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