Friday, April 11, 2014


It is prison Friday and I had a little debate with myself about my post for today.  It does go back a long ways, and it sort of about a book, although, really it isn't.  I'm going with it.

It is interesting how well religious fundamentalist do the prison thing.  I am talking about running the prison thing here.  They do it just as well as the non religious.  Doesn't really seem to matter.  With or without god or gods, some have a unique capacity for pure evil.  This "lovely" reminiscence from back in the early 80s Iran tells us what can what happens when you toss some misogyny into the works.

Shahrnush Parsipur was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1946.   While at the University of Tehran she published several short stories and articles in literary magazines throughout Iran.  She became a producer at Iranian National Television and Radio.  Later she was arrested  protesting the unjust execution of two of Tehran’s poet’s by the Shah's secret police. She spent fifty-nine days in prison.  But that isn't the story.

She moved to France to study Chinese Philosophy and Language. There, she wrote her second novel, Majerahayeh Sadeh va Kuchake Ruheh Derakht (Plain and Small Adventures of the Spirit of the Tree) in 1977.  

She returned to Iran in 1980  to witness the Iranian revolution firsthand. Soon after her return, she was arrested and thrown in prison for nearly five years. The circumstances of her arrest are unclear, as she was never formally charged with a crime. However, she maintains that her incarceration, in conjunction with that of her mother and brother, was due to her brother’s involvement in political documenting.

Pen America takes us where we are going here:

Her memoir, Kissing the Sword, captures the surreal experience of serving time without being charged with a crime and witnessing the systematic destruction of any and all opposition to fundamentalist power. Parsipur, one of the great novelists of modern Iran, known for her magic realist style, tells a story here that is all too real. She mines her own painful memories of her imprisonment to create an urgent call for one of the most basic human rights: freedom of expression.

Her website tells us more.

As soon as she was released from jail, she published her novel Touba va Maanayeh Shab (Touba and the Meaning of Night) which has brought her a lot of fame amongst the book readers in Iran.  This book has been translated into German and Italian, and its English translation has published..

As a result of openly referring to the issue of virginity in her novella Women without Men, she ended up in jail again on two different occasions.  

During an interview published on she was asked about her experiences with prison.  She replied:

I have been to prison four times and I have extensively discussed them in my Prison Memoir [Khaterat-e Zendan]. It is very difficult for me to explain them again. But I will tell you...

The first time was because I publicly protested the execution of Khosrow Golsorkhi and Keramatollah Daneshiyan -- they were both poets, on which occasion I resigned from the Iranian National Television. Because I believed the reasons of the state for the trial and execution of these poets were not sufficient and it was wrong. In the letter of resignation that I wrote, I indicated that I was not opposed to the government [hukumat] or monarchy [maqam-e saltanat], I still am not opposed to it. But that execution was unjust. At any rate, because of the circumstances surrounding this resignation, I was arrested and put behind bars for 54 days. I was incarcerated.

The second time it was in 1981. I had returned to Iran in 1980. I tried to find a job to earn a living. My sister-in-law had a number of publications which she used to go and purchase. Both to read and to share with us. This particular publication was of a leftist leaning. Right now I cannot remember to which political group it belonged. The name of that publication was Rahaee [Emancipation]. I used to borrow it from my sister-in-law and read it. At any rate, a number of this particular publication had accumulated at my brother’s house. When a number of the leading cadre including Ayatollah Beheshti and his comrades were assassinated. All of these publications were immediately banned. I went to my brother’s to return my niece. My brother had asked my mother who had at the time was in the kitchen to get rid of these publications. But my mother had forgotten and these were left in his car and he had driven to the village of Evin a few days later and these publications were discovered by the police and the Hezbollah militia. At this point they arrested all of us. None of us were political activists, neither my mother, nor my two brothers, nor I. Each one of us was sent to prison for different reasons and periods. Mine become longer than all of them. It lasted for four years, seven months and seven day -- but I was never officially charged.

On two other occasions, I was arrested after the publication of my Women without Men, when a Hezbollah affiliated periodical attacked me, claiming that this story is anti-Islamic, unethical and contrary to this, that, or other things [zede behman]. I was arrested -- I believe in the month of July of 1990. I was in jail for about two months and my family put my maternal aunt’s house as collateral and bailed me out. After that I reported back to the prison in order to release my aunt’s house from any collateral obligation. These are the four times I went to jail.

