Pollution fears stymie cleanup

A clash between two environmental agencies about how to remove the ash and rubble from the San Bruno neighborhood devastated by a deadly explosion could cause lengthy delays in cleanup efforts.

The fire, caused by a ruptured PG&E natural-gas line Sept. 9, ripped through the neighborhood, destroying 38 homes and burning toxic materials such as paint cans, batteries and vehicle oil.

The California Department of Toxic Substance Control has already surveyed the area and removed obvious pieces of waste, but the majority of the rubble and ash remains.</p>

San Mateo County officials have set a goal of Oct. 15 — the official beginning of the rainy season — to remove it. But, that may not be possible, said Dean Peterson, director of the county’s environmental health division, which is leading the cleanup.

At issue is whether the remaining debris contains toxic levels of asbestos. Peterson said testing revealed that the rubble isn’t contaminated and therefore shouldn’t be treated as hazardous.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, however, said federal regulations mandate that the material must either be treated as hazardous waste or extensively tested for asbestos.

Neither option would work for the county, Peterson said. He said disposing of all of the debris as hazardous waste would be cost prohibitive for the county, requiring it to hand off the project. That exchange would likely delay the cleanup past the Oct. 15 deadline, he said.

The other option, extensive testing, would probably delay it even longer — perhaps into November or December. That kind of lengthy delay could cause far more environmental problems, Peterson said.

“If we have even half of the rainy season we had last year, the debris could get into the waterways and the stream below the houses and the Bay would be contaminated and polluted. It would be a horrible, horrible situation,” he said.

The air district said it’s not requiring anything more than what’s standard for cleanup of disaster areas. Spokeswoman Kristine Roselius said the district is requiring the county to lightly spray the ash with water to keep it from becoming airborne, and place it in plastic-lined trash containers, which are then transported to a landfill.

“This is common practice, and it’s the law,” Roselius said.

Officials from CalRecycle, one of the state agencies working with the county on the cleanup, said they hope a compromise can be reached and the Oct. 15 deadline can still be met. Peterson said the agencies are now looking at a hybrid solution: treating some of the material as hazardous while testing the rest.

“We’re looking at how we can address the [air quality agency’s] concerns and still stay on target to complete the work by the Oct. 15,” he said.


Victims of San Bruno blast remembered


Hundreds of people packed the church at Saint Cecilia’s in San Francisco Thursday evening to honor and remember two of the victims of the San Bruno pipeline explosion.

The mourners in the standing-room-only crowd recited prayers in the traditional Catholic vigil and shared memories of Jacqueline Greig, 44, and her 13-old-daughter, Janessa.

The Greigs were two of the four people killed Sept. 9 after a 30-inch natural gas pipeline exploded behind the homes of their San Bruno neighborhood. Elizabeth Torres, 81, and 20-year-old Jessica Morales were also among the victims. Three people remain missing.

Jacqueline Greig was a member of the St. Cecilia School Mothers’ Club. Jacqueline’s older daughter, Gabriella, also attended school there with Janessa.

Vice Principal and 8th grade teacher Kathy Kays recalled Janessa’s smile and “spunky” nature. She said Janessa will be missed.

“We truly found a treasure in Janessa,” she said. “Saint Cecilia’s is a better place because of Janessa.”

While Jacqueline’s lifelong friends shared memories during the vigil of the “sisterhood” bond they shared and long phone conversations, members of Janessa’s dance troupe embraced in tears.

Ellie Lastra described Janessa as a good dancer who was always smiling.

“She was so positive,” the 12 year old said as she wiped away tears.

Lastra, along with Jazmin Gonzalez, 12, Sharrene Garibay, 11, and Briana Rodriguez, 16, hugged one another as they sobbed in Janessa’s memory. The girls did Latin dance together at Ballet Folklorico in South San Francisco.

Janessa’s classmate Timothy Chin, 13, said he could not believe Janessa was among the victims of the fire.

“I tried to think that just because she wouldn’t answer her phone, doesn’t mean it was her,” he said. “I hoped she was one who went to the evacuation centers.”

A funeral mass for the Griegs will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Saint Cecilia’s.

— Andrea Koskey

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