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Environmental justice has a May Day in court: $27 billion class action filed against Tetra Tech

June 7, 2018

Minister Christopher Muhammad speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, at the Nation of Islam school playground overlooking the Hunters Point Shipyard to announce the filing of a $27.3 billion lawsuit on behalf of Bayview residents alleging they were misled about the toxic cleanup of the shipyard Superfund site. – Photo: Kevin N. Hume, SF Examiner

Learn more and JOIN THE LAWSUIT at the townhall meeting on Saturday, June 9, 1-3 p.m., at the Joseph Lee Rec Center, 1395 Mendell St. in Bayview Hunters Point

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai MD

“Scientists, environmentalists and the people of Hunters Point have been pushed back and discredited by government officials and developers – until now.” – Attorneys for plaintiffs Charles A. Bonner and A. Cabral Bonner

Charles A. Bonner, Esq.

In 1991, delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., defined environmental justice in the preamble to their “Principles of Environmental Justice,” which states in part: “Environmental justice calls for universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic and hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water and food. … Environmental justice demands the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers be held accountable to the people for detoxification of the contaminants at the point of production. … Environmental justice protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.”

In adopting the San Francisco Precautionary Principle Ordinance in 2003, the Board of Supervisors declared: “Every San Franciscan has an equal right to a healthy and safe environment. This requires that our air, water, earth, and food be of sufficiently high standard that individuals and communities can live healthy, fulfilling and dignified lives. The duty to enhance, protect and preserve San Francisco’s environment rests on the shoulders of government, residents, citizen groups and businesses alike.”

The Precautionary Principle requires careful analysis based on the best available science when threats of serious or irreversible damage to people exist and lack of full scientific certainty about cause and effect shall not be viewed as sufficient reason for the city to postpone effective measure to prevent degradation of the environment and protect the health of its citizens.

The first high profile test of the power of the Precautionary Principle in Bayview Hunters Point came on Sept. 25, 2007, when the San Francisco Board of Education unanimously adopted Resolution 79-25A1 In Opposition to Lennar Corporation’s Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Development and in Support of the Community’s Demand for a Temporary Stoppage and Independent Health and Safety Assessment to Protect Our Students and Their Families.

That courageous stance taken by elected government officials came as the direct result of the actions of a young worker who, in October 2006, blew the whistle on Lennar’s shipyard development, galvanizing a coalition of students, teachers, educators, workers, activists and families who stood unified in opposition to the toxic dust generated by grading and demolition activities at a federal Superfund site.

A. Cabral Bonner, Esq.

The National Priorities List is the list of sites of national priority among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants eligible for long-term remedial action financed under the federal Superfund program established in 1980 as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or CERCLA.

That young worker was named Christopher Carpenter and, as we reported, he gave his life in duty to community. Carpenter died slowly of a rare cancer not previously reported in an African American and at his death in 2016 believed it was the result of numerous unprotected exposures to toxic dust while working on Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard.

But the shipyard development rolled forward like a bulldozer blade and never stopped. The Board of Supervisors abandoned the Precautionary Principle and bowed to the corporate greed and tractor power of the master developer, its puppets and corrupt overlords seated in City Hall and within the upper echelons of the federal government. Today there are 300 homes with families on former shipyard Parcel A.

The shipyard development plowed forward dragging with it a declining population of African Americans who by 2018 represented 3 percent of the city’s population and nearly 40 percent of its homeless. In 2009 the San Francisco Department of Public Health stopped tracking health surveillance data on its public website for the 94124 zip code in the face of mounting evidence the chronic exposure to particle pollution due to development of a federal Superfund site was contributing to an enormous excess burden of cardiopulmonary disease evident in excess years of life lost due to lung, trachea and bronchial cancers, congestive heart failure, heart attacks and an inexplicably high rate of emergency department visits due to adult asthma.

The shipyard development plowed forward – and on May Day, May 1, 2018, the Day of Reckoning arrived.

A media advisory, headed, “Victims of Hunters Point Shipyard File $27 Billion Class Action Lawsuit,” announced: “On behalf of named plaintiffs and thousands of other victims to be named including residents, deceased family members and unborn children, renowned civil rights attorney Charles Bonner has filed a $27 billion lawsuit for damages arising from generational threats of cancer and other incurable illnesses relating to the documented fraud perpetrated by U.S. Navy contractor Tetra Tech in assuring Hunters Point residents and the City of San Francisco that the radiated land at the Hunters Point Shipyard had been cleaned. …

“Black, brown and other people of color who have resided in Hunters Point since World War II have long complained of the unusually high incidences of cancer, chronic diseases and death they have suffered and witnessed, believing this excess burden of disease was rooted in the toxins and radiation generated by the nuclear bomb and war ships made, serviced, launched and deconstructed at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. Over the last decade, community groups led by Nation of Islam Minister Christopher Muhammad have demanded the truth about the health risks to the community arising from the toxicity in and adjacent to the Superfund site. Concerned citizens including Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai have spent decades investigating the impacts of radiation exposure at the shipyard and documenting patterns of illness peculiar to this community.

Chris Carpenter and his family

“Scientists, environmentalists and the people of Bayview Hunters Point have been pushed back and discredited by government officials beholden to the master developer – until now. Tetra Tech whistleblowers have opened the floodgates of truth, and the plaintiffs in this lawsuit will prove that they have suffered irreparable, generational harm because the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard has remained toxic with radiation and a host of toxic substances since World War II.”

The attorneys who filed the suit are Charles A. Bonner and his son, A. Cabral Bonner of Bonner & Bonner, a firm with an impressive list of outcomes on many challenging lawsuits. Principle plaintiffs in the class action suit filed in Superior Court of California County of San Francisco on May 1, 2018, are Bayview Hunters Point residents and Danielle Carpenter, widow of deceased community hero and Parcel A worker and whistleblower Christopher Carpenter. May he rest in peace!

How you can join the lawsuit

Attorneys Charles and Cabral Bonner are holding meetings where residents can learn more about the class action lawsuit and get help filling out an information packet to join it. They ask that everyone spread the word that all people living, working or studying in the community of Bayview Hunters Point from 2004 to the present are eligible to join the suit.

The first meeting was held May 25, and more will take place on June 9 and 22. Watch the Facebook page, Hunters Point Community Lawsuit for details. More information is also available by emailing HuntersPointLawsuit@gmail.com. The next townhall is Saturday, June 9, 1-3 p.m., at the Joseph Lee Rec Center, 1395 Mendell St. in Bayview Hunters Point.

SF Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., founding chair of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board’s Radiological Subcommittee and contributor to the 2005 Draft Historical Radiological Assessment, can be reached at asumchai@gmail.com.

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