Dust problem clouds future of Hunters Pt. project

A major construction project under way in one of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhoods may be forced to stop temporarily after neighbors charged the contractor was unsafely handling asbestos-laden dust.

The redevelopment of Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard came under attack Monday at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee. Activists and neighborhood residents charged that, during more than a year of ground excavation in preparation for 1,600 new residential housing units on 93 acres, subcontractors for Lennar Corp. failed to adequately monitor and prevent the dust from blowing into the surrounding neighborhood.

The hearing came just two weeks after Supervisor Chris Daly introduced legislation calling for a temporary halt of the work while an independent entity assesses health problems that may have arisen from the dust.

Some residents say they don’t trust the Department of Public Health, which they claim has failed to enforce The City’s dust abatement regulations and has not recognized that community health problems such as asthma might be caused by the dust.

Dr. Mitch Katz, head of the DPH, said even a hypothetical “worst-case scenario,” including high dust levels propelled by strong winds, “was not a dangerous scenario.” He said at its worst, the dust may cause short-term irritations, but it has not been shown to cause long-term health problems.

DPH environmental engineer Amy Brownell said Monday that Lennar subcontractor Gordon Ball had been cited three times for improperly allowing dust to drift across the border of the construction site, but has since come into compliance with regulations.

Minister Christopher Muhammed, who heads the nearby Muhammed University of Islam, called for an independent verification of the health department’s assertion that the dust doesn’t pose a long-term health risk.

Lennar spokesman Sam Singer cited the health department’s finding that the dust is not dangerous. “We enjoy a close and good relationship with the people of Bayview Hunters Point,” he said.

amartin@examiner.com

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