Company accused of faking Hunters Point cleanup agrees to pay for retesting

Tetra Tech, a firm contracted by the U.S. Navy to clean up radiation at San Francisco’s Hunters Point Shipyard, said Wednesday it would pay for retesting at the site by an independent third-party contractor following accusations that the firm falsified data.

Tetra Tech’s chief engineer Bill Brownlie said Wednesday morning:

“We want to assure the residents and neighbors at Hunters Point that what we did was proper and followed all Navy and regulatory guidelines, protocols and work plans. … We believe that any false claims that have been made can be addressed by re-sampling and analyzing the areas in question. Therefore, Tetra Tech is proposing to pay for an independent third party contractor to validate our work and to demonstrate that it was performed properly and to the Navy’s specifications.”

Brownlie added:

“We’re fully confident that a scientific fact-based and independent resampling analysis will prove that the claims against us are false.”

Pasadena-based Tetra Tech Inc. first began cleaning up radiation at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 2002. The area had been slated for redevelopment and was divided into parcels.

However, starting in 2010, workers contracted by Tetra Tech claimed that data on the firm’s cleanup had been falsified and manipulated in order to minimize evidence of soil contamination, according to the environmental watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

In September, the Navy released a preliminary analysis of the cleanup specifically at two of the site’s parcels and determined that nearly half of the samples taken from the site had in fact been falsified or manipulated. In the Navy’s findings, 15 percent of the soil samples at Parcel B needed retesting, while 49 percent of soil samples at Parcel G were in need of retesting.

Then in December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the California Department of Public Health, independently reviewed the Navy’s report and found further signs of potential falsification, manipulation and data quality concerns at the parcels.

The agencies recommended resampling for roughly 90 percent of Parcel B and resampling for about 97 percent of Parcel G.

John Chesnutt, a regional EPA Superfund manager, wrote to the Navy on Dec. 17:

“In summary, the data analyzed showed a widespread pattern of practices that appear to show deliberate falsification, failure to complete the work in a manner required…or both.”

Chesnutt’s letter to the Navy was made public earlier this month by PEER after the organization obtained it in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Today, in response to Tetra Tech’s proposal to pay for an independent third party contractor, Derek Robinson, the Navy’s coordinator of the cleanup, issued a statement:

“Independent retesting is a critical element of the Navy’s Hunters Point reevaluation work plan. Its purpose is not to exonerate the contractors involved, but to offer a comprehensive, credible data set to reassure the community about their safety, determine the extent of any remediation activities needed, and complete the cleanup of HPNS.”

Robinson added:

“We are in receipt of a letter from Tetra Tech and will be evaluating the appropriate course of action to support the success of the Hunters Point cleanup program and ensure the safety of the Hunters Point community.”

Robinson said he hopes the resampling work would begin by the end of this summer.

Bradley Angel, executive director with Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, said “Greenaction has been calling for this, to look into their apparent fraud, for years”:

“They need to be held accountable. We’re applauding the fact that our state and federal agencies are finally stating to do their job and see that it’s worse than first alleged. … Tetra Tech needs to go away and the government needs to stop giving them contracts.”

The area, closed as a Navy shipyard in 1974, was designated in 1989 as an EPA Superfund site, having priority as one of the most toxic cleanup sites in the nation.

The radiation contamination stemmed from the use of the yard to clean ships exposed to atom bombs and for research on defense against nuclear weapons. Other contaminants from shipyard operations included petroleum compounds, mercury and lead.

Supervisor Malia Cohen, whose district contains the site, has called for a hearing on the matter. The hearing will be held at the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee on May 14, according to Cohen’s office.