by Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai
Fighting the Stench of Sustainability with Environmental Justice
Kamillah Ealom serves as Greenaction for Environmental Health & Justice’s community organizer for Bayview Hunters Point. She is standing tall on behalf of the community she grew up in, and in a proverbial “David versus Goliath” standoff against a multinational corporation that turns 15 percent of the world’s meat waste into collagen, fertilizer and pet food.
Darling International has operated in a region of southeast San Francisco once called “Butchertown” since the 1960s. Biofuels rendered from dead animals is a growing sector of the energy industry. Decomposing animal carcasses are trucked into Bayview Hunters Point from as far away as the Central Valley, releasing foul odors and harmful emissions.
“This facility will serve as a model for cities throughout the world who aim to reduce their carbon footprint and transform their grease waste into sustainable energy.” – Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco 2008.
According to the Examiner, Darling expanded operations in 2008 by ramping up its biofuel production and building out a new facility to convert cooking oils and discarded meat products into sustainable fuel – a move Newsom hailed as an environmental victory.
The expansion was met with community outrage and a lawsuit filed in 2009 against City Planning that approved expansion of the plant without considering the impacts to the environment and human health.
Santa Clara University’s Environmental Justice Law & Advocacy Lab released a report in December of 2022 that examined Darling International’s rendering plant that processes dead animal carcasses “blanketing the surrounding community with nauseating fumes.” The report, authored by Law Professor Zsea Bowmani and law student Elias Rodriguez, assessed Darling’s compliance with environmental laws. It found the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) requires Darling to maintain up-to-date data on air emissions to obtain a permit to operate. BAAQMD recorded 20 complaints against Darling in 2010 and issued a notice of violation for odor nuisance in 2004.
Using the California Public Records Act, documents were obtained required by Darling’s operating permit for the period 2008-2021. Darling emits various pollutants during its daily operations including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and ammonia. The study concludes Darling is compliant with its permit and its noxious emissions are within the limits of acceptable air standards but pose health and nuisance risks to the Bayview Hunters Point community and recommends the allowable limits should be decreased.
Medical scientist and Bayview Hunters Point environmental activist Aude Dali Bouagnon, PhD is returning to medical school training following a hiatus taken during the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed her to demonstrate leadership and commitment to community service.
Bouagnon shines brightest during Women’s History Month 2023, with a remarkable journey as the child of immigrants from France and the Ivory Coast. A graduate with honors in biological chemistry, her research centers on nutritional and environmental contributions to health and disease.
Her doctoral research investigated metabolic influences on neuronal serotonin circuits in C. Elegant. It drew support from the Amgen Scholars Program and the National Science Foundation.
“As a scientist-physician, she dreams of translating scientific advances into public health, policy and educational interventions that benefit the most vulnerable individuals and communities around the world.” – Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai
Hope for Hunters Point
“I am passionate about great science and working with talented diverse people to challenge the status quo and drive innovative programs forward.” – Rebecca Abergel, PhD, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Director of the Institute for Resilient Communities at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Rebecca Abergel is an Associate Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering on a fast track to the Nobel Prize!
Abergel and partner Julian Rees, PhD, have developed a pill that can leach dangerous radioactive chemicals from the human body while preserving essential metals like zinc, calcium and iron. According to Abergel: “After 9/11 U.S. Health and Human Services became concerned about developing drugs to prevent radioactive elements from being absorbed in the body in the event of a nuclear attack. The kind of chemicals I was working on are very good at chelating heavy metals like plutonium and uranium.”
HP Biomonitoring researchers, Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai and Dr. Aude Bouagnon, met with Dr. Julian Rees in 2021 to discuss enrolling Hunters Point residents with biomonitoring results detecting exposure to radiation and heavy metals in clinical trials for HOPO Tx. HOPO Tx is an oral chelating agent capable of ridding the body of a group of radioactive metals called actinides and lanthanides. In this group are chemicals commonly detected in shipyard residents and workers including uranium, cesium, plutonium, americium and thorium. All pose a health risk due to their radioactivity.
“HOPO Therapeutics leverages world class expertise to address the most pressing unmet needs at the intersection of heavy metals and human health. For us, the term heavy metals includes environmental pollutants like lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury. We are developing pharmaceuticals designed to treat exposure to heavy metals beginning with HOPO 14-1 – our leading drug candidate.”
