by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD
Marie Harrison was a member of the Huntersview Mothers’ Committee on May 15, 2006, when the turbines of the 70-year-old PG&E Hunters Point Power Plant, located at 1000 Evans Ave. at the base of the Hunters Point hilltop, shut down … for good! Ten days after putting into service the Jefferson Martin Transmission Line, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. kept the promise it made in 1998 to shutter the dilapidated natural gas-fired plant after replacing the 400 megawatts of backup power the power plant supplied.
What began as a tight knit group of “mothers turned environmentalists” mushroomed over 25 years to become a mighty coalition drawing consensus support across a broad spectrum of community leaders, environmental activists and scientists, health and legal experts, regulators, politicians and elected officials at all levels of government.
“When each of the gun-powdered charges exploded – it sliced through the building material, causing it to fall on top of itself and the stack fell over in its entirety … PG&E eventually agreed to shut it down and Friday’s final demolition marks a significant community milestone,” reported ABC7 in a story headlined “Hunters Point Power Plant Demolished,” published Sept. 19, 2008.
Marie Harrison’s divinely inspired crusades to end the environmental injustice that plagued her community and ravaged her family and friends with a host of environmental diseases from headaches and nosebleeds to skin rashes and unexplained cancers, ended on May 5, 2019, after she suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest and died of a chronic lung disease called pulmonary fibrosis.
Her once healthy lungs became progressively more stiff from scars caused by decades of bombardment by fine particles, toxic fumes and airborne chemicals. It restricted her breath but not her message. Wearing nasal cannulas and an oxygen tank she continued her fight … to the very last breath!
Memorializing the one year anniversary of her death, in May of 2020 the Marie Harrison Bayview Air Monitoring Network (MHBAM) finalized site selection for the community led, AB 617 funded project to place 10 Dylos particulate air monitors in key locations throughout Bayview Hunters Point. Greenaction community organizer Dalila Adofo coordinates the 10-member MHBAM steering committee. Proposed sites include Joseph Lee Recreation Center, Southeast Clinic, Thurgood Marshall High, Hunters Point Boys & Girls Club, Hunters Point Shipyard entrance and the industrial regions of Yosemite Slough and Bayshore.
In “Marie Harrison, mother of the movement for environmental justice,” SF Bay View editors acknowledged tributes to Marie Harrison, “legendary warrior who laid down her life for her community,” poured in from the San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, SF Weekly, Mission Local and from the SF Bay View, where Harrison wrote a weekly column about environmental issues.
It has been a year since my friend Marie Harrison lost her epic final battle at age 71, following a cardiopulmonary arrest on May 4, 2019. In the passing year, I have come to recognize her destined role … as mother … as martyr … as the “Joan of Arc” of the Environmental Movement in Southeast San Francisco!
“Bayview Hunters Point tests its air,” 48 Hills
SF Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., can be reached at 415-859-5471.