Budget weighs on lead removal

The Recreation and Park Department knows that nearly 140 of its facilities are contaminated by lead, but it says a tight budget means it will be years before cleanup is completed.

City agencies are required by the Department of Public Health to remove lead from buildings constructed before 1978. Recreation and Park fell behind, and in 2003, the department was required to step up its efforts and report quarterly to the Board of Supervisors on its progress, said Karen Cohn, a children’s health manager at DPH.

At the same time, DPH lobbied for an annual allowance of $200,000 to help Recreation and Park continue cleanup. However, “$200,000 doesn’t really do anything,” Cohn said.

Since 1999, the department has slowly made progress, removing lead paint and other contamination at 149 sites — but it has another 136 to go.

Among those sites are many city landmarks, including the Palace of Fine Arts, the War Memorial Opera House, 16 public libraries and the 84-year-old Kezar Pavilion, according to a report from Recreation and Park General Manager Yomi Agunbiade.

Kezar alone — which the U.S. Department of Public Health investigated after reports that employees were getting sick and dying of cancer from asbestos and lead contamination — required the department’s entire 2007-08 lead-cleanup allotment, part of 2008-09’s and another $241,000 in department funds, spokesman Elton Pon said. Paint replacement and other cleanup is due to finish in November, Pon said.

Ten other sites slated for lead cleanup in 2007-08 remain on the back burner, according to Agunbiade’s report.

Roughly 15 to 20 Recreation and Park employees work at Kezar at any one time. The U.S. Department of Health and HumaN Services investigated the gymnasium and offices in 2007 after a handful of former employees died of cancer and two current ones were diagnosed, but found no evidence that the presence of lead and asbestos were the cause, according to a report from investigator Elena Page.

“We know there should not be any exposure to lead — there is no ‘normal level,’” said Cohn, whose office handles more than 400 cases of lead toxicity in local children each year.

In addition to city workers, Kezar hosts youth basketball practices and games, and is the current home of the Bay City Bombers Roller Derby.

The presence of lead in the building “is common knowledge,” Bay City Bombers general manager Jim Fitzpatrick said. “There’s no concern from us — they say everything is being taken care of.”

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

149: Sites where lead abatement is complete (1999-2008)

Examples:
Glen Park playground and recreation center
Duboce Park and Harvey Milk recreation center
South Sunset playground
Chinese recreation center
Golden Gate Park playgrounds

136: Sites where abatement is still needed

Examples:
Palace of Fine Arts and Exploratorium
War Memorial Opera House
Justin Herman Plaza
Fort Funston
Japanese Peace Plaza and Pagoda

Total sites: 285

Source: Recreation and Park Department

My Story

“I don’t think I would have inhaled more toxins in the few times I was in [Kezar] than in an average day. I’m just glad they’re doing something because it’s a beautiful building.”
Cosi Fabian, 61, dog walker, Ashbury Heights

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