US EPA, SF Health Department and Lennar accused of asbestos collusion

Assessing the risk
Community members worry about exposure to naturally occurring asbestos which runs in veins through serpentinite rocks on Parcel A

The  SLAM Coalition of Bayview Hunters Point Community Organizations and the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights held a press conference outside US EPA Region 9’s San Francisco office today to protest the contents of a string of emails they obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request that they claim “show conspiracy by the US Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 and the San Francisco Health Department officials to cover-up dangers of the Lennar Corp.’s development project at the Hunters Point Shipyard.”

“Since 2006 when heavy grading and excavation began by the Lennar Corporation at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, residents of the Bayview Hunters Point Community, a majority African-American, Samoan and Latino low-income community, suffered from health problems including nose bleeds, rashes and headaches that they believed were caused by asbestos and heavy metals being unearthed from these actions,” the SLAM/E.H.R.’s press release states. “However, little did residents know that officials in the Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 and the San Francisco Department of Public Health were conspiring with the Lennar Corporation to conceal the health threats of asbestos laden dust.”

E.H.R’s Wilma Subra said she first saw the emails Thursday March 17.
“As I started to go through them, I could clearly see where EPA and DPH are wrestling with how to downgrade, or make less important, the information on asbestos on Parcel A of the shipyard," Subra said,

Parcel A is the plot of shipyard land where military housing used to stand before the land was transferred to the city in 2004. Lennar began grading and excavating operations on the site in 2006, which led to health complaints and a $500 million fine by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District  when it turned out that Lennar’s asbestos dust monitors had not been properly functioning and that regular dust mitigation measures had not been enforced.

“So, the community has been asking tough questions, because people have been sick,” Subra continued. “And this clearly shows that the agencies are trying to figure out how to message to the community and downplay the impact, and that Lennar was at the table.”

SLAM member and Bayview Organizing Project Organizer Jaron Browne concurred with Subra’s assessment of the email string.

‘This establishes a consistent pattern of communication right from the beginning,” Browne said. “It shows pressure in the agency to communicate in ways that are less negative.”

“The ones we have included are just examples of many, many more, “ Subra added, noting that the community-based agencies did not receive any attachments in their FOIA request, nor did they get copies of responses from Lennar to US EPA’s emails.

“You see this type of collusion fairly frequently but it’s usually limited to a person or two,” Subra continued. She notes that these emails relate to Parcel A, but two more shipyard parcels are scheduled for early release, and that the city’s Redevelopment Agency and Lennar would then take the parcels over.

“If this is how it’s going to go, but public health is being impacted, then it’s totally unacceptable,” Subra said.

Browne predicts that US EPA will issue a statement standing by its original statements around asbestos exposure at the site. “But we’ve asked a number of agencies and will be ccing our findings to US senators," Browne said.

The emails obtained through SLAM and E.H.S.’s  email request number in the thousands and can be viewed here, which is also the site where POWER has posted its concerns with the city’s environmental draft environmental impact report for Lennar’s shipyard development --concerns that led POWER to file a suit that will be heard in San Francisco’s Superior Court at 400 McAllister Street at 10 a.m. on Thursday March 24.

“The emails are a separate issue from the lawsuit, but what unites then is that the Bayview community is really organizing,” Browne said. “The EPA recognizes that the Bayview is an environmental justice community, and what cuts across all these issues, whether they are at Parcel A or over the EIR [for Lennar’s massive shipyard-Candlestick development] is that we see the same pattern of behavior in which they dismiss the community’s concerns.”

Browne says POWER’s issue with the EIR was that it did not address toxic contamination at the shipyard.
‘The city says that’s the Navy’s concern, but CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act] requires you to explain what’s there and, if there’s a negative impact on health, how to address it. But the Navy can’t answer that question yet, and therefore it’s premature to approve the EIR.”

Calls to US EPA were not returned today, but we’ll be sure to post their reply here, so stay tuned...