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Treasure Island: A Radioactive Isle

A growing number of former residents have cancer, and sources involved in cleaning up the former military base say the Navy has deceived the people who live there now.



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All of her family members have suffered unusual health issues, and Lundgren said she would not have moved here in 2005 if she had known what she knows now. "I just took their word for it that it wasn't harmful, that the levels weren't going to affect you, that [the radioactivity] was just in little buttons," she said. "I feel they violated my lease. I didn't agree to the [contaminated] stuff that was added to my environment or to the stuff that was already here but they didn't reveal."

Lundgren told me about the day — she thinks it was in 2007 — when two scientists came into her home to take swab tests. "They came in fully suited — white suits, face masks, goggles, gloves — and took samples of the dust in the windows and the dust around here, the bathroom, everywhere," she recalled. "They didn't give me the company they worked for. They didn't tell me where to find the results. And I never heard anything else about it. ... I need to know the results of those tests."

Since that incident, Lundgren has resolved to take her own tests, but she's not sure where to start. She recently emailed famed environmental activist Erin Brockovich. In a jar under her sink, Lundgren has water samples she took from a flood that happened in early April. The floodwater came across radioactive sites to within about a half-block from her home. Local kids and dogs were playing in the water. "Do you know anyone who could test this water?" she asked.

On the ceiling of Lundgren's living room are blue stars and heart-shaped clouds made from construction paper. Lundgren added these decorations for Mandy, who wanted to have something pretty to look at while she lay on the couch in severe pain from her cysts, which currently range in size from 0.7 centimeters to three centimeters. One of these cysts grew to the size of a tennis ball earlier this year and then shrunk. Last year Mandy missed almost six weeks of school due to her health problems.

At the recent Restoration Advisory Board meeting, Lundgren felt that Navy officials were condescending toward her and were spreading misinformation. "They talked about the extremely high amounts [of radioactive material], which I'm assuming were removed from the end of my street," she said. "So it may be coincidental, but you're driving by people's homes and you don't have covered trucks, and you know that it's that highly contaminated and the dust is flowing into our windowsills."

As for Mandy, she's a tough, upbeat girl with curly blond hair who speaks with a maturity beyond her years. She is now back home from her exploratory surgery and trying to catch up on her homework. She took me on a tour to see the multiple "sink holes" that have formed right outside her home — a reflection of the island's loose soil and susceptibility to liquefaction during an earthquake. One of the holes, now covered with grass, used to be about three feet deep. "I saw kids sliding down into it with cardboard boxes," Mandy said.

She also shared a memory from when she was only five years old and her family was meeting with the rental agency to sign their lease. "They were like, 'You can't dig here, kids,'" she recalled. "And I was like, 'But isn't that what kids are gonna do? They're gonna dig in the ground. What if we hit something that's bad for kids? And kids eat it. And kids can get sick. And that's bad too. Kids are gonna be kids.'"

When this article went to press, Kathryn Lundgren was waiting for the results of Mandy's biopsies. It is possible that her cysts are harmless and will go away on their own. Cancer is also a possibility. "That scares me and her, so she doesn't really talk about it much," Lundgren said. "And we don't talk about it, because she needs to be a kid."

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified an official from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control who spoke at an August 21 meeting on Treasure Island. His name is Ryan Miya -- not Ryan Lee.

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