The giant structure known as Building 231, pictured above, was a machine shop and ship repair hangar for U.S Navy vessels during World War II. It was built in 1942 and is the single largest structure in San Francisco’s Hunters Point Shipyard. It is now condemned, closed to visitors and littered with toxic waste warning signs.
The shipyard was an active U.S. military base and a major hub of naval logistics for the Pacific theater of World War II. Over decades of military and industrial use, the base accumulated high levels of radioactive and other toxic wastes, in underground storage tanks and in the soil itself. The base was closed in 1994 and designated a Superfund site, part of a federal program to clean up national “uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.”
The proximity of the contaminated shipyard to the residential communities of Hunters Point and Bayview, and the alleged lack of disclosure and transparency by government and military agencies, has been a major source of controversy for San Francisco. In 2008, a majority of San Franciscans voted to pass Proposition G, a plan that allows major housing and commercial development on the site.
As of September 2010, the soil under building 231 was found to still have lead levels that exceeded goals set forth in 1994 (pdf). Numerous other locations in the shipyard had levels of contamination that also exceeded goals.