by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD
“San Francisco health officials and the developer building housing at Hunters Point shipyard say new studies back their contention that construction dust from the project won’t harm nearby residents. … At Lennar’s request, the state and CDC conclusions were reviewed by Dr. John Balmes, who specializes in environmental medicine at San Francisco General Hospital and is a professor at UCSF. He bolstered the findings. ‘We think the debate is now settled. … The city concluded that there was no health risk, and now we have the state and CDC coming to the same conclusion,’ said Sam Singer, spokesman for Lennar.” – “Developer Insists Dust Isn’t Health Problem” by Robert Selna, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 3, 2007
Despite what you have read in the screaming headlines of the San Francisco Chronicle, the deep dark dirty development of the federal Superfund site at the Hunters Point Shipyard is not stalled. It is simply catnapping as city government and health and regulatory agencies, working on behalf of Lennar developers, strategize for the biggest showdown in the history of shipyard showdowns: the residential development of the MUD of Parcel G.
This is “deja vu” for seasoned warriors in the battle for environmental health and justice in Southeast San Francisco and time to prepare for battle as the gargantuan “Keep Lennar Rolling” machine grinds forward. Dragged beneath the metal plate of the dirty development bulldozer are unaccounted-for victims of toxic exposure and a “landfill” of government sanctioned actions designed to deny the health threats residents face in the overdeveloped, heavily industrialized 94124 zip code.
The U.S. Navy finalized its Parcel G Work Plan in June. The Parcel G development plan sites residential development in a Shipyard South Multi Use District or MUD, an appropriate acronym for a shoreline shipyard parcel predicted to be underwater due to sea level rise by 2050 and is the historic site of missile testing, radiological operations and the loading of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima on July 15, 1945!
The Navy plans to initiate fieldwork in the coming weeks for retesting to determine whether site conditions at Parcel G meet original cleanup objectives in an effort to analyze impacts from the Tetra Tech data falsification that impacted over 90 percent of the site to “ensure the property is suitable for transfer to the City of San Francisco. The city has identified this property as a high priority parcel for redevelopment.”
Keep Wall Street rolling!
For those who do not believe government agencies conspire to advance the economic interests of development projects over lethal threats to human life and safety, let’s take a moment to honor the death of 9/11 first responder Luis Alvarez on June 29, 2019. Facing death, Alvarez journeyed to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress on June 11, 2019, to extend funding for the World Trade Center Health Program established for firefighters, emergency workers and public safety officials who became ill or died after exposure to toxic dust in the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. He received a final standing ovation.
Over 12,500 cases of cancer have been diagnosed in 9/11 responders and in 2010 President Barack Obama agreed to pay their medical expenses, setting aside $2.7 billion for chronic health problems largely to documented exposure to toxic air contaminants.
For those who do not believe government agencies conspire to implement policies that endanger human health and environment, I remind you of my own words published in the SF Bay View newspaper June 12, 2018:
“One of the most spectacular examples of government obstruction in protection of human health and safety occurred in the aftermath of the Twin Towers destruction on Sept. 11, 2001, when Lower Manhattan was choked in clouds of dust that rose over 1,000 feet, subjecting residents, office workers and rescue personnel to a cocktail of toxic gases and airborne particles.
“In the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) took air samples and issued reports that found no excess levels of asbestos, particulates, lead or volatile organic compounds in the air above and around Ground Zero … an implausible claim given the explosive demolition and volatilization of the World Trade Center in New York.
“In August 2003, USEPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley admitted the National Security Council acting under directive from the Bush White House to engage in a coverup of the public health hazards at Ground Zero designed to ‘Keep Wall Street Rolling.’ By June 2004, 57 Ground Zero rescue workers had died from exposure to toxic dust.”
In striking parallel to the aftermath of 9/11, in 2006, Mitch Katz, MD, then director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, in collusion with Mayor Gavin Newsom, distributed an unsigned “Fact Sheet” to Bayview Hunters Point households, schools and community groups adjacent to the dangerous development activities at the Hunters Point Shipyard, stating: “The type of construction dust generated at the shipyard is common across California and was expected. The area is not contaminated with unsafe levels of chemicals.”
For those who do not believe government agencies engage in conspiracies to hide the dangerous impacts of toxic exposures, the June 30, 2019, investigation, “The Sack of Washington,” documents a trail of emails that show long-time corporate mercenaries on the march at the Environmental Protection Agency – including E. Calabrese, a professor of toxicology at the University of Massachusetts – who are helping Donald Trump rewrite public policy to claim pollution is good for us!
Dr. Katz resigned as health director in 2010, under pressure from the Health Commission following release of a Civil Grand Jury report documenting email evidence of conspiracy between city and health department officials and the shipyard’s master developer Lennar to minimize the impacts of toxic dust exposure.
Keep Lennar rolling … by any means necessary!
Marching along to the beat of the Trump administration are Mayor London Breed and District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, who are reincarnating the strategy used by health officials in 2007 to minimize risks of toxic dust exposure generated by dirty development activities at the shipyard. On Jan. 29, 2019, Breed announced her partnership with Walton to install an “independent analysis” by UCSF and UC Berkeley physicians and scientists around testing at the Hunters Point Shipyard.
Breed’s announcement coincided with the SF Bay View’s Jan. 8, 2019, article, “Community Exposure Research in Bayview Hunters Point,” detailing an alliance formed by UCSF investigators and community scientists to implement a biomonitoring program for residents living adjacent to the federal Superfund site at the shipyard.