During my second term in prison, many executions took place. Large groups of people were executed. Maybe six, seven thousand people were killed, which later in addition to the executions that took place in 1988, the number exceeded to ten thousand deaths. These were exceedingly frightful years. The atmosphere of prison was terrorizing... 

The following is from Utne.   It is one piece of a story of one woman's life in an Iranian political prison under the reign of the Mullahs.  It is also, no doubt, the story of many others who themselves cannot speak.

As a Woman and Political Prisoner of Iran

In the 1980's, the Iran's fundamentalist government took many political prisoners from those who supported the old monarchy, or advocated greater freedoms. The author is one woman who was imprisoned for her beliefs.

Shahrnush Parsipur was imprisoned for nearly five years by Iran's fundamentalist government without being formally charged. Kissing the Sword (The Feminist Press, 2013) is her account of this horrific and life-altering experience—nights blasted by the sounds of machine gun fire as hundreds of prisoners are summarily executed, and days spent debating the teachings of the Quran. The excerpt is from the second chapter, and details the early days of Parsipur's experience as a political prisoner.
On September 7, 1981, they took my mother and me to stand trial. We sat in a courtroom all day, blindfolded. We were tried separately. I remember I was acting stiff and formal. I was angry. From the way the judge was questioning me, it was clear that he knew there were no serious infractions in my record. Regardless, in accordance with Iranian tradition—based on a landlord peasant social structure—as the accused, I was expected to sit there humbly with bent back, addressing the judge as “your honor,” and referring to myself as “your servant.”
The courtroom was comprised only of a judge and a secretary. There was no defense attorney, and as far as I can remember, I was not asked any questions directly related to our case. There may have been one inquiry about the publications. Instead, the judge wanted to discuss issues such as my belief in God, man’s will, and the like. He even raised a question about incest between a father and daughter. I didn't understand the reason for this question, but I said that I knew of a few such cases and that the problem was deeply rooted in history. I mentioned the story of Lot in the Old Testament, who had sexual relations with his daughters. That night, one of the prisoners told me that several months earlier a retired prostitute had been held in the unit and questioned about various forms of sexual relations during her trial. The prosecutor’s behavior had been so offensive that the poor woman had felt greater shame and degradation than she had ever experienced in a lifetime of prostitution.
When the time came for our bread-and-cheese lunch break during the trial, they had me sit in the hallway next to a girl who was lying on the floor. Earlier that day, she had sat near me and asked one of the guards to bring her jacket which she had left behind in a court room; she was cold. When the guard brought the jacket, he quietly whispered, “Farideh, Farideh, what have you done to yourself?” The girl did not answer. And then, at lunch, she was there lying next to me. I peeked at her from beneath my blindfold and she laughed at me. Then she asked, “How are things in the unit?” Without knowing which unit she was referring to, I said, “All is well.” She said, “My name is Farideh Shamshiri. Say hello to everyone for me.”
That night I told my roommates about her and they all became quite excited. I learned that Farideh had been brought to the unit in the winter, and to keep herself busy she painted, using supplies provided by the unit administrator, who had noticed her talent. Every morning and evening she went to the unit office to pick up and return the art supplies and soon these frequent visits became a subject of discussion among her fellow inmates, and rumor spread that Farideh was cooperating with prison officials. Given the seriousness of the accusation, to prove her loyalty to the leftist prisoners, Farideh stopped painting and participated more and more in antigovernment slogan chanting, which the authorities were trying to prevent. The end result was that one day the guards raided the unit, beat everyone severely, and transferred Farideh to solitary confinement. They also installed a speaker in front of one of the windows and started broadcasting their own slogans and readings from the Quran at earsplitting levels. According to those who knew, even in solitary confinement, Farideh continued to chant slogans and to write them in pencil on the walls.
