Shit storm erupts in Treasure Island townhouse when sewer pipes break after Lennar’s vibro-compaction

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After sewage spill, Treasure Island family put on high alert

by Carol Harvey

On May 29, 2015, on the Golden Gate Bridge side of Treasure Island, smelly brown chocolate ooze began to gush from the Lundgren family’s 1201-B Bayside Drive faucets.

The other side of the island had just trembled. Between the Job Corps grounds and the San Francisco Bay Bridge, Lennar Corp. engineers had penetrated 50 feet of soil with huge vibrating bores.

Lennar engineers used this vibro-compaction bore on Treasure Island which may have caused sinkholes to form and pipes to break across the island and feces to flood into the Lundgren townhouse. – Photo: Carol Harvey
Lennar engineers used this vibro-compaction bore on Treasure Island which may have caused sinkholes to form and pipes to break across the island and feces to flood into the Lundgren townhouse. – Photo: Carol Harvey

 

Broken pipes and sinkholes

This sinkhole behind Starburst Barracks next to the Job Corps fence on Treasure Island formed after the May 28-29 vibro-compaction tests. – Photo: Sandra Washington
This sinkhole behind Starburst Barracks next to the Job Corps fence on Treasure Island formed after the May 28-29 vibro-compaction tests. – Photo: Sandra Washington

Following these vibro-compaction tests to compress liquefaction-prone fill for high rise construction, pipelines broke and sinkholes collapsed in a straight line east to west across the island. Behind the Starburst Barracks on the east, a gaping hole opened. At the centrally located elementary school playground, feces-filled puddles welled.

Near the northwestern shore in the Lundgren home, for the next six weeks, pipes malfunctioned and excrement exploded from faucets, toilets, shower heads and electrical outlets. Forced to drink poisoned water and mop feces from their floors, the Lundgrens became violently ill.

Had Lennar’s Friday, May 29, attempt to compress liquefaction-prone dirt to prevent high-rise collapse in earthquakes touched off three worsening sewage surges into the Lundgren townhouse over the following six weeks?

During the second June 19 outflow, according to Kathryn Lundgren, “Our upstairs bathtub, sink and toilet filled up with raw sewage with [feces] floating in it.”

A month later, on July 9, 2015, in a Brobdingnagdian torrent. “Raw sewage gushed out of every orifice of the house, top to bottom, upstairs and downstairs, all over the floor,” said Kathryn. Brown water poured from faucets, shower heads, toilet bowls. Human waste oozed through electrical outlets, ruining a dishwasher, a dryer and a $700 washing machine.

“We had basically a houseful of shit.”

After the first feces outpouring, “When the water went clear, we assumed it was OK,” said Kathryn. The John Stewart Co., the property managers, had not alerted them to water danger, so they kept drinking it. When everyone developed dehydrating diarrhea and flu-like symptoms, they assumed they had caught cold or eaten spoiled food. Then Quinn, 16, “erupted with giant hives all over her face and her body.”

On the day of the second flood, Friday, June 19, Kathryn’s youngest daughter found her father face down in the front yard, seizing. Family and friends took him to the emergency room. Kathryn now believes drinking and mopping toxic water touched off his convulsions.

Rust and hair clogs

After the first deluge, Kathryn gave John Stewart a brown water sample, holding some for independent testing. Employees claimed the water was tinged with rust from maintenance in an adjoining unit.

After the second eruption in June, Kathryn phoned Emergency Maintenance. They snaked the pipes and “blamed [the overflow] on a clogged drain from our hair.”

Don’t use the water!

On Thursday, July 9, every outlet spewed raw sewage and would not stop.

“Your first instinct is to jump in and try to sop it up with towels and clothes as fast as it’s coming out,” said Lundgren. Maintenance “didn’t even bring in a Shop-Vac to clean up the water.” By that time, the Lundgrens had swabbed up most of the dark brown mess. It hadn’t dawned how biologically toxic the effluent was. “Everybody had their hands in it,” she said.

