$27B lawsuit filed against firm accused of faking shipyard cleanup data

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) An attorney representing residents in San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday against a firm contracted by the U.S. Navy to rid the area's former naval shipyard of radiation.

The lawsuit against Tetra Tech Inc., filed in San Francisco Superior Court by attorney Charles Bonner, is seeking $27 billion in damages, according to court documents.

The suit accuses Tetra Tech of "blatant, conscious, callous disregard of Bayview Hunters Point residents live, born and unborn" and "unfair and fraudulent business practices." 

The suit seeks to represent all of the neighborhood's 38,484 residents, a figure based on a 2010 census.

Pasadena-based Tetra Tech first began cleaning up radiation at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 2002 as the area was slated for redevelopment. The Navy paid Tetra Tech $1 billion for the job.

In 2012, 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 2017, the Navy released a preliminary analysis of the cleanup specifically at two of the site's numerous 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.

In December 2017, 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.

"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," John Chesnutt, a regional EPA Superfund manager, wrote to the Navy on Dec. 17. Chesnutt's letter to the Navy was made public 
in April by PEER, after the organization obtained it in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Tetra Tech Inc. was not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit.

Last week, in an attempt to prove that it's cleanup data was not falsified, Tetra Tech offered to pay for an independent third party contractor to retest the site.

"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," Tetra Tech's chief engineer Bill Brownlie said on April 25.

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.

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. 

Supervisor Malia Cohen has called for a hearing on the cleanup, set for May 14 before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee.

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