The day after I saw her, reports of Farideh Shamshiri’s execution appeared in the newspapers. The news shocked everyone. Those in the unit who had pushed her toward her death by spreading rumors about her were devastated.
But an hour had barely passed after we learned of Farideh’s death when the sound of laughter again echoed everywhere. The prisoners were still at an age when joyfulness is one’s natural state of being. Even though the unit was becoming more crowded, with three or four people added every day, the young girls rarely complained. Many of them knew each other and were happy to see one another again—even if it was in prison. Or they instantly made friends and tried to get news of the world outside.
Often I would watch as the prisoners who were called in for questioning left the unit. I could easily tell whose case was more serious by the demeanor of her friends—they would follow her to the door with solemn faces and anxious expressions. Being young and inexperienced, many of them had divulged all their group’s secrets to each other, and now they were worried about what would be confessed to under torture.
Around the time of my trial, a few people arrived in the unit whom others called tavvāb—“repentant.” They were members of different political groups who had confessed to all manner of actions and deeds and had promised to cooperate with the authorities. In exchange, they were granted certain liberties and worked as guards in the units where they were being held. The tavvābs were generally cruel and ruthless and were feared and despised by the prisoners. Their arrival ignited new tension and anxiety in the unit.
* * *
A few weeks passed, and I was still waiting for the outcome of my mother’s and my trials. The population in the unit continued to increase and it became impossible to walk in the courtyard. There was less food. The morning piece of cheese was getting smaller and there were no visitors to bring money so that people could buy food from the commissary to make up for the shortage. Occupants of certain rooms claimed they were given less to eat than the others and it soon became apparent they were not lying. The Mujahedin were under greater pressure than the other groups. Day by day, their numbers increased, their food decreased, and a sense of constant fear and apprehension came to reign over them.
The number of prisoners being physically tortured was increasing. Many were black and blue all over. I remember Shahin from those days, a woman with dark olive skin, who was affiliated with a leftist group. One day they took her to the public prosecutor’s office and gave her a severe beating. When she returned to the unit, I asked her to show me her bruises. She laughed and said that because of her dark skin her bruises didn't show. The next night, I saw Shahin in the bathroom, cheerfully chatting with a friend. She had been interrogated again that day, and it seemed she had escaped danger. But two days later, she looked worried and upset. She had been summoned to the public prosecutor’s office again. The following afternoon, we found her name among those who had been executed. I asked one of her friends what Shahin had been accused of. Her friend said she had been caught driving a car with a printing machine in its trunk. On the last day of her life, Shahin had told her friend that she thought they were going to execute her because the interrogator had touched her breasts; to her this meant that she was going to be put to death.
In truth, I never heard prisoners talk about sexual abuse. But it was rumored that on their final night, young girls sentenced to death were wed to the guards so that they wouldn't be buried as virgins. It was said that if a girl was buried while still a virgin, she would lure a man to follow her to the grave. My only proof that this might have been happening were Shahin’s last words. I did know a couple of other prisoners who had gotten close to having sexual relations with the guards, but in one instance it was a prisoner’s strategy to stop her torture, and in another, deeply affectionate feelings had developed between an interrogator and a prisoner.
Reprinted with permission from Kissing the Sword: A Prison Memoir by Shahrnush Parsipur and published by The Feminist Press, 2013.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


