The Liars’ Club, Pt. I

A portrait of the article’s author, Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D.

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D.

There was clear evidence levels of asbestos exceeded mandatory thresholds at both the fence line and in the community …The exposures did result in some increased risk to the community …The concentrations of dust could not be interpreted because of their (Lennar’s) sampling methods.” – Excerpts from a letter written by Thomas Sinks, Ph.D., California Department of Public Health

We are heartened by the fact that the CDC and the California Department of Public Health … appear to agree with the San Francisco Department of Public Health … that there was no significant health risk created by the grading activities at the Shipyard.” – Excerpts from a press release issued by Mayor Newsom’s Office of Communcations Sept. 21, 2007

In 2002, a civil grand jury report on the Hunters Point Shipyard found “incomplete information, complex toxic testing requirements, failure to study and explain cluster illnesses among nearby long-term residents.” The civil grand jury recommended using commonly accepted scientific techniques to document and evaluate any evidence of clustered environmental illnesses among residents of Bayview Hunters Point.

According to a 2004 investigation published by the San Francisco Chronicle, “Babies are 2.5 times more likely to die in their first year there than those in other areas of San Francisco, a Chronicle analysis of 10 years of state data shows. … In Bayview Hunters Point each of these groups – Blacks, Asian/ Pacific Islanders and Hispanics – face infant mortality rates above what is expected for their races and ethnicities in California. … Within yards of each other around the barracks-like Alice Griffith housing projects – also known as Double Rock – five families have lost a total of eight babies.”

In 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Air and Radiation published a report on particle pollution which states, “Scientists are evaluating new studies suggesting exposure to high particle levels may be associated with low birth weight in infants, pre-term deliveries and fetal and infant deaths.”

As a physician and scientist, I am deeply disturbed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Health Director Mitchell Katz’ unethical perpetuation of lies and misinformation to further their medicolegal, financial and political conflict of interest in the dirty development of the Hunters Point Shipyard.

In an unsigned fact sheet widely distributed to the Bayview Hunters Point community this year, Katz stated, “You may have heard there are reasons to worry about your health because of the construction dust generated by the redevelopment of Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard. That is not true. After extensive analysis, the Department of Public Health (DPH) has concluded that the construction work at the Hunters Point Shipyard Parcel A is safe and will not cause long-term or serious health problems.”

The single greatest failure of the Department of Public Health is its deliberate refusal to investigate the impact of particle pollution on a symptomatic population of children and adults residing immediately adjacent to the Parcel A grading and excavation site.

The mainstream scientific community has long recognized there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. As noted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Excessive cancer risks have been demonstrated for all fiber concentrations studied to date. Evaluation of all available human data provides no evidence for a ‘safe’ level of asbestos exposure.”

Last week the California Department of Public Health’s Site Inspection Assessment, which is funded by the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry, released its report on Parcel A construction activities. ATSDR evaluates the environmental and human components that lead to human exposure.

Authored by Thomas Sinks, Ph.D., the study found the community was placed at “increased risk” by the exposures to levels of asbestos that “exceeded mandatory thresholds both at the fence line and in the community.”

On Friday, Sept. 21, 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a press release that deliberately misinterprets the findings of the study and claims “the CDC and the California Department of Public Health agree with the San Francisco Department of Public Health that there was no significant health risk created by the grading activities at the shipyard.”

Newsom deliberately misidentifies the study as having been conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. The investigation was conducted by the Site Assessment Section of the California Department of Public Health.

I was contacted by the study’s investigators and forwarded comprehensive air monitoring data I had obtained from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and a litany of emails I have in storage from high ranking members of the Department of Public Health.

In yet another deliberately misleading statement published as a letter in last week’s San Francisco Bay Guardian, Director of Health Mitch Katz, M.D., and Director of Occupational and Environmental Health Rajiv Bhatia, M.D., state, “Soil at Parcel A has been tested repeatedly over the past decades, demonstrating no unsafe levels of any artificial hazardous chemicals.”

Ten years ago, ATSDR conducted a Public Health Assessment of Hunters Point Shipyard and identified that completed and potential pathways of human exposure to contamination sources exist. Those pathways include soils at the shipyard’s Parcel E landfill and bay fill areas, as well as on-site and off-site soils containing PCBs, metals and lead.

Despite assurances that grading is near completion, Lennar continues its reckless construction activities on Parcel A that have generated a grand total of 66 documented exceedances in asbestos levels mandating work stoppage and four notices of violation by the Department of Public Health, including a 48-hour temporary shutdown last month for dust emissions witnessed to cross onto Navy property.

Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard was a “dirty transfer” of property from the federal government to the City and County of San Francisco in 2004. Only two sites on Parcel A were carried through to the Remedial Investigation stage of the federal Superfund or CERCLA act.

Parcel A never underwent a full cleanup to the final remedy stage as required by CERCLA and was transferred with a litany of residual contaminants from lead and asbestos in buildings to arsenic, metals, motor oil and breakdown products of diesel in soil and groundwater.

Contact Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai at (415) 835-4763 or asumchai@sfbayview.com. If you want a San Francisco that’s safe and healthy, join Ahimsa’s 300 to make her our mayor on Nov. 6. Register to vote by Oct. 22 and call (415) 424-8388, email Ahimsa300@yahoo.com and visit www.Ahimsa4Mayor.com.