by Carol Harvey
In December 2009, leading climatologist Dr. James Hansen cited new satellite data doubling or tripling previous sea level rise predictions. Climate change, he said, “is really a moral issue analogous to that faced by Lincoln with slavery,” an apt comparison considering the dangers for peoples of color in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco.
Dr. Ray Tompkins, toxic cleanup expert, and Marie Harrison, Greenaction activist, expose some of the dangers in their comments on the Candlestick Point-Hunters Point Shipyard Draft Environmental Impact Report, a prerequisite to Lennar’s plans to build over 10,000 condominiums. Planners don’t anticipate increased flood hazards from the currently projected sea level rise combined with a “Big One” – a major earthquake – on the Shipyard, an EPA Superfund site.
I. Updated global ocean rise predictions affect Bay estuary and Bayview Hunters Point flood hazard levels; Lennar’s project under-calculates doubling ocean rise effects
In mid- December 2009, both the San Francisco Redevelopment and Planning Commissions held hearings to receive public comment on the Draft EIR for Lennar’s massive development project planned for Hunters Point and Candlestick Point. Written public comments were mandated for submission by Jan. 12, 2010, the day of the massive Haiti earthquake.
The 4,400 pages of the Redevelopment Agency’s Draft Environmental Impact Report omits considerations of doubling ocean rise predictions combined with a potential “Big One.” In light of the tragic effects of the Haiti quake, Lennar’s plans to “reconstruct” a toxic Superfund site between two huge faults that brought down the Cypress Freeway in 1989, are particularly significant.
Planning, Redevelopment and Lennar are currently in the process of formulating answers to the public comments, the major portion of which condemn the entire project as completely unsafe for Bayview Hunters Point residents and the huge population of the Bay estuary, the San Francisco Bay shoreline – not to mention the habitat destruction the project has already wrought.
New climate change data released in late 2009
Also in December 2009, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman hosted leading climatologist Dr. James E. Hansen, New York’s NASA Goddard Space Studies Institute director. Decades before Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” Dr. Hansen addressed global warming.
He warned we dare not push past climate system tipping points. “Glaciers around the world are melting; coastlines moving inward,” he said. “Once [an ice sheet] begins to disintegrate and slide into the ocean, you have passed the point where you can stop it.”
Hansen noted 2002 satellite data measuring earth’s gravitational field with precise measurements of “the mass of the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets. In 2002 to 2005, we were losing mass from Greenland at about 150 cubic kilometers per year. That’s doubled to about 300 cubic kilometers per year.”
Antarctica mass loss also doubled, Hansen said: “We’re moving toward a tipping point where those ice sheets will disintegrate more rapidly, and sea level will go up.”
The video, “Melting Trends: Arctic Ice Completely Gone by 2020,” featuring climate change expert Dan Miller, predicts destruction of all North Pole arctic ice in five to 10 years.
The Times Online for Dec. 1, 2009, in “Major Cities at Risk from Rising Sea Level Threat,” reports, “The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) calculated, if temperatures increase at the present rate, by 2100 the sea level would rise by up to 1.4 metres — twice that predicted two years ago.”
Mitigations in both the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency-Lennar Corp. 2006 Final Bayview Hunters Point Environmental Impact Report and the 2009 Draft EIR are based on lower ocean rise projections.
Volume II, Section III.M, of the 2009 Draft EIR’s introduction, “Hydrology and Water Quality,” sources underestimations by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) of estuary water rise impacts. Page 2 of the BCDC Draft Staff Report and Revised Preliminary Recommendation for Proposed Bay Plan Amendment 1-08 Concerning Climate Change states, “Global warming is expected to result in sea level rises in San Francisco Bay of 16 inches (40 cm) by mid-century and 55 inches by the end of the century.”
Redevelopment planners formulating 2009-2010 BVHP Draft EIR also under-calculated flooding along Bayview Hunters Point’s waterfront.
Section III.M states project implementation places neither housing nor Candlestick Point nor Hunters Point Shipyard Phase II structures nor Yosemite Slough Bridge construction within a 100-year flood hazard area. Project implementation would not expose people or structures to significant loss, injury or death from flooding, including flooding from levee or dam failure, according to the EIR.
II. Bayview Hunters Point ocean rise-earthquake combination
Organic chemist Dr. Raymond Tompkins, San Francisco State University associate researcher whose company cleans Iraq toxic wastes, asserted Bush administration global warming denials blocked research.
