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Community leaders organize
to address asbestos exposure

Pelosi called on to intervene

Community leaders, activists and residents attended a meeting Wednesday to discuss an increase in respitory health complaints as a result of alleged asbestos dust clouds emanating from a housing development project in Bayview-Hunters Point.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By John Han

July 19, 2007

Residents, activists and community leaders convened a meeting Wednesday at the Green Party headquarters in San Francisco to discuss an increase in health complaints related to a construction project in the Bayview-Hunters Point district of San Francisco.

The contractor, Lennar Corporation, is developing a 1600 unit condo-complex under contract with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, on land once occupied by the U.S. Navy.

Residents and community leaders are concerned Lennar is skirting air quality regulations in direct violation of air quality standards set by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). The violations have resulted in increased complaints of respitory ailments, that residents contend are being caused by airborne asbestos particulates -- and other toxic elements, including arsenic -- known to be present in the area.

The dust particulates are being released into the air as a result of heavy equipment grading on large swaths of rock and earth, in an area know as Parcel A. The location is known for swirling winds capable of carrying dust particulate matter in all directions, over large distances.

Asbestos, a known carcinogen, has been linked to a 20-year history of disproportionate per-capita incidences of asthma cases in the Bayview-Hunters Point district, and is suspected in the recent increase of respitory complaints as a result of the development project.

Community activists are concerned authorities are ignorning concerns of the community because the project has the political backing of Mayor Gavin Newsom, District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell - who represents the Bayview-Hunters Point district - and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents San Francisco in Congress.

With high demand for low-cost housing in San Francisco, the Bayview-Hunters Point district is considered a prime redevelopment target due to an economically disadvantaged, predominantly African-American community. A 2005 survey report indicates San Francisco's African American population has declined 23 percent since 2000.

District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly, who does not represent the Bayview-Hunters Point district, has come to the aid of the Bayview-Hunters Point community as a result of Maxwell's links to pro-redevelopment forces, and her reluctance to intervene on behalf of her constituents.

"It wasn't until about six weeks ago that I started to recognize more organically this effort coming from the surrounding neighborhood, specifically on the issue of health issues and environmental justice issues related to the construction that Lennar was doing in terms of turning the dirt over," Daly said.

Supervisor Chris Daly (right) with Minister Christopher Mohamed.

Daly has introduced a resolution calling for the immediate cessation of work on the project until authorities can guarantee the contractor is in strict compliance with dust management requirements. The resolution also calls on the San Francisco Health Department for an independent entity to conduct medical tests on residents afflicted with respitory ailments.

Maxwell is said to be opposed to the resolution.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell

Prominent community leader Minister Christopher Mohamed said that in May 2006, he was informed about high levels of asbestos dust in the area. He said children have been complaining about breathing problems, and tear-swollen eyes.

"This went on everyday practically for over a four-month period," Mohamed said during a presentation to as many as 50 attendees.

Mohamed said that in September 2006, a worker at the construction site said Lennar crew workers were being sent home because of high dust levels. A school, located adjacent to the project, had not been informed about the health hazard. Mohamed emphasized the fence line for the school is just ten feet from the construction site and has been directly impacted by "dust clouds."

"They were blasting the community with asbestos laden dust," Mohamed said.

"You can't hardly knock on a door in Bayview-Hunters Point where you can't find a person that's been ill-affected by that shipyard," Mohamed said.

Mohamed noted that children as young as four months old have been diagnosed with respiratory problems attributed to the asbestos dust.

According to Mohamed, the BAAQMD cited Lennar between July 2005 and August 2006 for violating dust levels. But, to date, Lennar has not been fined for the violations.

"To this day, the Health Director says everything is fine up there, that the people have no long-term health concerns at all," Mohamed reported.

San Francisco's Health Director Dr. Mitch Katz recently said at a City Hall hearing, according to reports, "we don't feel that the development of this parcel is causing health problems."

Katz' credibility, however, has come into question since authorizing paid sick leave for former Newsom appointments secretary Ruby Rippey-Tourk.

Marie Harrison, a community organizer with Green Action and, herself, a Bayview resident, stated that a Lennar spokesperson assured residents at a recent homeowners' meeting that the grading process was planned to be completed in four weeks.

"Obviously that's not a fact," Harrison said.

"Once the grading is over you still have to lay the infrastructure. It means lifting and raising more dirt and then capping that off so that you can then put your foundation in," Harrison continued.

"I believe after these next four weeks the situation is going to be even more dangerous," Harrison added.

Harrison said air-monitoring equipment had set off alarms on as many as eighteen occasions since the excavation work began, but work on the project was stopped on just three of those occasions.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Minister Mohamed told Fog City that the community and organizers would be organizing to call on Speaker Pelosi to intervene.

"Quite frankly, this looks bad to talk about human rights around the world, and right in your back yard there's a dirty little secret that you don't want to talk about," Mohamed said.

"So, I think, Ms. Pelosi has a lot to answer for, and maybe, in the very near future, the community of Bayview-Hunters Point will have to make that question, and that concern, very plain to her," Mohamed stated.

Luke Thomas contributed to this report.




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