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The poisoned people of Treasure Island need gutsy lawyers

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by Carol Harvey

My name is Carol Harvey, Bay Area investigative reporter. I’m taking advantage of this bully pulpit on the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper to reach out to lawyers and law firms on behalf of everyone who ever lived or worked on former Naval Station Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. This is a case you’ll be glad you took because it’s a great and winning case with extremely sympathetic plaintiffs. These are people that everybody from the judge on down are going to love, want to fight for and want justice for.

It’s also a tough case, and I am one of several researchers, advocates and environmentalists seeking tough lawyers with the courage to take on a human rights case involving all levels of government – federal, state and city – and some corporations. 

We are seeking legal action to obtain justice for thousands of individuals and families who have suffered grievous harm through deception, lies, fraud, collusion and multiple violations of federal and state laws by the powerful US Navy, the City and County of San Francisco, The John Stewart (property management) Co., the California Environmental Protection Agency, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the California Department of Public Health, Lennar Corp. and other developers.

True story: An 11-year-old girl who lived on Treasure Island asked her mom if she could have a pet bird. Her mother drove to San Francisco, bought a parakeet, brought it home and put it in a cage. It tweeted away, but shortly, they found it on the bottom of the cage with its little feet up in the air.

They wondered why this happened. But, this little girl really wanted a parakeet. So, they drove to San Francisco twice more and brought home two more parakeets they soon found dead on the bottom of the cage.

This family loved and respected animals. So, all three times a parakeet died, they held a ceremony. They put the little birds in a box, went to the Treasure Island shore, lit the box on fire, and floated it out into the Bay.

A year later in 2013, people on Treasure Island read articles by two investigative reporters who went to Treasure Island with geiger counters, dug a hole and pulled out dirt that spiked dangerously high radiation levels.

The little girl’s mother was shocked and upset. The small Treasure Island community that currently occupies Navy townhouses suddenly knew the truth: that Treasure Island soil and groundwater is heavily contaminated with radioactive and hazardous waste deposited through sloppy mishandling of toxic material during Naval operations in the 56 years Treasure Island was an administrative and training base.

Treasure Island soil and groundwater is heavily contaminated with radioactive and hazardous waste deposited through sloppy mishandling of toxic material during Naval operations in the 56 years Treasure Island was an administrative and training base.

Since before 1999, when civilians from the City of San Francisco were first brought to the island, the Navy told residents there was radioactive contamination, but the levels weren’t high enough to hurt anybody, and they were cleaning it up. This claim is provably false and may constitute fraud. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency classified Treasure Island as a Superfund Site with ID number CA71700233330. This qualified the former Naval base to be placed on the National Priorities List. The Navy pressured the EPA to keep the island off the NPL saying they and the State EPA would collaborate to clean the toxins quickly.

The Navy along with the state EPA have conducted a cleanup for the past 30 years, and they still aren’t finished. Between 2014 and 2024, the Navy has dug over 1,289 radioactive objects from Treasure Island soil – in peoples’ yards, at bus stops and in parks.

Exhibiting willful disregard for the public’s health and safety and despite laws stating people cannot live within 10 feet of toxic material, the Navy has placed former enlisted personnel and current civilian residents in housing mere feet away from – and on top of – deadly contamination. The Navy also employed people to clean up toxins inside hazardous waste sites.

The Navy has held years of meetings explaining how they made Treasure Island radioactive and what they’re doing about it, issuing documents in 2006, 2012, and 2014. But, more keeps coming out. In 2024, the Navy is still cleaning PFAS (per and polyfluoroalkyl) “forever chemicals” from Treasure Island soil.

Starting in 1998, low income people, people of color and homeless people were brought by the City of San Francisco to live on Treasure Island. Like sailors before them, they have developed a wide range of profound ill health aftereffects – strokes, heart attacks, tumors, radiation burns, cancers, seizures, tremors, skin sores, crusty painful rashes, pustules, hair and tooth loss, breaking bones, amputations, miscarriages, birth defects and blood disorders. 

Due to the Bay Area’s out-of-control rents, islanders fear eviction if they come forward. Many are formerly homeless mothers of color, for whom nothing is worse than living on the street.

Some of those moms’ kids who are trapped on Treasure Island know about the toxins. During an April 22, 2022 Earth Day rally in San Francisco, two teenage African-American boys, Twan and Angel, stood on City Hall steps telling the crowd, “Hunters Point and Treasure Island have radioactive dirt. If I play in that dirt, I DIE and ‘that’s NOT OKAY.’”

These boys’ fears are not unfounded. Since 1941, when the Navy took Treasure Island for a base, they brought in an estimated 380,000 sailors with their families. According to reports, many have gotten sick. Thousands of children of Navy and civilian mothers have been exposed to toxins on the island. The little girl with the parakeet became ill soon after her pet birds died, and a 10-year-old boy died of a brain tumor after living on Treasure Island.

