Lennar's troubles continue

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A busload of 49er fans based in Bayview Hunters Point traveled to the 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara today to ask the team owners not to build a new stadium with developer Lennar. The group also requested a meeting with the York family regarding health problems they say are a result of Lennar’s activities.

In November 2006, the York family announced that the team was planning to leave San Francisco and relocate to Santa Clara. The announcement set off an intense competition to win the 49ers’ affections. As part of that battle, Mayor Gavin Newsom offered to build a new stadium at Hunters Point Shipyard—a move mayoral candidate Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai decried as “a dirty transfer of the shipyard.”

Jaron Browne of People Organized to Win Employment Rights, which participated in today’s bus ride, told the Guardian that the Yorks “weren’t able to come out and give a statement”.

“But we delivered an informational packet, including medical records and the personal accounts of people living in the surrounding neighborhood. Our message was, ‘Lennar is not a builder in good faith’,” Browne said.

The bus ride came the day after the San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously, on the basis of their belief that the City’s precautionary principle requires them to take “anticipatory action” to prevent harm, to call on the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the Redevelopment Agency the Department of Public Health and other relevant City agencies to “require an immediate halt of Lennar’s development of Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard until an immediate and independent health and safety assessment can be conducted in cooperation with the SFUSD Superintendent and the School District’s School Health Programs Office and other relevant community organizations and City task forces like the SF Asthma Task Force.”

Their vote makes the School Board the first elected body in San Francisco to insist on a halt and comes ten months after a group of Bayview Hunters Point residents first started to ask for a temporary work stoppage until community health concerns could be addressed.

The School Board’s decision comes shortly after the California Department of Public Health’s, which is funded Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, released a report in response to concerns about Lennar’s grading operations at Parcel A.

The report finds, amongst many other concerns, that there are validity problems with the monitoring equipment that Lennar is currently using at the site, which is designed for indoor, not outdoor, conditions.

“Due to the novel application of the equipment for fence line monitoring,” notes the report, “CDPH is not able to interpret whether dust exposures in the community occurred that would explain some of the community health complaints such as headaches, bloody noses, adult onset asthma, respiratory symptoms, nausea and vomiting.”

The report also suggests beefing up monitoring and mitigation measures, and giving more power to City officials overseeing the site. It does not recommend any health screenings.

Lennar officials immediately issued a press release claiming that the report "supports recent findings by state and local public health professionals that grading operations at a construction site pose no significant long-term health threats to residents in San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood."

But a thorough reading of the CDPH's report raises numerous concerns with Lennar's monitoring operations and makes major recommendations for the site.

In a Sept. 20 letter to Dr Rajiv Bhatia, Thomas Sinks, Deputy Director, National Center for Environmental Health/ATSDR says ATSDR concurs with the findings, conclusions and recommendations in CDPH’s report.

Sinks makes the following points:
“There was clear evidence that levels of asbestos exceeded mandated thresholds at both the fence line and in the community.”

“The concentrations of dust could not be interpreted because of the sampling methods.”

“It is reasonable to conclude that levels of dust and asbestos were similar during the months when sampling did not occur.”

“The exposures did result in some increased risk for community residents, although it is not possible to quantify this risk.”

“Medical follow-up or screening is not recommended because there are no valid tests to identify current exposures or predict developing future disease.”

“Public health follow-up should focus on effective efforts to further reduce exposures and to monitor and verify that these reductions occur.”

Among the recommendations in CDPH’s report:

“Because the contractor has exceeded the Bay Area Air Quality Management District asbestos action level that triggers work stoppage on 13 percent of excavation days and because there have been complaints about dust, which may cause other health concerns, SFDPH should assign a person to continuously monitor dust production and abatement activities during work hours. Essential to this recommendation is that the assigned person not only observes but also has the authority to alter activity on the site based on his/her observations.

“The assigned person should promptly report to the public what is observed and what is done as a result.”

“Explore additional dust control procedures such as misting the fence line, tarping the fence, adding an on-site meteorological station, stopping activity that generates dust, if winds are 15 miles per hour or more, or tarping grounds where no activity is occurring for seven days or more.”

“It is recommended that the developer engage someone with expertise in dust control.”

“Air monitoring equipment on-site and in the community should be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the added measures. If ongoing exceedances occur, then more measures should be adopted.”

“The contractor should conduct real-time dust monitoring using appropriate equipment for respirable dust at several locations, co-located with asbestos sampling.

“There are validity problems with the currently used monitoring equipmemt.

“Explore ways to reduce the lag time between measuring elevated levels of naturally occurring asbestos and altering parcel activities by returning to 12-hour sampling, or collect from 7 p.m to 7 p.m. (Both would mean a result may be available the next day.”

When CDPH reviewed the equipment being used to monitor dust at Parcel A, the agency found that “according to the manufacturer, the instrument is designed for personal/breathing zone monitoring, plant walk-through surveys, remediation site worker exposure monitoring, and indoor air quality.”

The instrument being used is also “sensitive to moisture and is a passive sampler.”

As CDPH notes, dust monitors approved by the California Air Resources Board for applications such as Lennar’s are active samplers. And monitors are available for outdoor applications where moisture is present.

“We recommend using dust monitors that have been certified for fence line monitoring.”

In its summary of findings, CDPH notes the following:

“The two-day delay in reporting air level elevations has often prevented changing the operations in a timely way to reduce these levels.”

“The BAAQMD mandated threshold action levels are based on numbers derived from studies of long-term (many years) exposure to high (higher than the levels being measured at and around the parcel) levels of asbestos resulting in mesothelioma in workers.”

“However, there are studies in the scientific literature in which long term lower level/non-occupational exposures (from take home exposure and other areas of the world where naturally occurring asbestos occurs) caused a low but epidemiologically detectable excess risk of mesothelioma. For example, an ecological study in California suggests an association between residential proximity to naturally occurring asbestos and mesothelioma.”

“There are technical difficulties in estimating risk from exposures as brief as a year, using techniques that were developed for life-long exposures.”

“Nonetheless, even a 7-year* exposure to the levels of asbestos measured around this excavation was estimated to have risks that, on a personal level, would be considered low.”

(A 70-year exposure is the timeframe usually refered to, so the 7-year figure in the CPDH report is assumedly a typo.)

“Regardless, site conditions warrant the monitoring and careful dust abatement measures recommended.”

In its press release, Lennar Urban President Kofi Bonner thanks ATSDR and state health officials for their recent report. 'They have made several thoughtful recommendations, and we look forward to examining them in greater detail as part of our ongoing commitment to protect the community's health and safety."

Meanwhile, over at the New York Stock Exchange, Lennar Corp's stocks were down 96 cents at $23.22.

"The homebuilder reported a fiscal third-quarter loss and sharply lower revenue amid a drop in home prices," NYSE reports noted. "The company also booked hefty charges to write down land values. "