No scientific reviews addressed Bay water rise, impact on aquifers under Shipyard Parcels A and B, hydraulic pressure measurements mitigating shoreline impacts or retention wall construction.
U.S. Geological Survey maps place Hunters Point in a red zone. No scientist reviewed, nor does the draft EIR adequately address, earthquake zones, liquefaction or amplification affects on the aquifer or the shore.
Geological land formations ricochet quake energy waves against rock, creating an “echo effect” that amplifies ground shaking. Similar geological rock formations around the Cypress Freeway and Hunters Point Shipyard can produce shock wave amplification, making both highly vulnerable to a “Big One.” Loma Prieta quake amplification converted 6.8 to 8, collapsing the Cypress Freeway.
Amplification of underground shaking can cause liquefaction and the crumbling of structures on water-soaked soil.
Dropping earth moves water with it. Bayview cove water could convert to seiche or an underwater wave, reducing fragmented soil to impassable mudflows, undermining shoreline integrity.
This deadly water rise-earthquake-amplification-liquefaction combination casts doubt on the EIR statement that “(i)mplementation of the Project would not expose people or structures to inundation by seiche, tsunami, or mudflow.”
Toxic substances and pollution
Dr. Tompkins worried the U.S. Geological Survey has not offered – nor have independent geologists reviewed – test model data determining how and where ocean rise and earthquake amplification would affect the movement of toxic substances and pollution spreading to and contaminating Bay aquifers.
The Redevelopment-Lennar Draft EIR inadequately addressed these questions.
III. Faulty toxin, radiation testing and monitoring
The Navy, EPA, Lennar and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District all were charged with testing soil, air and water for poisons, toxic chemicals and radiation materials in the Hunters Point Shipyard Superfund site.
Dr. Tompkins noted that in the early ‘90s the Navy drilled widely scattered bore holes, taking one toxic chemical core sample per acre on 23-acre Parcel E-2 without 2009 site comparison samples.
Dr. Tompkins and Marie Harrison, a Bayview resident and Greenaction activist, described the 2000 underground fire that burned for three months, re-igniting four times. Did the fire, said initially by the Navy to have been set by a “homeless man,” flare from toxic gas pressure?
Dr. Tompkins confirms there has been no testing for the deadly fire byproduct, dioxin.
The Navy, charged with remediating radiological contamination, provided data from surface scans, according to Tompkins, not “bores of radiation to determine where all this stuff is located.”
Dr. Tompkins reports that in the late ‘90s, Lennar and two other firms competing to be designated Redevelopment’s “Master Developer” of the Shipyard came before the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) stating they did not have the background for cleanup of the magnitude required at the Hunters Point Shipyard. Once the ‘49ers stadium came under discussion, an expedited timetable was created that relieved the Navy of responsibility for some of the chemical cleanup. At that point, the Navy tried to pass part of this cleanup back to the City and Lennar, the chosen “Master Developer.”
Lennar told the RAB the company was unqualified to clean radiation contamination. Lennar insisted the Navy do cleanup, but the Navy wanted “to get out of town, leaving the City and the developer holding the bag,” Tompkins said.
Monitoring and testing dust thrown up by Lennar’s excavation
Many residents suffered chronic nosebleeds when Lennar’s excavation of serpentinite rock in the Hunters Point Shipyard threw up dust laced with antimony, arsenic and asbestos.
Marie Harrison reported when Parcel A was turned over to the City, Lennar blocked two federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Toxic Substances, from independent dust testing and evaluation, providing federal officials dust mitigation data and information only for review.
Marie verified that Lennar promised if it followed its own dust mitigation plan – washing trucks, watering dust, measuring dust from working monitors, halting work in 25 mph winds – there was a “likelihood,” not a certainty, these measures would stop the dust from sickening the community.
Marie further reported that, when Lennar began heavy grading, it set out monitors “after the fact,” neglecting to install self-recharging batteries. Threadwell & Rollo, an environmental and geotechnical consultant firm, was charged with retrieving and analyzing data each night from air monitor tapes. After some of the monitors went off “helter-skelter,” she said, the company checked them only on alternate weeks.
Marie reports what she and other Bayview Hunters Point residents witnessed: “For 389 days, no monitoring, no water, no nothing. They didn’t water until we found out [or] stop work when the wind picked up to 25 miles an hour [or] for 24 hours after the dust went above their standards.”
“If you’re not going to do it, what good is putting it on paper?” Harrison asked.