you do not want to live here

What is going on at Treasure Island?  If you have been living there, you sure as hell would like to know.  If you have plans to live there, you might want to change them. 

The former Navy shipyard between San Francisco and Oakland is now a place where more than 3000 people live or work.  Yesterday, the USA Navy told people who live on the little island to just keep on living there while at the same time admitting that they were going to begin testing for radiation beneath their homes in June. For years the Navy has denied the presence of radiological contaminants on the island and only recently acknowledged that parts of Treasure Island are “radiologically impacted.”

The island, which was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, served as a naval base in World War II. It was decommissioned in 1993 and it was transfered it to civilian control.

Kathryn Lundgren lives on Treasure Island.  She told NBC Bay Area News,“From the beginning and historically, they’ve concealed everything.  The THEY are the Navy and she told them during a meeting yesterday, “It is completely unconscionable that you continue to say you care, yet continue to allow people to live here while unearthing mounds of contaminated dirt in the process.”

Back on March 24, the Navy, after years of delays and denials, announced plans to survey all occupied homes on Treasure Island for radioactive contamination.  This was in response to residents’ concerns and a recent radiological finding on the island in a residential area. That contamination was detected through the ground floor of an unoccupied housing unit last fall, according to Lee Saunders, a Navy spokesman.

The Center for Investigative Reporting notes:

The persistent contamination is a legacy of the Navy’s secrecy about and mishandling of its nuclear past, which The Center for Investigative Reporting has exposed in a series of stories over the past two years. Plans call for the island to be turned over to the city, which intends to build a second downtown San Francisco there.

Longtime Treasure Island resident Kathryn Lundgren says she now regrets relying on official assurances that she faced no health threat by renting an apartment at the former base. The new announcement angers her, she said, adding that the Navy owes more of an explanation to residents told for years that they were safe.

In 2008, a radiation specialist working on the cleanup of the island who had detected radiation in an area thought to be clean alerted the California Department of Public Health that residents of the island could be at risk.

The department has pushed for more thorough surveying of the island but has been rebuffed.
“I asked a lot of pointed questions, and I didn’t get answers, and these were questions that should have been easily answered,” retired state radiation specialist Victor Anderson said in 2012. Anderson died in early 2013.

The Navy has previously attested to the safety of the island, and still insists against all the evidence that there are “no known health hazards."

RT reprots: 

Chronicle journalist Marisa Lagos wrote on Tuesday that it’s unclear what recent radiology finding piqued the Navy’s interest, but acknowledged that Navy contractors found a small radioactive fragment on the ground near an occupied, five-person home as recently as this January.

“That was the latest in a string of radiological discoveries over the past seven years revealed by state and federal officials in charge of cleaning up the former military base,” Lagos wrote. The San Francisco Examiner says that nearly 600 radioactive objects, including “old rusted dials and gauges with glow-in-the-dark paint,” have been spotted on the island since 2006.

Uh, hello.

Let's take a look back with BeyondChron:

On July 1st and 22nd, 1946, following the atom bombing of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that ended the Second World War, the United States military showcased the wonders of atomic power by dropping two megaton test bombs on Marshall Island's Bikini atoll. After all four bombings, warships saturated with radioactivity sailed back to its two San Francisco-based Naval stations. Docking at Treasure Island and Bayview-Hunters Point, these vessels showered the air, infiltrated the water, and infused into the soil radioactive toxins. 

San Francisco's limited space and sky-high rents made the radioactive Treasure Island Naval station a desirable location for low-income market rate renters and a repository for poor and black and brown families at risk of homelessness. This relocation gives a suspicious racist-classist taint to the Navy's ad nauseam minimizations, denials, and public reassurances to Treasure Island's largely poor, black and brown populations that no current dangerous radiation levels exist. 

Treasure Islanders and their BVHP neighbors report the same asthma, hair loss, and cancers. Both populations present with radiation sickness symptoms displayed in Bikini atoll dwellers --- itchiness, sore skin, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, burning eyes and extremity swelling. One Treasure Island mother described her 13-year-old daughter's systemic lupus erythematosus as intermittent leg-swelling “like two legs put together.” 

Treasure Island troops practiced shooting. On the Navy's mock ship, the Pandemonium, sailors were trained to handle radioactive material. As a result, chemical contaminants from shot and dangerous radionuclides are found everywhere under and around current Treasure Island residences and in the Bay at Clipper Cove. 

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reports further,

For 46 years before the base was selected for closure, Treasure Island was home to nuclear war academies that used a variety of radionuclides in their training—including radium, plutonium and cesium 137—an in-depth review of military and government documents shows. The Navy knew for years that those materials were not always in safe hands. But the Navy did not acknowledge that history publicly, and as a result, cleanup crews and others preparing for redevelopment may have inadvertently spread radioactive material around the island.

Even after the base was selected for closure in 1993, outside audits continued to alert the Navy to a potential radioactive waste problem. In May 2001, six years before radiation testing by military cleanup contractors began, California’s Integrated Waste Management Board sent a letter to the Navy’s Treasure Island cleanup director, Jim Sullivan, warning that old garbage sites near base housing should be tested for radioactive waste. Records showed contaminants could have been scattered all over the housing area, the letter said.
Waste board staff “has brought this matter to the attention of the Navy,” the letter said, “but to date there has been no official response.” 

