Dust is dangerous

EPA denies Chronicle claim it called HP Shipyard dust safe, but Chronicle refuses to retract

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D.

“We’re very concerned about it. These particles when inhaled can reach the peripheral regions of the lungs and can cause problems – especially for people with asthma or respiratory problems.” – Daniel Epstein, spokesperson for the World Health Organization, responding to the April 14 eruption of the volcano under the Ayjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland

Hunters-Point-Shipyard-worker-2008-by-Lennar, Dust is dangerous, Local News & Views
In this Lennar photo meant to prove that Lennar is hiring locally, the young worker wears no protective gear while assigned to work near a pile of loose dirt that is neither covered nor watered to suppress dangerous dust. – Photo: Lennar

The Associated Press reported on Monday, April 19, the World Health Organization warns microscopic ash from Iceland’s volcano is potentially dangerous for people when it starts to reach the Earth because inhaled particles can enter the lungs and cause respiratory problems. The Icelandic volcano erupted on April 14, sending an enormous cloud of microscopic basalt ash particles across northern Europe.

I received a rather desperate phone call from Karen yesterday. She is concerned about a co-worker who has been hospitalized for respiratory failure. The doctors say it is from a virus, but Karen thinks it is due to all of those toxins at the Hunters Point Shipyard and would like to know what other tests the doctors can perform to detect toxins in the environment.

Bayview Hunters Point has been found to be in the 70th and 80th percentile for toxic air contaminants and criteria pollutants, including hydrogen sulfide, asbestos and particulates. The polyaromatic hydrocarbon benzene that has been determined to cause chronic lymphocytic leukemia has been detected in all air monitoring studies conducted in Southeastern San Francisco. Medical scientists at the University of California have determined that high levels of polyaromatic hydrocarbons cause oxidative stress and cytotoxicity.

A study conducted by the Chronicle found in 2004 that “a cluster of eight babies who died before their first birthday lived in homes overlooking the contaminated remains of the now-closed naval shipyard … a superfund cleanup site where the military once experimented with radiation.”

In 2001 I founded the Radiological Subcommittee of the Hunters Point Shipyard. I became obsessed by the potential for one of the worst toxic environmental impacts to the human cell being realized with this development project on a federal Superfund site: Small radioactive particles called radionuclides becoming airborne on dust and breathed into the lungs and circulatory system of children in schools and daycare centers within a one mile radius of the shipyard.

Most of this risk occurs with development of Shipyard Parcels D and E. The major conclusion of the Historical Radiological Assessment of the Hunters Point Shipyard is as cited in the final section of the 64-year chronicle of the use of general radiological materials on the former naval base: “Potentially radiation contaminated soil of small localized areas is located primarily at Parcel E, the Building 707 concrete pad, IR-02 Northwest and in Parcel D at buildings 313, 313A, 317, 322, 351 and 364.”

The Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick Point Phase II Draft Environmental Impact Report clearly identifies the most significant negative and unmitigated impacts of the proposed development to be in air quality and automobile congestion.

Acting in a manner similar to how environmental and occupational regulatory agencies behaved in the aftermath of the asbestos and particulate laden smoke clouds that enveloped lower Manhattan on 9/11, the San Francisco Department of Public Health continues to adopt the stance that intermittent exceedances in asbestos levels that trigger shutdowns at Lennar’s Shipyard worksite are safe. This conclusion is based on a computer model taken from occupational asbestos exposure. It is not derived from population based studies anywhere in the world as verified to me publicly by an EPA scientist at a March 2, 2010, public hearing held at Southeast College.

Additionally, that computer model fails to factor in the additive and cumulative impacts of multiple toxins present in a “stew” at the Shipyard. Or the synergistic impacts of poor nutrition, chronic diseases as well as allergies and immune system disorders from exposure to pollen and toxic metals The list of radiation toxins alone at the Hunters Point Shipyard totals greater than 100!

The DPH stance is largely one taken out of concern for medicolegal risk, given its complicit contractual agreements with Lennar and its close ties with the conquest driven Southeastern development agenda of the hereditary aristocracy leading the San Francisco Democratic Party.

Despite the opinions of the premier global public health agency, the World Health Organization (WHO), there continues to be “fallout” in the local media and in scientific circles funded by Lennar in San Francisco that the toxic dust that continually triggers exceedances of asbestos on both Health Department and Air District monitors sited at the Shipyard is somehow safe for children, residents and workers to breathe. This myth is perpetuated largely by the mainstream media and specifically by a series of highly politicized articles appearing this year in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Clearly their strategy has been to minimize, conceal, engage in misinformation about, censor, make up and lie about the health risks documented in a draft environmental review currently in circulation before city government and state agencies. A front page article on Jan. 5, 2010, that the Chronicle printed to trumpet the review of the Phase II DEIR as it was being introduced in Planning and Redevelopment this year reports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as saying that the dust being generated at the Lennar site that spills over into the community is safe.

“The report by the Environmental Protection Agency is the latest in a string that have found the project to be safe, despite lawsuits, a record fine and more than three years of heated public hearings as activists seek to halt the work,” wrote John Cote for the Chronicle. The article quotes Health Director Mitch Katz affirming that the dust exposures are safe.

EPA scientists issued a statement on government letterhead disavowing the statements printed in the Chronicle. The EPA scientists sent the Chronicle a letter of correction and the San Francisco daily newspaper has refused to print it!

It is time to stop engaging in this outrageously unethical and inhumane debate! The Tuskegee syphilis study went forward from 1932 to 1972. Black men were allowed to die of untreated syphilis during the era of antibiotics for 40 years. The DPH model for asbestos exposure makes the ridiculous conclusion that people can be safety exposed to intermittent exceedances in asbestos at the Shipyard for 30 years without health affects! This is an expression of environmental racism and injustice perpetuated by San Francisco city government and the leadership of the Department of Public Health.

EPA scientists issued a statement on government letterhead disavowing the statements printed in the Chronicle. The EPA scientists sent the Chronicle a letter of correction and the San Francisco daily newspaper has refused to print it!

Recently I attended the San Francisco General Hospital Primary Grand Rounds by Rebecca Skloot on her book about Henrietta Lacks, a 30-year-old African American mother and farmer who died of cancer after being treated at Johns Hopkins University. The cells of her body became marketed in research as HeLa cells without her knowledge or permission. Today, Henrietta Lacks children lack health insurance while biotechnology firms spend millions to acquire her cell line and all of her DNA for research.

This week the San Jose Mercury News ran a front page headline trumpeting a poll which found that a majority of registered Santa Clara voters are expected to approve Proposition J on the June ballot in favor of the construction of a new 49ers stadium. The National Football League issued a statement supporting Santa Clara’s bid to site a new stadium in the South Bay.

In expectation of the collapse of the proposal to site a new 49ers stadium on radiation contaminated Parcel D of the Shipyard, within a “stone’s throw” from the toxic industrial landfill on Parcel E, Lennar presented its alternative development plan for the proposed stadium site at a March 2010 meeting of the Redevelopment Agency. As insightful people have suspected for many years, Lennar will do what it has proven to do best on dirty, poorly characterized, radiation contaminated parcels at the Hunters Point Shipyard: house dirty residential development!

Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai can be reached at (415) 835-4763 or asumchai@sfbayview.com.