Two Imprisoned for Hunters Point Shipyard Cleanup Fiasco

Two employees of Tetra Tech have been sentenced to eight months in prison, but the cleanup firm still denies any wrongdoing.

Hunter’s Point, Looking out from Building 253 in 1961. (Image: Todd Lappin/Flickr)

It’s only been a few months since the public first learned about how extensive the cleanup at the Hunters Point Shipyard was botched, but already two people have been sentenced to prison time for their role in the fiasco. Two former supervisors of Tetra Tech, the company hired by the Navy to manage the contaminated shipyard’s cleanup and soil testing, pleaded guilty to falsifying reports in federal court this week. Stephen Rolfe and Jason Hubbard were each sentenced to eight months in prison. 

The massive, 500-acre shipyard in southeastern San Francisco was a Navy facility for decades, and was used a lab to study the effects of radiation on animals and materials, as well as to decontaminate exposed ships. It was closed down in 1974, but in the years since, has not undergone the level of cleanup necessary to meet standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Two parcels of land which were tested showed that in both instances more than 90 percent of the samples were suspicious. 

Rolfe and Hubbard were in charge of selecting, bagging, and labeling soil samples, and admitted in written plea agreements that they were aware soil with lower levels of contamination was being placed in sample bags, which were then labeled as if they’d been gathered from the designated areas. It wasn’t even a matter of accidentally mislabeling things: According to his statement, Hubbard once drove his company truck to an area outside of the parcel, filled a five-gallon bucket with clean soil, emptied the contaminated soil out of sample bags, and refilled them with clean product.

Rolfe also incriminated himself, saying he’d told technicians on his team to do the same thing as Hubbard – a whopping 20 times. 

Neither admitted the motivation behind the falsified samples, though Rolfe did say pressure had been applied from Tetra Tech supervisors. 

“One told me on multiple occasions to ‘get the hell out of that area’ in reference to a particular survey unit that was not testing clean,” he said. “Another told me on more than one occasion that we were ‘not remediating the whole goddamn site’… I understood these statements as a direction to go outside the appropriate survey unit and get dirt from other areas that was known to be clean, that is not containing excessive levels of radiation.” 

Tetra Tech has repeatedly denied the accusations. 

“Tetra Tech vehemently rejects this type of activity and will pursue all legal actions available to it to recover the harm that the actions of these former employees have caused to Tetra Tech, the Navy, and the local community,” the company said in a statement. “We have zero tolerance for violations of established protocols and procedures on any project site.” 

Rolfe’s sentence has begun, but Hubbard will not have to self-surrender until July 9. 

In the meantime, residents of the Bayview, the neighborhood adjacent to the shipyard, have filed a $29 billion suit against the Navy for the longstanding toxic mess.

Julia Cheever from Bay City News contributed reporting to this story.

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