Air pollution in Bayview Hunters Point


"I would not be adverse to saying the environment is a smoking gun. Certainly there's evidence air pollution makes asthma and heart failure worse." - Kevin Grumbach, M.D., UCSF researcher

In June of 1997, Dr. Kevin Grumbach from the University of California at San Francisco, and Dr. Tomas Aragon of the city Health Department analyzed records from 1991 and 1992 and found that hospitalization rates for asthma, emphysema and congestive heart failure in Bayview Hunters Point were 138 per 10,000 compared to a statewide average of 37 per 10,000. Rates for hospitalization and premature death for children were found to be markedly higher in Bayview Hunters Point. Grumbach noted BVHP contains four times as many toxins as any other city neighborhood, had 700 hazardous waste material facilities, 325 underground petroleum storage tanks and two Superfund sites, including the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

Grumbach stated in a June 9, 1997, Chronicle article, "Residents have reason to be concerned about the effect the environment is having on their health," that of 39 pollutants measured by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in San Francisco neighborhoods, the highest concentrations - 20 pollutants - were found in Bayview Hunters Point.

In 1999, the Bayview Hunters Point Health and Environmental Assessment Task Force conducted a population based community survey of 249 households in Bayview Hunters Point. The survey defined active asthma as wheezing in the previous 12 months with a diagnosis of asthma. It found that asthma prevalence was 16 percent among children, highest among African-Americans and lowest among Asian/ Pacific Islanders. Prevalence was also greater among those with annual incomes less than $30,000.

The California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development analyzes hospitalization rates for conditions for which effective outpatient care can reduce hospitalization risks. Hospital discharge data from 1999-2000 for adult and pediatric asthma found an incidence of 851 per 100,000 in Bayview Hunters Point, the highest rate in San Francisco.

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found in a 2001 California Health Interview Survey that the 330,000 Californians who visit emergency rooms each year for asthma are twice as likely to be children and adults from low-income families, with African-American and Latino children predominating.

In 2007, Health Director Mitchell Katz, M.D., distributed an unsigned and undated "Fact sheet about construction dust from the Parcel A Hunters Point Shipyard development."

Bowing to political, legal and financial pressure, Katz stated falsely, "Air quality in the neighborhood near the shipyard is better than other parts of the neighborhood and the city and many portions of the State of California." Additionally, Katz made a Power Point presentation at a July 9, 2007, hearing of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee and provided false and unethical testimony to an October 2007 hearing of the Board of Education that "dust exposure does not cause asthma."

That same month, Katz testified to the Board of Supervisors in support of the siting of three combustion turbine power plants in southeastern San Francisco.

According to data from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District included in the document "Environmental Impact on the Community: Air Pollution in Bayview Hunters Point," the 94124 zip code ranks in the 80th percentile for particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. It ranks in the 90th percentile for sulfur dioxide. According to the BAAQMD's air quality report card titled "State of the Air 2007," particle pollution from grading, excavation and construction is a mix of very tiny solid and liquid particulates.

Health researchers from the American Lung Association of California say particulates can "shorten lives, contribute to heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks and interfere with the growth and work of the lungs." Numerous studies link high particle levels to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits and even to death from heart or lung diseases, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to Seth Shonwald, M.D., author of "Medical Toxicology," occupational asthma is the variable airway narrowing that results from exposure to dusts, fumes or vapors in the workplace environment.

The U.S. EPA Office of Air and Radiation's pamphlet, "Particle Pollution and Your Health," identifies airborne particles as the main ingredient in haze, smoke and airborne dust. Particle pollution, or particulate matter, is a mixture of microscopic solids and liquid droplets suspended in air. Particulate matter is made of a number of components, including acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles and allergens.

The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems because they can get deep into your lungs and enter your bloodstream to affect your heart.

Short term exposure to particles can, within hours or days, aggravate lung disease, cause asthma attacks and acute bronchitis and may increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. In people with heart disease, short-term exposures have been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias.

In a 2006 report titled "Health Programs and Recommendations for Improving the Health of Bayview Hunters Point Residents," Katz identified Department of Public Health activities to "improve" environmental quality in BVHP including "mapping noise and air quality for better land use and supporting a citywide project to safely locate new electricity generating units."

According to the "Eastern Neighborhoods Community Health Impact Assessment," September 2007, "Mirant's Potrero Power Plant located in Potrero Hill is the single largest point source pollution site in San Francisco." Diesel engines were also identified as significant contributors to air pollution. The Mirant Power Plant has three dirty diesel turbines that generate only 3 percent of its electrical output.

Shutting down these three diesel turbines would reduce air pollution to levels similar to those projected by the proposal to site three combustion turbine "peaker" plants in southeast San Francisco. Implementing citywide renewable energy programs from solar and wind sources is projected as a proposal to close the Mirant Power Plant in the next three years.

The Southeast Sewage Treatment Plant is the second largest stationary source of air pollution in San Francisco. In correspondence sent on Aug. 30, 2006, to the Law Offices of Masry & Vititoe - the former law firm of Erin Brockovich - Roland Sheppard wrote: "For the past 30 years, the stench from this sewage plant has been a permanent part of the community. To make matters worse, during heavy rains, sewage flows into the streets of Bayview Hunters Point, overflows the Southeast Treatment plant and is released, with deadly chloramine and other chemicals, into Islais Creek and San Francisco Bay.

"Federal law under Title 40 S 503.24 states, ‘The run-off collection system for an active sewage sludge unit shall have the capacity to handle run-off from a 24 hour, 25 year storm event.' This violation of law has been on-going since the plant was ‘upgraded' in the 1970s."

Air pollution from moving vehicles, including ships and aircraft, is the major source of toxic and hazardous air contaminants in industrialized society. The exhaust from diesel trucks contains toxins which play a major role in damage to human health and the environment.

A program designed to install pollution reducing technology on diesel trucks and buses can effectively reduce diesel exhaust in southeast San Francisco. Diesel engines can be retrofitted with oxidation catalysts. Pollution control equipment provides an 85 percent reduction in particulate matter emissions and a 25 percent reduction in nitrous oxide, according to the California Air Resources Board.

According to Earl Hutchinson, author of "Toxic Air in Black America," the Centers for Disease Control warn, "Blacks are more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher air pollution levels and suffer higher levels of respiratory ailments than whites." An Associated Press survey of government data found that in 19 states, Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to live in neighborhoods where pollution poses a severe health hazard.

Hutchinson concludes, "Black residents in some cities have screamed just as loudly as white, middle class homeowners and urban conservationists about hacked up parkland, toxic dump sites, waste incinerators, garbage dumps, recycling centers, contaminated sewage sites and power plants in their backyard. They label this racially warped policy, ‘PIBBY,' or ‘put it in Blacks' back yards!'"