EPA, San Francisco at Odds over Safety of Dust at Hunters Point Shipyard

Formerly home to one of the biggest naval operations on the entire West Coast, the site of the former shipyard at Hunters Point in South San Francisco is also one of the most polluted sites on the West Coast. An EPA Superfund site since 1989, the Shipyard closed down in 1994 as ordered by the U.S. Military’s Base Realignment Act (BRAC) and has remained vacant until recently – with various governmental and non-governmental organizations pushing for re-development of the property, including a possible new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers.

However, the property has been found to be in the 70th and 80th percentile for toxic air contaminants and pollutants, including hydrogen sulfide, particulates, radiation and asbestos. Such findings have called into question the safety of workers building new homes and working on various other construction projects in the area, with this article from the San Francisco Bay View including a photo (ironically from construction company Lennar) indicating little in the way of protection for workers and nearby residents from inhaling the potentially-toxic dust kicked up on the site.

While the EPA makes no mistake via their page of the dangerous contaminants at Hunters Point, there is disagreement between them and local government regarding the level of danger that exists there.

“The San Francisco Department of Public Health continues to adopt the stance that intermittent exeedances in asbestos levels that trigger shutdowns at Lennar’s Shipyard worksite are safe,” the article states. “There continues to be ‘fallout’ in the local media and in scientific circles funded by Lennar in San Francisco that the toxic dust that continually triggers exeedances of asbestos on both Health Department and Air District monitors sited at the Shipyard is somehow safe for children, residents and workers to breathe.”

In fact, the article states the EPA issued a letter of correction on government letterhead to the San Francisco Chronicle refuting an assertion made in the paper that the EPA said the dust was safe to breathe. The Chronicle never printed the letter. Clearly only one side is telling the truth about levels of asbestos exposure at Hunters Point.

The Bay View has no qualms about going after Lenner and the San Francisco Department of Health for concealing, minimizing and engaging in misinformation about the health risks of the area in the name of accelerating development.