BeyondChron also tells us the story of one family who lives on Treasure Island:

In 2004, Erik and Kathryn Lundgren moved their family into their Bayside Drive home. By 2011, they grew to suspect that Kathryn's mother's mysterious death, Erik's cardiac event, and their children's strange maladies could be associated with at least 14 radioactive elements, a minimum of 26 chemical contaminants, along with asbestos, lead, and mold accumulations exposed during the U.S Navy's clean-up of dangerous pollutants it deposited on its training base during World War II.

Since the early '90s the Navy has found and 'remediated' Treasure Island radioactive hot spots. On Feb. 12, 2014, a neighbor sent Kathryn a red-lined document he unearthed from the California Department of Public Health's website indicating the presence of a buried burn pit on Site 12 near the Lundgren home. Navy officials never revealed the presence of this burn pit in any monthly Restoration Advisory Board or community meeting of which Kathryn was aware. 

“The burn pit is where they would incinerate pretty much everything – paint, plastics, metals --- radioactive material, chemical pollutants, coated electrical wire, plumbing fixtures,” she said....

...In October-November 2013, technicians from Gilbane, a Navy-subcontracted real estate development and construction company, used a 'towed array' device to detect a radioactive 'hot spot' outside Erik and Kathryn Lundgren's home.

..The presence of the “hot spot,' and 'hot object' worries Kathryn whose children played in her yard directly over this site risking radiation burns from contact or long-term low-level radioactive bio-accumulation. Walking that sidewalk daily, they experience mysterious, severe health effects possibly linked to protracted radiation exposure as infants, toddlers, pre-teens and now teens. 

Kathryn's two young daughters stored in a 'treasure chest' precious objects they found in island soil. 

Lundgren Family's Deteriorating Health

Erik Lundgren

San Francisco Bay winds surging over waves and across the island carry dirt grains that layer in the Lundgren's window tracks, furniture and rugs. Erik laid astro turf in their back yard attempting to damp down swirling dust causing his family's constant respiratory and congestion problems. When his body bloated with edema, he was rushed to the Emergency Room in heart failure. He survived this one-time event. 

Grandmother Yvonne

Kathryn describes the time “my mother drowned.” During a visit to the Treasure Island townhouse, Yvonne, a vivacious elder, became nauseous and disoriented and was returned to her Oakland home. Despite Kathryn's sister's CPR after finding her mother submerged in the bathtub, neurological damage caused speech loss. In a year, Yvonne was dead.

Mason, 18

Kathryn considers her stocky, jovial son, Mason, a “mellow, laid-back,” high school senior. Sitting at his mother's desk two years ago, Mason's face and tongue became numb, his speech inarticulate. Shaky, cold and breathless, he almost passed out. In the Emergency Room, his blood pressure was high. Though this episode resembled a panic attack, Mason's respiratory problems subsided on removing the dust-catching front room carpet. 

Rash patches appear intermittently on Mason's and his youngest sister, Praise's skin. Observing Praise's ovarian cyst development, Mason worries about testicular cancer. Both teens planned to have families.

Quinn, 16

Dignified elder sister, Quinn, also experiences difficulty breathing, chronic congestion, headaches and panic attacks, suspected to be triggered by dust. 

“Blinding confusion” accompanies these episodes, reported Kathryn. Bussing to school, Quinn phoned saying, “Mom, I'm on the street, and I don't know where I am. My legs went numb.”

In the Emergency Room, her blood pressure was “super low.”

Recently, Quinn's body became anesthetized from hips to feet. These recurrent symptoms last from four to 24 hours. “Sometimes it's just one leg; sometimes both. Sometimes it's just a tingling as if the leg is about to go numb.”

Doctors are observing Quinn's panic attacks, ADHD-like symptoms, and numbness for a final diagnosis. 

Quinn's symptoms damage her grades. Some days, exhaustion keeps her home. Agitation, rapid breathing and leg numbness force her to leave class to relieve stress and walk the feeling back into her legs. 

Recently, her hair thinned and fell out leaving visible scalp. Labs showed no vitamin deficiencies. The precautionary Quinn was already vegan, chemical and vaccine-free, but, when she amped up vitamin B and supplements, her hair started growing back. Quinn's conscientious health efforts don't keep her ahead of apparent radioactive and chemical toxin bombardment.

