissile isotope in nature capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction. U-235 represents 0.7% of primordial radionuclides. Over 99% of naturally occurring uranium is U-238.

KT underwent repeat toxicology testing in May of 2023 — upon returning from Mexico following chelation therapy. While the repeat test documents overall declines in lead, barium, cadmium, cesium, copper and manganese, persistently high levels of rubidium, tungsten, uranium and molybdenum are evident when compared to an interval test conducted in September of 2022.

Respecting Community Narratives of Environmental Injustice

“Communities that bear the brunt of environmental pollution and lack basic amenities have a story to tell. One such community is the Bayview-Hunters Point community in San Francisco, California. There, the US Navy extensively contaminated a now-shuttered shipyard with nuclear waste.”

Helen Kang, Director of GGU
Helen Kang, Director of GGU

Helen Kang is a Professor of Law and Director of the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic at Golden Gate University. Founded in 1994 to provide legal support to communities burdened by pollution, she writes in Respect for Community Narratives of Environmental Justice of the dignity and right to be heard and believed and the government’s duty to be accountable.

In a scholarly review, Kang tells the story of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard as an “... egregious example of injustice. That would be so even if based solely on the radioactive characteristics of the contamination, which raises special alarm bells because of the slow decay and harms associated with radioactivity.

But the historical context of the neighborhood also makes this predicament unjust: the composition of the shipyard neighborhood was predominantly black because of government forced segregation … even beyond this invidious distinction, the shipyard story is emblematic of a larger problem. These environmental injustice stories illustrate a confluence of systemic failures, one of which is the failure of various actors in the legal and administrative system to respect community voices.”

In 2020 Kang was honored as the 2020 recipient of the Svetlana Kravchenko Environmental Award. In an article published in Bloomberg Law, Kang writes, How 93 US Attorney’s Offices Can Enforce Environmental Justice in response to the May 5, 2022, comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy issued by the U.S. Department of Justice informed by community input.

Community Window on Environmental Exposures is supported by CalEPA EJ Small Grant #G21-EJ-030 and the 2022 Environmental Justice Data Fund/Windward Fund Award

Ahimsa
Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai

Image of Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai from the nationally distributed documentary The Real Thirst Trap. Also, read the SF Bayview Article Quest to Detect Plutonium.

Best in California
Best in California - Top Doc

Best in California Magazine selected Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai as a “Top Doc” in Emergency Medicine 2023.

Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai is a climate activist living on the Westside.

June 2023

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