Throughout Friday, July 10, into the evening, after the water stopped flowing brown, they concluded it was safe and drank it.

This warning, “Do not use the water system,” was tacked onto the Lundgrens’ door late on July 10 by Treasure Island Villages manager The John Stewart Co. (Click to enlarge.) – Photo: Kathryn Lundgren
This warning, “Do not use the water system,” was tacked onto the Lundgrens’ door late on July 10 by Treasure Island Villages manager The John Stewart Co. (Click to enlarge.) – Photo: Kathryn Lundgren

Late that day, Villages employees clipped a letter to the Lundgren’s door warning, “Don’t use any of your water system.”

“All this time,” Kathryn stated, “John Stewart was providing us with no potable water.” Though, like any municipal water system, Treasure Island’s separate pipes should carry sewage and potable water independently, Kathryn believes the water lines in her home were sharing material.

The Villages communication, titled “Notice of Sewage Line Repairs,” stated:

“Dear Residents:

“The plumbers have discovered a major blockage in the sewer lateral that affects Units A and B only. The plumbers are arranging to dig out the lateral. This will take approximately three to five days to complete. The Villages has provided you a key for Unit 1122-B Reeves Court. You will need to use this unit for all your shower and toilet needs. Do not use the water system in your current unit as the waste line is completely blocked.”

This Centers for Disease Control Drinking Water Advisory lists four levels of danger. The Lundgren family was advised “Do Not Use” the water, the highest advisory level. (Click to enlarge.)
This Centers for Disease Control Drinking Water Advisory lists four levels of danger. The Lundgren family was advised “Do Not Use” the water, the highest advisory level. (Click to enlarge.)

The Red Alert “Do Not Use” is rare. This highest level advisory, according to the federal Centers For Disease Control, forbids tap water use for any purpose including flushing toilets and bathing. Stated Kathryn, “The level of warning that John Stewart sent me in that letter [is] only issued if there’s risk of biological, chemical or radiological contamination,” when contact with skin, lungs or eyes could be lethal.

By drinking water they believed was clear, they were exposed to Hepatitis A and C, noroviruses, antibiotics, chemicals and radiation – “whatever else was in it,” Kathryn reported.

Rat and dog feces

At night to use the bathroom, Kathryn’s ill teenage pajama-clad daughters had to walk through a field to an empty building. “It’s dark, and my girls are by themselves,” said Kathryn.

Rat and dog feces covered the floor. Holes in the unit’s walls were troubling. Both girls had developed breathing problems and asthma. They were keenly aware such gaps signify immediate danger from exposure to asbestos, lead and mold.

In the morning, the teenagers had to return, brush their teeth and shower in a bathroom with no shower curtain.

I don’t have to tell you

On Monday, July 12, Kathryn’s oldest daughter, Quinn, observed and photographed from her bedroom window men digging in the street below her house. A single terra cotta pipe lay beside a trench.

A John Stewart Co. maintenance crew appears to be replacing the old fragile terra cotta pipes on Treasure Island pipeline outside Lundgren townhouse at 1201-B Bayside Drive, though they refused to say what they were doing. – Photo: Quinn Lundgren
A John Stewart Co. maintenance crew appears to be replacing the old fragile terra cotta pipes on Treasure Island pipeline outside Lundgren townhouse at 1201-B Bayside Drive, though they refused to say what they were doing. – Photo: Quinn Lundgren

She worried that the dust they were raising would cut off her air supply.

Leaning out her upstairs bedroom window, she asked, “What are you guys doing?”

A blue-gloved man looked up, ignoring her question. Rebuffed, she remarked sarcastically, “I love breathing in dirty air!”

The need for answers propelled her outside. She repeated her question. “I have a right not to tell you,” the man retorted. He refused information to a person with months of nausea after her home was flooded with feces. “Quinn is sick as a dog,” said Kathryn. “Her stomach is bugging her all the time. She’s trying to be cheerful.”

Quinn resented his deaf ear and irresponsible rudeness.

Kathryn expressed outrage. “They have done nothing that they are supposed to do to provide for the safety of my children.”

