March 25, 2014 / 10:06 PM / 6 years ago

U.S. Navy to test homes for radiation on San Francisco island

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy plans to test hundreds of homes for radiation in a remote San Francisco neighborhood after an object containing radium was found beneath an unoccupied residence in the area last fall, city officials said on Tuesday.

In the coming weeks Navy officials will begin surveying about 600 homes on Treasure Island, a manmade land mass in the San Francisco Bay that once served as a naval base, said Bob Beck, a director with the city’s Treasure Island Development Authority.

A full plan for the survey is still being developed, but officials will likely use handheld scanning devices on the ground floors of homes to detect possible radioactivity underneath them, Beck said.

“In the event a radiological survey of a housing unit reveals a health concern, the Navy will take immediate action to protect the residents,” the Navy said in a statement.

The Navy and the agencies with which it is working on the cleanup, including the California Department of Public Health and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, were not immediately available for further comment.

The Navy began cleaning up Treasure Island shortly after the base was closed in 1997. The U.S. Department of Defense, which owns the island, has since leased its former military housing to civilians through the Treasure Island Development Authority.

Once the cleanup has been completed, San Francisco is slated to take over Treasure Island, where it plans to develop 8,000 residential units. Currently, about 1,500 San Francisco residents live there, Beck said.

The Navy has said the residential area of the island is nontoxic and safe, but residents have expressed concerns at community meetings and to local media about the safety of the area’s soil and groundwater.

“Right now, Treasure Island residents want answers about when and how the survey will be performed as well as the reasons that the Navy is doing this now,” said San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes the island.

Treasure Island, which was built in the late 1930s and served as a Naval station in the World War Two era, was used for Navy administrative work, sailor training and military factories that sometimes used radioactive materials.

One such facility produced military ship spotlight lenses that were coated with clear material that contained radium, Beck said. A solid waste dump that contained radium was also located near the current residential area of the island.

Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Cynthia Johnston

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