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News + PoliticsThe air is bad all over the city. It's way worse in...

The air is bad all over the city. It’s way worse in Bayview Hunters Point

Add toxic chemicals and radioactive waste to the smoke and fog -- and it's been that way for years.


Although unhealthy air quality canceled the car parade to City Hall to Mayor Breed’s office, a small but devoted group of 30 Bayview Hunters Point residents and protestors gathered late in the morning on Tuesday at MLK Park to demand relief from the contaminated dust of superfund sites, concentrated commercial activity, and airways restricted by police.

“Enough is enough,” Sabrina Hall of Bayview Hunters Point Mothers and Fathers Committee said.  “I’m tired of our people begging for so many years. I demand you clean up. I demand you get air filters for all residents in Bayview while we are forced to shelter in place in contamination.”

Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai shows a whiteboard tracing toxic in the air.

The central demand of the eight-page letter to Mayor Breed, co-signed by BVHP Mothers and Fathers Committee, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice and San Francisco Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, is  to revisit the India Basin Mixed Use-Project “in light of  changed circumstances, namely 1) the global pandemic of COVID-19 and 2) the renewed calls to address institutional racism.”

“It (the India Mixed Use-Project) is creating forever air pollution,” Hall said. “On top of COVID related illnesses. On top of the fires. On top of the smog. On top of industrial pollution.”

“Stop selling out the Bayview. Defund the police to invest in wellness and health.”

Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai of the Bayview Hunters Point Biomonitoring Project spoke directly to the science behind that endangered health. 

“We are right now in the center of what I call a super superfund site,” Sumchai said. “The Hunters Point Shipyards is one of the most contaminated properties on the EPA’s National Priorities List.”

Sumchai noted that Bayview’s EPA hazard score is 80 overall and 100 for ground water migration. “What those numbers mean is there’s an 80 percent likelihood that sensitive receptors like swimmers using this pool, or kids in this playground, or patients in the health center just east of us would be subjected to contamination and exposure from the shipyard.”

Unlike wildfire smoke that we can smell, the well-documented radioactive contamination of the Bayview – and the fraud to cover and not clean it up – needs hard data to detect and verify. That’s why Sumchai started the Bayview Hunters Point Biomonitoring Project 18 months ago, a project that has already revealed an astonishing amount of contamination in San Francisco, with 35 different chemicals and radiological elements – all documented by the Navy as “chemicals of concern” used at the shipyards — found within 40 residents and workers in Bayview.

“The Navy denies that these chemicals are a result of shipyard contamination and exposure,” she said. “That’s kind of like denying a paternity suit when the baby looks just like you and the DNA test is positive.”

Sumchai held up two important props to the crowd: a thick binder in one hand and a large map of the Bayview on stiff whiteboard at her feet.

“In this document, the Navy studied clams and fish. And you know what the Navy found? Contamination in the mollusks and the fish around Parcel F sediment and the south basin shoreline. So it shouldn’t surprise the Navy that we’re also detecting chemicals of concern in residents and workers.”

“We’re the superior scientists. We’re doing biomonitoring on human beings.”

Sumchai directed the crowd’s attention to the whiteboard map of Bayview below her, studded with clusters of yellow pins (designating where unhealthy levels of Uranium were found in residents or workers), green (Cesium), blue (Gadolinium), black (Thallium), red (Rubidium) and white (Strontium.)

“You’re looking at history. Nowhere in the world – to the best of my knowledge –has anyone detected an aggregate of multiple elements with known radioactive isotopes in multiple screenings.”

Sumchai said she wants to see a toxic registry for Bayview, similar to the one established in Flint, Michigan, so those suffering the effects of poisoning can get funds for medical care, relocation and job reassignments.

Where Sumchai’s presentation offered the hard science, Leaotis Martin, co-coordinator of Bayview Hunters Point Mothers and Fathers Committee and Isha Clarke, co-founder of Youth Versus Apocalypse, presented the hard facts on the ground. Compared to the complicated testing of radioactivity or how to stop a billion-dollar mixed-use development in housing unit-strapped San Francisco, the solution to police brutality seemed much more simple: just stop it. 

“Some of them (police) have gotten away with so much, they figure they can keep doing what they’re doing and keep getting away with it,” Martin said.

“That’s why some of these police need to be prosecuted. They’ve been getting away with some things so long it comes natural now.” Martin also called for more training of police and better recruitment.

 “If you don’t care about the people of Bayview – which is disgusting and you should be ashamed of yourself — then think about your own future,” Clarke said.

“Justice at this point is about the survival of all human beings. Because the foundation of our country – white capitalism and white colonialism – is unsustainable. None of us will be able to live on this planet if we continue living in these systems.”

Clarke said the “most important act” is to defund the police and put the money into community resources like schools and health clinics and job development and mental health resources.

“Because if you want to be real, that’s actually what reduces crime because crime is a result of poverty and lack of jobs.”

“In short, defund police and invest in community. It’s the logical move.”

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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