She recalled the water emergency of 2012. Water use advisory protocols were “delivered to [our doors] when we had that three-day outage, when the (18-inch cast iron) main broke in the front of the island.” ABC Channel 7 headlines announced: “Treasure Island Residents to Boil Water Until Monday, Water Pipe into Island Tested for Contamination.”

“They brought in honey buckets, portable toilets, giant truckloads of water. The Red Cross and FEMA had an emergency truck set up.” The whole island shut down, she said. The whole City jumped in.

“They have done nothing that they are supposed to do to provide for the safety of my children.”

“This time there was no identification of a need for bottled water [or] toileting. The only solution was to give us a key and make us walk to a filthy, decrepit, run down unit, full of dirt and unprepared for human use, to bathe and toilet and brush our teeth.”

What John Stewart did

An earlier leakage in summer 2014 had accelerated a toxic mold problem in the Lundgren’s kitchen ceiling. Aided by a San Francisco housing nonprofit organization, the family was awarded a constructive eviction. The John Stewart Co. paid for temporary lodging in a South of Market condominium while its maintenance workers stripped old pipes from walls clogged with blackened, moldy asbestos.

Kathryn reported, “They revamped the entire unit but didn’t actually fix anything. I saw them tear the walls out and replace the pipes in the middle of the unit that run from the bathroom to the kitchen.” But, “There is no change. It’s still leaking.”

A year later, almost exactly, “We are experiencing the same health threat.”

Rather than helping the Lundgrens locate a different home through the Mayor’s Office of Housing Program, John Stewart assured the Lundgrens the unit was safe and forced the family to move back.

Last summer’s mold has returned. “You could smell it before the flood started.” Now, with the recent spills, old mold and new feces are bonded to the pipes.

Rather than helping the Lundgrens locate a different home through the Mayor’s Office of Housing Program, John Stewart assured the Lundgrens the unit was safe and forced the family to move back.

“No one cares,” Kathryn feels. She called the San Francisco Health Department several times. “People don’t return calls. No one has ever come out, tested the air, tested the water – nothing.

“No one cares,” Kathryn feels.

“They caused it – and they continue to do this, not just to us, but to everybody,” said Kathryn.

Frankenpipes bearing radiological, biological and chemical hazards

Replacement of a broken terra cotta pipe outside Kathryn’s residence signals danger. “The original 70-year-old clay pipe system that runs throughout the island is breaking down,” she said.

Imagine you are walking on Treasure Island above a system of six-foot long cast iron and terra cotta pipes haphazardly joined together as island maintenance attempts to repair breaks.

“Though that metal six-foot section is new, the section next to it is old clay,” urged Kathryn. “If you are attaching new pipe material to the old terra cotta pipes, still being used to deliver water to and remove sewage from my house, will seals be watertight? How can modern material adhere to old terra cotta piping without some damage or cracks?”

The Navy is also exhuming clay pipes during remediation. A year ago, March 2014, during one of Kathryn’s Toxic Tours, I photographed terra cotta pipes lying at Site 31, the old elementary school playground, which the Navy at the time was cleaning up.

Kathryn Lundgren points out old terra cotta sewer pipes on Treasure Island. – Photo: Carol Harvey
Kathryn Lundgren points out old terra cotta sewer pipes on Treasure Island. – Photo: Carol Harvey

Terra cotta is soft brownish-red soil used to make earthenware and flower pots. These porous clay pipelines can absorb toxins in massive amounts.

Holes in the island’s 70-year-old clay pipelines allow them to trade material, sharing moist earth saturated with petroleum, dry cleaning fluid, DDT, lead and chemicals. In summer 2014, 64 years later, the Navy was still cleaning a massive 1950 radiation spill out of Building 233 at Avenue M. This alone will have delivered a huge dose of radioactive cesium 137 and radium 226.

Given the impossibility of removing radionuclides completely – despite Navy denials and a Congressional budget courtesy of Nancy Pelosi – radiation, chemicals and bacteria run through both the Avenue M sewer lines and potable water pipes into the porous terra cotta veins of the entire island infrastructure.

