Residents claim project is health hazard

Asthma and nosebleeds have grown worse in recent years in the Hunters Point and Bayview neighborhoods, residents said at a rally Tuesday, with many blaming dust kicked up as heavy equipment was used to prepare parts of the former naval shipyard for new homes and parkland.

Lennar Corp., the developer of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, flattened soil at the first parcel to be developed from April 2006 until last month, according to spokesman Sam Singer. The development will eventually include around 4,000 new homes.

Lennar and several government agencies, including the San Francisco Department of Public Health, say the construction poses no health risks.

Vidrale Franklin, the principal at nearby Bret Harte Elementary School, said asthma and nosebleed rates among students have risen over the last two years. “It’s become almost normal for students to come in with really bad nosebleeds,” she said.

Construction dust builds up on cars and a vegetable patch at the school, Franklin said.

Absentee rates haven’t risen at the school, according to Franklin, but school district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said absenteeism has risen at one school near the construction site, though the cause is not known. Blythe was not able to say by press time which school had the increased rates.

Blythe said air tests conducted this summer at schools near the construction site hadn’t detected any asbestos, which causes cancer and occurs naturally in the soil there.

All seven Board of Education commissioners voted late last month to urge a temporary halt to construction and for an independent health and safety assessment to be conducted. The board has no jurisdiction over the development.

High school senior Octavio Solorzano attended a 40-person rally at City Hall on Tuesday that supported the resolution. He said he’d visited the emergency room seven times this year for asthma he previously only experienced in early summer.

Solorzano, 18, who lives near Lennar’s construction site, wore four medals he earned playing basketball — a sport he says he’s given up since he collapsed on the court in June. “They are literally poisoning us,” he told the rally.

UC San Francisco medicine professor John Balmes was hired by Lennar in August to assess residents’ health concerns. In a letter, Balmes said he reviewed data and reports and toured the construction site before concluding that “Lennar’s construction activities do not appear to present a significant long-term risk.”

The Department of Public Health has issued three warnings to the developer in 14 months for failing to properly monitor and control dust. The last warning came two months after the department assured the Board of Supervisors in a June memo that dust-control problems at the site “largely have been fixed.”

Environmental Health Director Rajiv Bhatia on Tuesday said that the department believes Lennar’s project has causedno significant health effects.

jupton@examiner.com

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