Praise, 13

In January 2011, cherubic youngest daughter, Praise, then 11, doubled over, immobilized, flushed and crying, then “turned grey.”

Ovarian Cysts

In one side of Praise's distended abdomen, UCSF doctors found several ovarian cysts. If the largest, “the size of a golf ball,” ruptured, Praise could lose an ovary. 

Observing her overnight, doctors told this active pre-teen to go home and stay quiet. A ruptured cyst or ovary torsion could cut off circulation causing infertility. The cyst shrank and disappeared, but more developed. 

Cysts are a cancer precursor watched for excessive enlargement. The possibility of not being a Mom greatly upsets Praise.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) - rashes / knee swelling

Kathryn reported, “[Praise] started getting these weird rashes on her legs, stomach, cheeks,” nose, elbows, neck, and back. 

“Her knees [and] all her joints were swollen. It's like two legs put together. 

“She could barely move or walk. 

“At night, she was in so much pain I moved downstairs with her,” so she wouldn't wake Quinn. 

Doctors identified autoimmune systemic lupus erythematosus [SLE], characterized by positive ANA, vitamin D deficiency, distinctive physical markers like nasal butterfly rash, lethargy, and gastrointestinal complications --- bloody stools and kidney dysfunction. 

Physicians warned that untreated sudden onset rapidly deteriorating lupus could blind Praise by age 18. 

Last year, Praise was diagnosed with asthma....

Did I mention, that the Navy says there isn't really a problem here.

But wait, we aren't done.

No one seemed to care about the dangerous radiation, chemicals, asbestos, lead and mold which were poisoning the poor residents who lived there.  They didn't even think about it until corporate America and its civic partners came along with a plan to populate the island with 19,000 condos for high end renters, to essentially create a second downtown San Francisco.  As the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists writes:

Like many sought-after American cities, San Francisco struggles with a shortage of affordable housing. So it seemed only logical to take advantage of the vacant Navy apartments on Treasure Island. Civilians were allowed to rent them under an interim program coordinated by the city of San Francisco to meet need while also offsetting site preparation costs. The views were spectacular, the rents reasonable.

The arrangement also was temporary, ending whenever the city was able to turn the land over to the private development consortium lined up to build new high-rises. Initially, plans called for a gradual phase out of the rental program to begin this year.

San Francisco Magazine talking about the city's plans for Treasure Island reports;

What has finally taken shape is a kind of ecotopian fantasy: 8,000 residential units—25 percent affordable housing—plus 240,000 square feet of office, commercial, and retail space; three hotels; a ferry terminal; 300 acres of parks and open space; thousands of jobs; and all manner of environmentally progressive urban planning.

The project is described on the City and County of San Francisco Treasure Island Development Authority web site like this.

Treasure Island Development HighlightsLeadership in SustainabilityEstablishing a Regional DestinationUnique San Francisco NeighborhoodCreating Community Benefits / Job Opportunities
  • Up to 8,000 Homes
  • Up to 140,000 square feet New Commercial and Retail Space
  • Up to 100,000 square feet New Office Space
  • Three Hotels, up to 500 Hotel Rooms
  • Up to 300 acres of Parks and Public Open Space
  • Highlights include Waterfront Parks, Waterfront Plaza, Marina Plaza, Sports and Recreation Park, Urban Agriculture Park, Neighborhood Parks, Trails and Overlooks, Cultural Park
  • New and Upgraded Community Facilities
  • Highlights include a New Joint Police/Fire Station, Funding for Upgraded School Facilities, Sailing Center, Gym, Community Center, Childcare Facility, Environmental Education Center, Museum, Life Learning Academy
  • Town Center with Ferry Terminal, Retail District, Plaza, and 400-slip Marina
  • Magnificent Views of Regional Landmarks Including Downtown San Francisco, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, Mt. Tamalpais, and the East Bay Hills
  • Adaptive Reuse of Historical Buildings on Yerba Buena Island
  • New and Upgraded Streets with Bicycle, Transit, and Pedestrian Facilities.  

Of course, besides all the problems noted above with all kinds of contaminants, the future of Treasure Island faces another challenge.  The island is sinking and the bay is rising.

