by Carol Harvey
After working vigilantly to protect her kids from asbestos by moving out of an asbestos-filled home in Bayview Hunters Point onto Treasure Island, Sandy Agee found she had literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
At this writing, Sandy and two of her children are exhibiting worrisome physical symptoms they developed only after moving to the island. Sandy’s blood tests came back positive for “thyroid problems.” She has been bedridden for weeks with agonizing stomach pain. Her daughter, Ashley, also developed unexplained abdominal discomfort. Terrell, a hale and hearty football player with no prior health issues, fainted at a bus stop.
Sandy’s perfectly healthy son and daughter, and Sandy herself, are getting sick. Could the cause be Treasure Island’s toxic asbestos, mold, lead, radiation or chemicals?
She is concerned her daughter might have gallstones which run in her family and are sometimes a pregnancy side effect. Ashley has never been pregnant.
Sandy is seeking medical help and diagnoses for herself and both children. Fearful of radiation exposure, she will arrange an appointment with a radiologist for her daughter.
Worried Terrell’s fainting meant he could have the kind of heart trouble that has felled some athletes, she took him to a cardiologist. Though his physicians deemed him healthy, she is making available to his college doctors a battery of medical tests and records in case anything happens to him during his athletic program.
Suspecting her own stomach pains are stress-related, she visits a therapist. Despite this wise precaution, last week she took to her bed hoping if she lay still she wouldn’t hurt so much.
It is convenient for those who want to avoid the expense of leading to safety a population they sickened “with intent” that the triggers come from so many directions it is quite difficult to link diseases with causes. The sheer number of illness-producing toxins, however, convinces the intelligent mind the island’s contamination is the absolute culprit.
A Wednesday, June 11, 2014, blog post by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Marisa Lagos was headlined, “Probe finds no evidence of higher cancer rates on Treasure Island.” Lagos presented a probe – not a study – conducted by the California Cancer Prevention Institute between 2002 and 2011. The institute disallowed this probe as definitive, in part because the population under investigation was transient.
During the nine-year period of the “probe,” 48 cancer cases were reported. Yet, even in a fluid demographic of 2,000 persons, an average of 5.33 cancer cases per year is high. In this paradigm, a person has better odds of getting cancer from exposure to Treasure Island than winning the lottery, dying in a plane crash, or being hit by a car. And, strictly apart from cold statistics, can anyone tell these five individuals their case is unimportant? Certainly, the suggestion would offend friends or family who care about them.
Demolition in toxic wind
Sandy is nervous that one of the most toxic areas the Navy is “remediating” is cordoned off at Northpoint Court-Bayside Drive a few feet from her house. She knows the island’s powerful winds blow contamination everywhere. She observed that the exterior upstairs windows of the former military bungalows on that toxic site, which are hidden from street view facing the ocean, were removed. These open holes allow gales from the Bay to blast the toxins from these radioactive buildings into nearby homes, including hers.
Sandy’s broken record pleas: Move residents off Treasure Island
She believes The City, Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) and the power brokers who stand to make billions from island redevelopment ought to spend the mere millions necessary to help affected residents leave the island.
Sandy has spoken relentlessly in public forums, insisting, in broken record fashion, what she told me, “Site 12 needs to be relocated, and that is all areas of the contaminated island,” she stated firmly. “I mean, literally the whole island.”
At a recent community meeting held in Treasure Island’s Ship Shape Building, she respectfully addressed Bob Beck, director of Treasure Island Development Corporation (TIDC), the money-making arm of TIDA. “You don’t think Site 12 should be evacuated, I mean, until it’s all (cleaned up)? I mean, you don’t think that’s possible or necessary?”
“No, I don’t think it’s necessary,” replied Beck.
Sandy persisted, pointing at another community member sitting nearby, “These units on Bayside … are (as close as) from him to me.”
She expressed her deep concern about toxic, possibly radioactive, dust blowing all over the residents and into their homes when the contaminated buildings across the street are finally demolished.
“When they start to … tear down (these buildings), I just can’t see … that all the residents who live right there on Bayside, they’re all going to be safe by living so close to these – I’m assuming – contaminated units?”
Beck sidestepped Sandy’s query, observing perfunctorily that the Navy put up air monitors. He would stick around and answer more questions later. Beck did not talk to her after the meeting, Sandy reported.
Sandy Agee before the Board of Supervisors
Earlier, on Wednesday, May 14, 2014, Sandy stood stalwart before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and carefully explained what she later told me: “The (low tarp-covered fences) they have surrounding the buildings (are useless). I’m like 5-foot-9, so I can actually almost literally just stand on my tiptoes (at the kitchen window) and look over these barriers into the contaminated buildings across from (my) house.
“So, can you really say, you know, the air won’t affect us?” she asked.
Some Supervisors sat playing with their cell phones barely appearing to listen.
Sandy pressed on, addressing them politely: “I’m not saying that you all don’t care. I just think it’s different, and you can’t see it from our point of view – some of you – because you don’t live there.
“And you know it’s not safe. It’s not. We have a lot of sick kids coming up. I have two.
“I love Treasure Island, but I also don’t want to die. I mean, I know at some point we all do, but …” At the two-minute bell, they turned off the mike. Her “Thank you” was barely audible.
A criminal violation
Through her relentless research into records since the Navy commandeered the island in 1941, Sandy’s friend, Kathryn Lundgren, found incontrovertible proof that, after the Navy erected these buildings in the 1960s-1970s, it criminally violated its own asbestos abatement laws.
A 1997 Navy document that Kathryn found states, following a survey identifying Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) in the 1200 series buildings where both Sandy and Kathryn now reside, a walk-through visual inspection was planned. The report confirms that, “Any damaged, friable, and accessible Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) within reuse Zone 4 will be abated by the Navy before the area can be occupied.”
In other words, the Navy’s regulations specifically mandate that these units cannot be available for occupancy – or even briefly entered – until the area is cleaned and all asbestos removed. Kathryn is adamant that the Navy acted criminally when it allowed 2,000 plus residents and maintenance staff to enter, work and live in these asbestos-filled buildings.
In Civic Center after the Supervisors’ meeting, Sandy observed sadly, “We’re going to leave this world someday, but we’re trying to have a long, healthy life, and it’s no longer healthy living on Treasure Island.”
Relocate us, please
“Site 12 needs to be relocated – all areas of the contaminated island. I mean literally the whole island. They keep saying it’s safe, but it’s not. We have the radiation. We have black mold, mold, asbestos and lead. People are getting sick.”
“I just think they should relocate everyone. I really do. Because not only Kathryn’s family is sick. There’s other sick people on the island,” says Sandy, including herself and her children.
Sandy sees that, despite San Francisco’s high rents which have locked cash-strapped island residents into their low-cost or subsidized homes, Kathryn brokered an arrangement whereby the John Stewart realty company foots the bill for temporary housing in the South of Market District until Kathryn makes a decision about whether she will return to the island.
There is the hope that other residents will start pushing on their own because “They did it for Kathryn, so they have to do it for me.”
Later, Sandy repeated what she tried to impress on the Supervisors – that the Treasure Island situation is dire – for herself, her family and her neighbors.
“I know some day that we all will die,” she said. “But I don’t want to die right now. Living on Treasure Island, you never know when it’s going to happen.”
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.