Mike Koozmin/2012 S.F. Examiner file photoParts of the Marina have been contaminated by PG&E’s toxic chemicals

SF Bay herring fishermen sue PG&E over claims of contamination

More than 50 acres of residential and tourist areas in San Francisco have been contaminated by toxic chemicals from former PG&E refineries that operated along the northern waterfront more than a century ago, a federal complaint alleges.

The complaint filed on behalf of the San Francisco Herring Association, a group of about 50 commercial herring fisherman, and a Marina property owner against PG&E on Tuesday in U.S. District Court additionally charges that the utility giant hasn't adequately addressed the contaminants over the decades.

“PG&E [is] not stepping up to meeting its responsibilities,” said Stuart Gross, counsel for the plaintiffs. “There are very significant pockets of contamination which PG&E has intentionally omitted any investigation of.”

The complaint, a precursor to a lawsuit, alleges PG&E dumped massive quantities of toxic chemicals, known as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons, from three manufactured gas plants in the late 1800s and early 1900s into what is now the Marina and Fisherman's Wharf.

In addition to the contamination of The City's northern land, large swaths of herring spawning habitat in the Bay have been affected by the chemicals, the complaint claims.

Poly-aromatic hydrocarbons are highly toxic to marine life. The damage of such chemicals to herring was first noted following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, and reportedly found in the Bay Area for the first time following the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill.

“Testing after the Cosco Busan established conclusively that exposure to even small amounts of poly-aromatic hydrocarbons virtually ensures that the fertilized herring egg or larvae will die,” Gross said.

The herring fishermen are not seeking financial damages, but rather a “full investigation of where this contamination is and that it is cleaned up,” Gross said.

Additionally, a Marina property owner whose home is “in the footprint” of one of the former refineries is named as a plaintiff, Gross said.

“Test results show that his property is highly contaminated,” Gross claimed. “PG&E has refused to do [the] testing and remediation that he's requested.”

PG&E, however, says it has made a significant effort to clean up the areas affected by the manufactured gas plants, as well as communicate with residents about the process.

In 2010, PG&E began a voluntary program to test for residues from manufactured gas plants in San Francisco, PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said. To date, the company has tested 23 properties in The City and completed remediation of six properties.

“We've been engaged with the residents in the Marina for many, many years and we continue to engage them regularly through meetings and [other] regular communication with them,” Smith said.

Smith said PG&E is aware of the complaint and is “in the process of reviewing the litigation.”

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