Creative intelligent people apparently want to live on an island. Trelease Miller and Sammy Johnson were remarkable former Treasure Island residents. Both carried unusual wisdom, magnetism and love that drew people inexorably to them. After exposure to radiation, these staggeringly beautiful people died. Their loss left a gaping hole.

Trelease and Sammy died very young. Trelease had lived near several radiation cleanup zones. Toxins affect the heart. She suffered a stroke, a heart attack, and underwent bypass surgery. She was only 50 in 2020 when she died.

trelease-miller-hugged-by-daughter-taylor-miller-1400x875, The poisoned people of Treasure Island need gutsy lawyers, Featured Local News & Views

Sammy was 10. In 2021, a malignant brain cancer, called a glioma, killed Sammy. Animals and people exposed to ionizing radiation have an increased risk of developing malignant tumors. Sammy’s death could have been caused by contact with his dog, who died of a large mass on its side after digging in toxic dirt behind Sammy’s Mariner Drive townhouse.

For Sam’s memorial, Nancy Riddle, one of his teachers wrote: “Every one of his classmates has a story about how Sam made them feel loved and special. Sam just had a way of lighting up a space with his generous kindness, positivity and friendship.”

Sam’s fourth grade teacher, Becky Wilson’s time with Sam was precious to her. Sam couldn’t play outside because of medications that required he avoid the sun. During recess Sam stayed in her classroom. She was impressed that he was so independent, worked on his own reading books and letting her do her work. But, they both loved Star Wars, so they would end up talking about it endlessly. He gave her a Star Wars trinket that she treasures. 

Sam was such a handsome kid (cute little boy) that when his family hired a photographer to shoot his baby picture, it led to modeling gigs. His mother told me the modeling agency “adored Sam. They couldn’t believe he was talking so clearly at 2 years old.” They signed him on the spot.

Sam could present himself professionally. “My name is Samuel Johnson. I’m from Walnut Creek, California. And, I’m two-and-a-half years old.”

Sam was a star in the making. His studio photos led to professional modeling, shooting spots with Pottery Barn, Xfinity Cable and Target, and a runway show for Zulily Kids. He did voiceovers and acted in an award-winning film, “One, Two, Three, All Eyes on Me!” that was picked up by HBO.

According to his mom, her little boy enjoyed having fun being a kid in front of flashing lights and cameras! These sessions ended with Sam saying, “It’s a wrap!” Sam’s agent always said, “He’s so advanced for his age. Sam is one in a million.” 

Sam’s glioma gave him terrible headaches, nausea and memory loss. Facial weakness made it difficult for him to chew, swallow and talk. Unable to balance, stand or walk, Sam was confined to a wheelchair full time. But, as one of his teachers observed, Sam never complained or let the battles he faced slow down or weaken his spirit. He had the hope and faith that gave him strength to fight to his last breath.

Grieving terribly, after Sam died, Sam’s agent called Lucas Films, and they arranged a special tribute for Sam’s funeral. Sam’s Memorial had a Star Wars theme. Lucas Films hired people to wear professional Star Wars costumes. Chewbaka, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, the Storm Troopers and the original R2D2 from the ’80s Star Wars series marched to the burial site, and while the theme song played, they saluted Sam as his casket was lowered into the ground.

The City and County of San Francisco bought the island back from the Navy and is constructing highrises on piles of dirt intended to “cap” the island’s earth-quake-vulnerable toxic fill. We are concerned that future condo and home owners who are not told about the radiation, weapons grade chemicals and heavy metals will come into contact with them in uncovered dirt and be poisoned too.

Because they want to sell million dollar condos on redeveloped Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands, the Navy and the City and County of San Francisco have colluded for years to conceal from the public the presence of the toxins. They pump up mainstream media to glorify the Islands as a “sustainable Eco-Village.”

Because it is a crime to place valuable unsuspecting people in harm’s way for money, we are seeking lawyers to defend with courage and determination these islanders’ human rights. No one is ever informed of the toxins before they sign leases. 

To speed things up we can offer a large cache of documentation, and we shot 10 years of videos covering Navy meetings and toxic cleanup fieldwork.

Despite sovereign Immunity, the success of the LeJeune lawsuit gives us hope. Taking on this case is crucial, especially considering that the violations at Treasure Island are replicated worldwide. The Navy has similarly toxified all 5,000 of its international bases, 600 in the United States. 

The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Toxic Substances Control and Regional Water Quality Control Board are the lead agencies responsible for remediating the contamination. Information on Treasure Island is quite extensive on DTSC’s Envirostor website:

I can email you articles by Reuters, Business Insider and myself presenting documented evidence that will verify island-wide contamination. Much of the research and background needed for discovery is finished and available to you.

If and when you agree to represent these beleaguered people, we will leave you to fashion the cases yourselves. We will honor and respect your legal expertise and your final authority. We humbly hope and pray that you will consider our request.

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at [email protected]

The post The poisoned people of Treasure Island need gutsy lawyers appeared first on San Francisco Bay View.


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