“Think about this,” said Kathryn. “If the sewage came through the terra cotta pipes, and (those) pipes come through the soil, then whatever has seeped in there – i.e., radiological, biological and chemical hazards – has also flowed directly in the faces of my children.”

The vibro-compaction tests seem to have failed. In light of recent sinkholes, fractured lines and sewage leaks that prevent residents’ use of water, Lennar’s wisest course is to halt vibrating or pounding until all the pipes are repaired.

As previously noted, vibro-compaction affects only the top two layers of silt and mud from which this manmade landform, Treasure Island, was built. At a recent meeting of the TIDA (Treasure Island Development Authority) Board, a resident revealed a post-Loma Prieta earthquake Navy study indicating the bottom stiff clay layer is most vulnerable to earthquakes.

CalTrans workers have stated that bores sunk 280 feet in Bay mud found no bedrock. With silt, mud and clay susceptible to tremors and no bedrock into which to drive stabilizing beams for buildings, perhaps the entire redevelopment project should be scrapped.

In their zeal to construct a cash cow over a toxic dump, real estate speculators have ignored the large numbers of people who were lured by low rents and got sick on the island.

This toxic island with decrepit housing and malfunctioning infrastructure can never support human life. All residents should be relocated to subsidized housing of their choosing and the toxic island abandoned or sunk beneath the Bay.

This toxic island with decrepit housing and malfunctioning infrastructure can never support human life.

As islander Liz Washington put it: “While they move closer to redevelopment, do the power brokers wait for people to be evicted onto San Francisco streets or into other substandard housing or simply to die? Then they can charge towering condo rents. But will wealthy people and their children, in turn, be felled by cancers and seizures?”

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at carolharvey1111@gmail.com.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Not all land is habitable or is habitable only under certain conditions. Through the ages, peoples have known this. So called modern man tires to force the environment to conform to his desires for the sake of profit. The environment is what it is based on many factors and cannot always be controlled. The planet itself is being destroyed by this mentality which resembles military might and is the outgrowth of those who must conquer no matter what the price.

  2. Interesting reading. Coming from another country I 'm not sure it would've panned out this way.Probably bad engineering in the first place. As someone in this industry it's not difficult to assume what went on.

  3. This is very important for underground carriage system specially for transporting sewage from houses and commercial buildings. Thanks for the information. This might be very useful.

  4. The best way to keep your mind sharp is to regularly challenge it, to engage in challenges and tasks that make you think critically and push your minds to heights that you’ve never imagined (see what I did there).
    Brain teasers are a sure way to exercise your brain. Today, you will get five different murder riddles and mysterious scenarios for you to figure out. You will not learn anything new from these riddles. In fact, they are age old riddles that might not make clear sense today.
    Warning: this is not an episode of How to Get Away with Murder. We are just narrating murder riddles with answers!
    Riddle One:
    The highway murder
    Two spouses; wife and husband are cruising down the highway. Suddenly, they run out fuel. The husband asks the wife to stay in the car while he checks the nearest gas station. He promises to be back in an hour’s time and asks the wife to listen to music or read a novel. Before leaving, the husband left the car keys and told his wife to lock all the doors and windows. When she turned on the radio, she heard the most shocking news, “there is a serial killer on the loose who was last seen on the highway wearing black, top-down. The male suspect is 5 feet and 11 inches tall. Anyone who spots the suspect should call the police immediately. ” This message scared the hell out of her. She turned off the radio and checked to ensure that all the doors are locked tight. An hour later, the husband returned with the fuel only to find his wife dead in the car. She had been murdered! Surprisingly, all the windows and doors were locked. No window was broken into and the car was in the perfect condition; no scratches. It was exactly as he had left it. How did the murderer kill his wife without opening, or breaking the car?
    Answer:
    The car must have been a convertible with the roof open. The murderer got to the wife through the roof.
    Always roll down the roof of your convertible
    Riddle two:

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