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DOJ accuses Navy contractor of lying about radioactivity tests

The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco is being redeveloped into housing and commercial space. Between 1946 and 1969, however, the former Navy shipyard was involved in activities that created significant amounts of radioactive waste. First, the facility was the location of top-secret nuclear tests. Second, it was where ships were decontaminated after returning from hydrogen bomb tests. Cleaning up the radioactive waste is expected to cost at least $1 billion.

A Navy contractor called Tetra Tech EC Inc. was paid over $250 million to perform radiological testing and remediation on a 400-acre site slated to be redeveloped into over 10,000 homes.

Now, seven whistleblowers have filed three cases against Tetra Tech, accusing it of lying about its radiological testing and remediation work. The whistleblowers claim, among other allegations that Tetra Tech:

  • Misrepresented where it obtained soil samples submitted for radiological testing
  • Falsified radiological survey data
  • Hired unqualified workers
  • Improperly disposed of hazardous materials

Specifically, the whistleblowers say that they were ordered by a Tetra Tech manager to destroy post-cleanup lab results that still "had some of the highest radioactive readings that had ever been obtained at Hunters Point." They were ordered to substitute those results with other test results from samples taken from other areas -- and they were to avoid "radioactive hot spots."

As a matter of fact, two Tetra Tech supervisors pled guilty to falsifying records and were sentenced to eight months in prison. The men admitted they had substituted non-radioactive soil samples taken from other areas for radioactive ones.

Moreover, in 2017 the site was audited by the Environmental Protection Agency. That audit revealed that between 90 and 97 percent of soil samples taken from two areas within Hunters Point were either potentially compromised or intentionally falsified.

The California Department of Health and the U.S. Navy are retesting portions of the site. Nevertheless, despite serious concerns about radioactive contamination, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved the project to move forward.

Tetra Tech is facing five lawsuits for alleged conspiracy to commit environmental fraud.

If these allegations are true, they also represent violations of the False Claims Act. Therefore, the Justice intervened in the three whistleblower suits. The False Claims Act allows private citizens to file suit against those committing waste, fraud or abuse against federal contracts. When such suits are successful, the whistleblowers receive a substantial portion of any funds recovered for the government.

Tetra Tech denies the allegations, claiming that any fraud was committed by rogue employees and that the whistleblowers are motivated by greed.

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