In fact, deals to build this new "downtown" are falling apart.  For example,    A $1.7 billion deal between Lennar Corp. and a pair of Chinese government entities to construct 12,500 homes on the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco and a string of high-rises on Treasure Island has collapsed.  I mean capitalists may be uncaring, may be interested only in accumulation and profit, but they aren't all idiots.  You don't get rich building grandiose projects on poisoned islands which are sinking into the sea.

Oh well...

Check out the San Francisco Bay View for some amazing in depth reporting which goes way beyond even all this.

The following is from San Francisco IMC.  It is the story of the  African American contract worker who first discovered high amounts of radioactive contamination on Treasure Island was subsequently fired, and blew the whistle by reporting this contamination to public officials.  It seems that maybe, just maybe, that is the reason why the Navy and the powers that be are now talking about checking things out and maybe cleaning things up.  

African American Worker Blew the Whistle on Treasure Island Radioactive Contamination 

An African American contract worker who first discovered high amounts of radioactive contamination on Treasure Island was subsequently fired, and blew the whistle by reporting this contamination to public officials. 

In recent years evidence has mounted about dangerous amounts of radioactive materials left behind by the US Navy on its former base at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. 

Recently, on February 16, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a Sunday edition front page story, “Tenants Ask: Is Treasure Island Toxic?” The report profiled residents of Treasure Island living in former Navy housing, who believe they have been contaminated by living there and suspect toxic substances in and around their homes have caused them health problems. 

Shortly thereafter, on February 25, the San Francisco-based Center For Investigative Reporting (CIR) published “Treasure Island cleanup exposes Navy’s mishandling of its nuclear past.” This article added lots more evidence of Navy radioactive malfeasance at Treasure Island to the CIR’s already impressive dossier on this subject. 

At this point, plans at San Francisco City Hall to turn Treasure Island into high rise, primarily luxury housing, may be in jeopardy. The cause of this problem is the Navy’s and its allies continuing propensity to play fast and loose with the truth about the radioactive contamination of Treasure Island. In so doing it may be causing peoples’ health, indeed their very lives, to be in jeopardy. 


But perhaps no attention would be being paid to this situation were it not for Robert McLean.

As reported in the Center For Investigative Reporting February story, in 2007 Robert McLean was working on Treasure Island for the New World Environmental company, which the Navy hired to assess, and, if necessary, clean up radioactive materials left behind on the island. 

As McLean, an African American man from North Carolina says in a You Tube video accompanying the CIR report, “My role was to see if there was a need for cleanup.” 

The navy had led McLean’s employer to believe that there would be little in the way of radioactive materials to be found 

But that’s not the way it worked out. 

On his first day of work, McLean said, while riding around the island in a truck with a radiation measuring device thrust out the window, the device registered the presence of radiation—inside the truck.

“We picked up readings without even getting out of the vehicle,” McLean said in the video. “To see something just riding by was a surprise.” 

When McLean asked his employer for a more powerful device to assess how hot the radiation was, he was told the company didn’t have the money in the budget for that and “you’ll have to use what you have,” he stated on You Tube. 

McLean’s employer at the time, New World Environmental, has an office in Livermore, CA, as well as one in Irvine in Southern California. The company describes itself as “a Native American/Veteran owned firm; provides exemplary professional services in environmental consulting and remediation, specializing in radiation safety and radioactive waste management services.” 

The company’s clients include the US Navy, Army and Air Force; the Departments of Defense and Energy; Chevron and General Electric. NWE also is working on the shutdown commercial nuclear plants Ranco Seco in Sacramento County and San Onofre in SoCal 

NWE contracts with private sector clients as well, such as Theravance, a biopharmaceutical company in South San Francisco. 

NWE’s services for that company include providing “radiation safety technicians and health physicists (the latter monitor worker radioactive doses) routinely and as needed to insure safe use of radioactive materials.”

The contract between the two companies has been in effect since 2006, and its value to NWE is $200,000.

The New World Environmental motto is “Restoring the Environment for Future Generations.”
All NWE info is from the company’s website. 

Contaminated and Fired. 