HOPO Tx entered clinical trials in December 2022. HOPO Tx is a chelating agent that seeks out and wraps itself around the radioactive metal forming a new chemical complex that can’t be absorbed by tissues and can be eliminated from the human body. The chelator must be selective enough to avoid binding with metals essential for health like iron and zinc. Sponsored by SRI International, the study objectives are to evaluate the safety, tolerability and effectiveness of a single oral dose of HOPO 14-1 in human trials.
The looming threat of large scale radiation exposure posed by escalating tensions in Eastern Europe and Putin’s proposed use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine is being countered by the work of Abergel in developing an anti nuclear pill for emergency use capable of ridding the human body of dangerous radionuclides and heavy metals including plutonium, uranium, lead, gadolinium and cadmium. BioActinide Chemistry Group at Berkeley.
Beating Back Cancer in Bayview Hunters Point!
Bayview Hunters Point community leaders Mary Ratcliff and Mesha Irizarry embrace in the foyer of the Hunters Point Biomonitoring medical screening clinic on June 11, 2022. Irizarry was diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia on July 12, 2021, and given “weeks to live.” A urinary biomonitoring screening detected 12 toxins in dangerously high concentrations, including the Proposition 65 listed cancer causing chemicals cadmium, nickel and vanadium, along with six chemicals of concern at the Hunters Point Shipyard Federal Superfund system – aluminum, thallium, copper, manganese, tin and tungsten. Irizarry is cancer free in 2023, a miracle she attributes to good nutrition and love for community, and her partner and caregiver, Remy.
Erin Brockovich called for monitoring of Ohio residents – including urinalysis and blood tests – in the aftermath of the Norfolk Southern train derailment that occurred on Feb. 2, 2023, at about 9 p.m. Over 1,000 train derailments occur every year in the U.S. Norfolk Southern reported a rise in accident rates in recent years weeks before the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment forced the company to vent and burn carcinogenic chemicals.
The 150-car freight train pulled five tanker cars containing the hazardous, carcinogenic gas vinyl chloride. On Feb. 16, another Norfolk Southern train derailed near Detroit, Mich.
“They should be monitoring the people!”
Erin Brockovich will host a Town Hall meeting on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, at East Palestine High School Auditorium. Brockovich is globally recognized for her decisive role as legal clerk, whistleblower and consumer advocate in the $333,000,000 toxic tort class action settlement (1996) awarded to the southern California community of Hinkley exposed to hexavalent chromium by PG&E.
In a Feb. 21, 2023 MSNBC interview, Brockovich stated: “the people of East Palestine deserve transparency to see the data and find out about the tests used to gather that data, and have a right to have independent tests done.”
Brockovich’s concerns about toxic migrations in air, water and soil ring true in Bayview Hunters Point. “Just because the water is safe now does not mean it will be later!” According to CNN, residents are reporting health problems and an estimated 3,500 fish have died in Ohio waterways in the aftermath of the train derailment.
Accompanied by prominent Texas attorney Mikal Watts who won major settlements against Bridgestone/Firestone, Ford Motor and polluting corporations, Brokovich told MSNBC news, “they should be monitoring the people!”
According to the EPA, on Feb. 4, 2023, roving air monitoring for PM2.5, PM10, benzene, hydrogen cyanide, phosgene and hydrochloric acid began. Three days later real-time air monitoring and community air samples for VOCs, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide were collected. The EPA website reports elevations in PM2.5 and products of combustion in air. No results are available for testing of water and soil.
Norfolk Southern’s website states: “the testing of both in-home air, general air and municipal water has not shown any detections of substances related to the incident and does not indicate a health risk.” A criminal referral was made to the state attorney general’s office and the US EPA ordered Norfolk Southern to pay for all necessary cleanup in a legally binding order effective Feb. 22, 2023.
Community Window on Environmental Exposures is supported by funding from the California Environmental Protection Agency Grant #G21-EJ-030.
The Hunters Point Biomonitoring Foundation, Inc., received a $250,000 grant from the Environmental Justice Data Fund on August 1, 2022, for the project Community Window on Environmental Exposure with collaborative grant partners Marie Harrison Community Foundation, Inc., James Dahlgren Medical and the SF Bay View National Black Newspaper.
SF Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD, PD, founder and principal investigator for the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program, 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 AhimsaPorterSumchaiMD@Comcast.net. Dr. Sumchai is medical director of Golden State MD Health & Wellness, a UCSF and Stanford trained author and researcher, and a member of the UCSF Medical Alumni Association Board of Directors.