Hunters Point groups say Lennar, government hid asbestos risks

On Monday, representatives from community groups said government agencies colluded inappropriately with Lennar Corp. when investigating a cloud of asbestos kicked up in 2006 by contractors working on the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

In a tearful news conference, residents revealed what they believe are the most damning of about 2,000 emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official said the allegations are under investigation, but otherwise declined to comment.

Neighborhood advocates said correspondence between the EPA, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and Lennar shows a conspiracy to downplay health risks of the asbestos cloud they say caused nosebleeds, rashes and headaches for area residents.

A 2007 email to Public Health Department employees seems to allude to an effort to avoid doing analysis that might cause public outrage.

“It seems to me that the available facts are on our side, so we should stay away from trying to create more data,” wrote David Rizzolo, the department’s asbestos program manager. “More data might not help us. We can talk more about this directly.”

Lennar obtained part of the former shipyard in 2005 with the intention of building homes there. Following complaints about the dust cloud that resulted from grading work, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District fined Lennar $515,000 in 2008 after a worker failed to properly calibrate air-monitoring equipment.

But the district said there was no definitive health hazard, and community groups asked the EPA to do further review. In June, the agency said Lennar was doing what it could.

In a 2009 email to a Lennar consultant, EPA project manager Mark Ripperda discussed a meeting on the dust with district officials.

“I prefer to keep our message as simple as possible and stay away from health assessments and from shut-down days,” Ripperda wrote, referring to instances when contractors had to stop work due to district air-quality limits.

Lennar Urban President Kofi Bonner said residents should be assured that asbestos levels are not harmful, and that there was no attempt to misconstrue potential threats.

“Nothing in these emails suggests any data was hidden, altered or covered up,” Bonner said via email.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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