Meanwhile, as Robert McLean’s job on Treasure Island went on, he continued finding, “radioactive materials scattered all over the site, in places where they said there wasn’t supposed to be any material,” he says in the You Tube video. “We found radiation contaminated materials in playgrounds, and in areas that previously had been playgrounds.” 

“We found it in front yards,” McLean said in the Center for Investigative Reporting article. “We found it in yards, and along roadways.” 

McLean also worked with the now infamous Treasure Island 6-sided radium disks. These disks consist of radium 226, which has a radioactive life of over 16,000 years. 

In a December 26, 2012 article in the East Bay Express, “Alarming Levels of Radiation on Treasure Island,” radiation expert David Brenner of Colombia University says of these radium disks, “Had someone got hold of one of the metal disks and put it in his pocket for a few days, the outcome could have been very bad—significant radiation sickness or even death within a few days.” 

In the video Robert McLean says, “I was asked to determine the dose on the hexagonic devices: ‘Either you do it or we can find someone else that can do it.’ “ his employer told him.

McLean reported that the doses he found testing the disks spiked dangerously as he tested excavated ones, as opposed to disks initially found near the surface. 

On another job assignment on Treasure Island, McLean subsequently found he had been radioactively contaminated. Not only that, but the degree of his contamination was higher than allowed by New World Environmental. 

According to the CIR February report, NWE president Don Wadsworth said the Navy told the company to fire McLean for being contaminated or risk losing its contract. 

Wadsworth also said “Under normal circumstances, he would not have been fired,” but that McLean should have been wearing protective equipment. 

McLean, for his part, maintains he was working in an area the Navy said was not contaminated, and that his supervisors ordered him to work without the protective equipment. 

Robert McLean is succinct on the firing in the video: ”When they found out that I had received exposure, they said they no longer required my services.” 

No concern was raised by anyone over the possible consequences of McLean’s overdose of radiation on the job.


So Robert McLean was misled by the Navy into a highly contaminated former military site that it said was pretty much safe; then denied the use of necessary equipment by his employer, New World Environmental; pressured into working with the potentially lethal radium-226 disks by that same employer: radioactively contaminated on the job because of (let’s be generous, for the moment) the negligence of his supervisors; and then fired at the insistence of the party that should be taking responsibility for this whole mess, the US Navy. 

According to the way the story usually goes, this would have been the end of the Robert McLean story and Treasure Island. 

But instead it was just the beginning. 

Because his name surfaces again, in a June 25, 2008 email, obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, that circulated amongst various California Department of Health personnel involved in the toxic cleanup of Treasure Island. The document came from Kent Pendergast, then head of the state health department’s radiation health division. It reads, in part: 

"FYI I received a phone call from a Mr. McLean, former NWT Contractor who worked at Treasure Island. Mr. McLean indicated that they are finding radium sources to 25mr/hour (25 millirem per hour, a radiation dose measurement) at many locations on the west side of Treasure Island. Mr. McLean said he was concerned that the sources could represent a hazard to children or something the bad guys could use to make a dirty bomb." 

Say what? That’s right, a dirty bomb, which could be packed with the radium disks and detonated…Whoa, don’t want to go there. 

You would think that, after McLean’s assertions, the area would have been cordoned off by Homeland Security, or the US Marines. Or at least the SFPD, maybe a Peoples Occupation force complete with organic Green protective apparel. Somebody! 

That it would have been quarantined, evacuated and declared a permanent disaster area. That the residents would have been granted permanent residency, for the rest of their natural lives, at the mayor’s office, and similar digs. around San Francisco City Hall. 

But no, almost six years later, it’s still a stinking mess. After all, prime real estate, and the US Navy’s very reputation are at stake! 

Fortunately for us, the Center for Investigative Reporting and other independent media sources have been taking this story and running with it, so that it’s even making the front page of the Chronicle these days. Residents on the island are organizing and speaking out as well. 

But it’s dubious any of this would be happening now without Robert McLean’s efforts. Most of us, in his place, would just have walked away from it all as just another hopeless mess. 

So why didn’t he? 

In concluding his You Tube statement, McLean says, “I have concerns because I really don’t know how far it goes. It bothers me now the more I think about it”. 

And neither do we know how far it goes. But thanks to Robert McLean’s courageous actions, maybe one day soon we will. 

Center for Investigative Reporting