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NextGen Magazine


Internal EPA Probe Finds 97 Percent of Data at One Superfund Site Unreliable, Showing Signs of Manipulation

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Apr 13, 2018

The results of an internal probe by the Environmental Protection Agency found that 97 percent of the data from a company contracted to clean up a superfund site in San Francisco showed signs of manipulation and even outright fabrication and could not be trusted, according to Curbed. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which obtained the internal report through a Freedom of Information Act request, said that this is one of the largest eco frauds in history, rivaled only by the Volkswagen emissions scandal. The review was a followup on a previous report that made the less-dramatic-but-still-worrisome conclusion that 49 percent of the data could not be trusted. 

Specifically, the matter involves the cleanup of the San Francisco Naval Shipyard, which had been declared a superfund site (sites so polluted the federal government can compel the responsible party to either clean it or fund the cleanup) in 1994. A company called Tetra Tech had been contracted to perform the work in 2005. In 2014 the company admitted that it had falsified soil samples, but had been allowed to continue work on the site after it blamed the matter on low-level employees. Following this, however, more whistleblowers began coming forward with allegations of widespread and systemic fraud that the internal review seems to have substantiated.

The report said that workers would pull soil samples from clean areas and try passing them off as soil from areas known to be dirty. They also improperly ran equipment on purpose, preventing scanners from detecting contamination. Beyond that, the company is also said to have faked chain-of-custody records and lab results. Overall, according to Curbed, $1 billion has already been spent on the cleanup, and if the conclusions of the internal report are accurate, than this means it was largely wasted money. While the company had been issued a $7,000 fine by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it managed to successfully appeal the decision. 

This summer the U.S. Navy is supposed to begin retesting the affected parcels, which are meant to eventually be part of a massive redevelopment project with 12,000 residential units as well as office and retail space. However there has yet to be a specific date as to when this work will begin.