Breed has failed to garner the six votes necessary from the Board of Supervisors to enact an ordinance that “streamlines” review of her 100 percent affordable housing charter amendment that violates California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Sunshine law mandates for transparency in government decision making and abolishes public comment.
CEQA statutes require state and local agencies to follow a protocol of public disclosure of environmental impacts for proposed projects like the shipyard development. CEQA reviews would no longer be required under Breed’s proposed changes to the city charter.
M. Reza Shirazi, Marie Curie Global Fellow for the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at UC Berkeley, wrote an article cautioning that Breed’s “independent analysis” team, which is being assembled by John Balmes, MD, former chief of the UCSF Division of Occupational Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, lacks transparency.
In the article, published by the Bay View in April and headlined, “Toxic land! Walk carefully! Notes on the UC-led independent review of the Hunters Point Shipyard project,” Shirazi writes:
“I even received an email from Supervisor Walton’s office requesting I not make public the plan and other details I got from UCSF … This request surely contradicts the mayor and supervisor’s statements in the press release that the Bayview Hunters Point community deserves transparency and accountability with regard to the cleanup. …
“I would argue that in this review, “community” is, to a great extent, excluded, and this has been the trend over the last 20-25 years with regard to the shipyard project.”
John Balmes, MD, was a paid consultant to Lennar in 2007 when the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the California Department of Public Health conspired to minimize the health effects of airborne dust and asbestos. That collusion of health officials drove me to run for mayor of San Francisco in 2007 to amplify the “bully pulpit” of environmental health and justice to a citywide audience.
State and federal investigations into the Parcel A development were triggered in July of 2007 by Supervisor Chris Daly, who called for a work stoppage at the Lennar development site and testing of residents for toxic exposures.
On Sept. 25, 2017, the San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously to halt Lennar’s construction project at the shipyard to allow for an independent health and safety assessment. That Board of Education resolution memorializes the heroism of Bay View resident and Parcel A worker Christopher Carpenter who, in 2006, alerted community residents about dangerous dust emissions that threatened the safety of school children and triggered work shutdowns at the Lennar development site compounded by malfunctioning air monitors.
Like 9/11 survivor Luis Alvarez, Carpenter died, in March of 2016, after a long and protracted battle with a rare lymphoproliferative cancer reported in 9/11 survivors.
On Oct. 9, 2007, a letter signed by Dr. Balmes and DPH officials was sent to the chief of Environmental Health Investigations of the California Department of Public Health:
“We share your frank assessment of the limitations of human exposure and risk assessment in this situation but are heartened by your judgment that the risks of serious asbestos related health impacts for community residents from development at Parcel A are likely to be low on a personal level even if those exposures were to have occurred over seven years. Most important, we agree the primary goal for environmental health is preventing exposure to hazards.”
After Dr. John Balmes signed that letter in 2007, the incidence of lung cancer detected in men residing in the 94124 zip code skyrocketed to 31 percent, according to a March 2019 analysis conducted by Tomas Aragon, MD, health officer for the City and County of San Francisco and director of population health.
That analysis examined cancer rates in the 94124 zip code for the years 2008 through 2012, a period that corresponds exactly to the Tetra Tech fraudulent soil scandal triggered in October 2012 when Navy computers detected the “anomalous” samples and scanned backwards to determine they were first submitted in 2008.
Of even greater significance is the fact that Dr. Balmes accepted an invitation by Mayor Breed and Supervisor Walton to lead an “independent analysis” designed to advance the shipyard’s most dangerous parcels in January of 2019.
On April 17, 2019, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled a physician can be found liable for malpractice for a patient he has never met or treated and has no contract to care for:
“A physician-patient relationship is not a necessary element of a claim for professional negligence, the justices wrote in the decision. A physician owes a duty of care to a third party when the physician acts in a professional capacity and it is reasonably foreseeable that the third party will rely on the physician’s acts.”
That ruling sets a precedent for physicians nationwide: It is medical malpractice to offer a consulting opinion that impacts medical decision making and leads to the harm or death of a patient – even a patient a doctor has never seen!
The “Ghost of Marie Harrison” will forever haunt the podium of the San Francisco Health Commission, where, on July 17, 2008, she voiced concern for children and the elderly after an air monitor at the Lennar shipyard construction site registered asbestos levels at 138,000 ppm. In an Oct. 9, 2007, letter issued by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, John Balmes, MD, declared the risks of serious asbestos related health impacts for community residents from development at Parcel A are low – even if those exposures were to have occurred over seven years.
Harrison died on May 5, 2019, of a chronic lung disease caused by exposure to toxic air contaminants like asbestos. Under a precedent setting ruling made by the Minnesota Supreme court in April, a physician who declares a toxic exposure to be safe that leads to injury or death can be successfully sued for medical malpractice.
I urge John Balmes, MD, and scientists appointed by Mayor Breed and Supervisor Walton to conduct the “independent analysis” designed to advance the dangerous development of the federal Superfund site at the Hunters Point Shipyard to “first do no harm” in applying the Precautionary Principles adopted by the City and County of San Francisco in 2004 and the oldest contractual agreement designed to protect human health: The Hippocratic Oath!
Furthermore, I urge Mayor London Breed and District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton to join mounting calls to reinstate the only government body created by Congress to offer community based “independent analysis” of remediation and development activities at a federally designated Superfund Site – the democratically elected Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board!
SF Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., founding chair of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board’s Radiological Subcommittee and contributor to the 2005 Draft Historical Radiological Assessment, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Sumchai is also president and medical director of Golden State MD Health & Wellness, an author and a UCSF and Stanford trained researcher.