Though the Lennar-Redevelopment Draft EIR promises mitigation, a 2-foot ocean rise and earthquake would exponentially exacerbate the effect of Lennar’s poor track record in Hunters Point.
IV. Soil and air toxins
Public records substantiate Marie Harrison and Dr. Tompkins’ testimony that Parcel E-2 on the Hunters Point Shipyard contains hazardous poisonous chemical elements, including deadly radioactive wastes, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and toxic heavy metals. Present in air and soil are 50-plus toxic elements, including arsenic and antimony, culprits in chronic nosebleeds. Hair samples expose the presence of arsenic, the blood thinner in the prescription drug Coumadin. Such substances rapidly move and spread with muddy ocean rise water.
Both Harrison and Tompkins testified that radium dials and radiated animal carcasses – many not contained in metal drums – were dumped in the Parcel E landfill. Animals – including people – were used to test how well they could tolerate radiation poisoning. The many carcasses are testament to its extreme toxicity.
Radium dial radiation converts to radon gas, Dr. Tompkins explained, which reaches the surface through muddy groundwater. After four days, radon vaporizes in air as polonium, a chemical element more deadly than cyanide with a 1,600-year half life.
V. Inadequate cleanup
The Navy resists removing this deadly radium-radon-polonium gas combination. “Proposed … containment include(s) a geotextile barrier and soil cap over the landfill, and a (shoreline) barrier wall … to prevent migration of contaminated water into the Bay,” wrote Dr. Peter Palmer in his October 2007 Asian Weekly article, “Pandora’s Box – What to Do With the EPA Superfund Site on Parcel E-2 in the Shipyard?”
The Redevelopment-Lennar Draft EIR planners support the capping alternative, vulnerable to tree root penetration and burrowing animals, easily dissolved by water.
In 2000, San Franciscans voted to clean the Shipyard to “residential standards” – complete cleanup. Activists push for excavation and removal of toxins from the landfill in Parcels E-1 and E-2, covering the area with a metal tent while workers in protective “space suits” transfer radioactive toxic soil to trucks bound for a Utah toxic waste dump.
Dr. Tompkins insists removing the cap and the toxins underneath is more cost effective than 1,600 polonium half life years worth of taxes to maintain the cap.
The Navy plans to reduce pollution volumes by digging 15-20-foot trenches around the periphery of the Parcel E landfill, a paltry barrier to the coming floods.
Replicating the failure of the Bush administration to recognize climate change, global warming and ocean rise, the Obama administration has not yet assigned objective scientists to review data and establish sound standards. “The force of an object in motion [stays in motion],” observed Tompkins.
VI. Civil rights violations
At a Gandhi-style protest on the Boston Commons, Dr. Hansen of NASA explained: “This is really a moral issue analogous to that faced by Lincoln with slavery or by Churchill with Nazism, because what we have here is a tremendous case of intergenerational injustice. We are causing the problem, but our children and grandchildren are going to suffer the consequences.”
Comparison to the moral issue facing Lincoln with slavery is apt when applied to peoples of color representing the larger Bayview Hunters Point population. Predominantly white, rich developers have, through political subterfuge, stolen for development the land of this poverty-ridden population, leaving them without homes, property or jobs.
When developers construct businesses, houses, condos, roadways, bridges, stadiums and shopping malls on this non-remediated Superfund site, their future children and grandchildren, too, pay with a seriously reduced natural habitat and wildlife. Toxins remaining in the soil may cost lives.
This report could not have been written without the generous input of the people listed below:
Eric Brooks, grassroots organizer and San Francisco Community Choice advocate, coordinator of the San Francisco-based environmental, consumer protection and social justice organization, Our City
Marie Harrison, Bayview resident and community organizer with Greenaction on issues of environmental justice and green energy
Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D, licensed medical doctor, since 2000 the health and environmental science editor for the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, environmental toxins expert
Dr. Raymond Tompkins, Bayview resident, organic chemist and associate researcher at San Francisco State University, whose private company specializes in toxic waste cleanups outside the U.S.
Francisco Da Costa, Bayview resident, director of Environmental Justice Advocacy
Jaron Browne, POWER organizer, Bayview Organizing Project, working on campaign for sustainable community development to build racial, economic, gender and environmental justice.
For a map showing the effects of a 2-meter sea rise on Southeast San Francisco, see http://flood.firetree.net/?ll=37.7463,-122.4023&z=4&m=2.
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco writer whose work is published by many Bay Area periodicals. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.