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Hunters Point to Treasure Island: From the frying pan into the fire

July 2, 2014

by Carol Harvey

Part One: The Sandy Agee story

Gentile, soft-spoken Sandy Agee represents a group of African-American Bayview Hunters Point residents who thought they escaped radiation and chemicals that the Navy dumped at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, turning it into one of the nation’s most radioactive EPA Superfund sites. They discovered the Navy also carpeted their refuge, Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, with radioactive buildings crammed with life-threatening asbestos, lead and toxic mold while burying radioactive objects and deadly chemicals in its soil and groundwater.

Sandy Agee

Sandy Agee

Sandy is a minister at Oakland’s City of Refuge United Church of Christ, formerly located at 1025 Howard near A Woman’s Place. As part of her ministry, Sandy carries toiletries, food and encouragement to mothers, daughters and sisters caught in transition at this San Francisco shelter.

“Working closely with homeless people is a passion,” she said. “I love that Catholic Charities and Community Housing Partnership, two Treasure Island programs, help low income people, those at risk for being unhoused and formerly homeless people.”

Lately, she misses outreach nights that coincide with the Navy’s Restoration Advisory Board meetings, where she educates herself about the Treasure Island toxins possibly sickening her family.

Sandy resides at a 1200-series Bayside Drive address around the circle court from the toxic mold-saturated dwelling of friend Kathryn Lundgren, who protected her family by temporarily moving herself, her son and two daughters off-island.

Sandy’s son, Terrell Jeffries, is best friends with Mason Lundgren, her neighbor Kathryn Lundgren’s son. Mason and Terrell are attending the same college athletic program before classes officially begin.

Betrayal

Like many Treasure Island residents, Sandy was raised in Bayview Hunters Point in San Francisco District 10. Like earlier generations of African Americans establishing equity and a future for their children, her grandparents acquired two side-by-side homes.

To make mortgage payments, Sandy’s grandfather labored at Hunters Point Shipyard where naval ships and submarines were built.

The asbestos industry, U.S. government and naval officials were censured for knowingly exposing masses of people to tons of life-threatening asbestos at World War II shipbuilding bases like Hunters Point. Asbestos was used to insulate pipes, boilers, steam engines and turbines. “For every thousand workers about fourteen died of mesothelioma and an unknown number died from asbestosis,” according to Ask.com.

The asbestos industry, U.S. government and naval officials were censured for knowingly exposing masses of people to tons of life-threatening asbestos at World War II shipbuilding bases like Hunters Point.

Sandy believes asbestos exposure in the Hunters Point Shipyard caused her grandfather’s cancer and death. The Navy accepted responsibility and paid compensation. She remembers checks arriving in small amounts, far less than his family believes he was owed for his pain and suffering.

Escape from asbestos

Sandy continued to reside in her Bayview neighborhood. She rented from a beloved landlord a beautiful four bedroom, three bathroom, Italian style house with hardwood floors on Gilman Street near Candlestick Park.

“I was in love with that house – mainly the Italian-style kitchen. It was fabulous!”

Suddenly the heating stopped working. Sandy called an inspector. In the ceiling of Sandy’s daughters’ downstairs bedroom, he discovered asbestos. In the 1950s, asbestos was commonly used in residences to insulate ceilings, pipes and ducts.

He warned her that to restore her heat he would have to remove this now-outlawed fibrous material. “You need to get your landlord over here and tell him, right away,” he ordered.

The inspector undoubtedly understood that his work would release into the air tiny asbestos filaments which, if inhaled, could lead to the fatal lung disease, asbestosis.

“Asbestos exposure becomes a health concern when high concentrations of asbestos fibers are inhaled over a long time period,” Ask.com explains.

Memories of her grandfathers’ death made Sandy fear that chronic exposure in a downstairs bedroom put her daughter at risk from asbestosis, even mesothelioma (lung cancer).

“Asbestos exposure becomes a health concern when high concentrations of asbestos fibers are inhaled over a long time period,” Ask.com explains.

Asbestosis, pulmonary lung disease, is a serious, incurable affliction in which breathing in asbestos fibers permanently scars the lungs. In the United States, between 1995 and 2004, over 13,000 deaths attributable to asbestosis were recorded. However, many asbestosis sufferers die from related diseases, like lung cancer or mesothelioma. These diseases can require an incubation period of 12 to 20 years before symptoms surface.

Mesothelioma is a deadly form of lung cancer. Symptoms are shortness of breath, fatigue, chest wall pain and bloody sputum when coughing.

Urban removal

Like a mama lion fighting all odds to protect her cubs from inescapable health risks, Sandy searched out cost-saving ways to get free of this asbestos-laden home. Hearing that utility-included rentals were available on Treasure Island, she was excited by the savings. She would give up a room but avoid the electricity, water and garbage bills she was incurring in Bayview Hunters Point.

Through complicated relocation arrangements, she succeeded in rescuing her family. Or so she thought.

Another Treasure Island neighbor, Damian R. Ochoa, who experienced toxic mold infestations in two island homes, in a San Francisco Bay View newspaper interview published June 8, 2014, testified that Dan Stone, John Stewart Villages property manager, told him, “All the units were done after a model, and they were all constructed in the state of Virginia” in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s.

To her horror, Sandy discovered that asbestos, the insulation from which she had fled, was standard in the walls of Treasure Island’s 1960s-‘70s military-style homes.

To her horror, Sandy discovered that asbestos, the insulation from which she had fled, was standard in the walls of Treasure Island’s 1960s-‘70s military-style homes.

Almost as bad, she had moved her family into a structure whose walls were most likely filled with the toxic molds that run rampant on a water-saturated island.

Radioactivity rumors

Then she heard rumors that the Navy, as part of 1950s-‘60s nuclear warfare research, had contaminated island soil and buildings with radioactive and chemical agents.

“To be perfectly honest.” she told me. “I started hearing about it, but I really never paid attention because I heard so many people saying, ‘Oh, there’s nothing wrong. They’re just saying that.’”

She told me, “(The Navy) keeps saying, ‘It’s safe.’”

Her primary concern was protecting her family. She began attending community meetings. The rumors were true. The Navy openly admitted it had befouled her neighborhood, Site 12, with radiation and toxic chemicals.

“Oh My God!” she thought, “We’re on a contaminated island!”

“Oh My God!” she thought, “We’re on a contaminated island!”

Sandy had won the “Toxic Trifecta”: asbestos, mold and radioactive material.

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at carolharveysf@yahoo.com. Read Part Two soon at sfbayview.com.

Sandy Agee thought she was protecting her children by moving them out of a San Francisco Bayview Hunters Point house insulated with toxic asbestos. She relocated her family to a nice community on beautiful Treasure Island. She thought it was an improvement until she realized all the homes on Treasure Island were filled with asbestos and mold. Plus, The Navy had dumped radiation and chemicals into the soil and the water. Sandy realized, “Oh my God! We’re on a contaminated island!”

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