Asbestos probe: No conspiracy
Activists convinced that the Hunters Point Shipyard development is a threat to the health of its neighbors have lost another battle with the government.
An investigation by the FBI and the inspector general of the federal Environmental Protection Agency found “no evidence that an EPA employee conspired with the (San Francisco Department of Public Health) and Lennar Corp. to conceal asbestos exposure at the … site,” a summary of the report, released earlier this month, states. The inspector general “recommended no further action and now considers this matter closed.”
The dispute over asbestos exposure began
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almost as soon as Lennar, the developer for the huge project that will drop an entirely new city neighborhood on the former shipyard site, began doing preliminary grading work in 2006.
The excavation work released asbestos from the soil, which neighborhood groups said caused nosebleeds, headaches, rashes and other health problems for Bayview-hunters Point residents.
Although Lennar was fined more than $500,000 in 2008 for improperly calibrating asbestos-monitoring equipment, the developer has denied there was ever any health risk.
In March 2011, a group of environmental activists calling themselves SLAM, for Stop Lennar Action Movement, charged that more than 2,000 e-mails obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act showed that Lennar, the EPA and the city Health Department conspired to downplay and bury any evidence of a health risk from the asbestos.
The investigation into the claim began in August, more than a year after the city approved the shipyard project. The FBI interviewed people from the EPA, the Health Department and Iris Environmental, a consultant for Lennar. There also was a scientific review of the e-mails, including one which SLAM cited as evidence of a criminal conspiracy.
Investigators found “no effort to hide, misrepresent or cover-up asbestos monitoring results,” and suggested that activists had taken the most damning e-mail out of context. Protecting a landmark: Supervisor David Chiu said he will call a public hearing to assess the state of Coit Tower, the Telegraph Hill landmark whose worsening condition is the subject of a June ballot measure.
“We all care deeply about the future of Coit Tower,” said Chiu, whose district includes the tower. “I’ve asked Rec and Park and the Arts Commission to take real action now to address these issues. I’m happy to call for a hearing to review what city agencies are doing.”
The Recreation and Park Department oversees Coit Tower, while the Arts Commission is responsible for the Great Depression-era murals that line its walls. Chiu’s plan for a hearing comes in part because the art is deteriorating and damaged in some places.
Jon Golinger, president of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, says the city seems more concerned with profiting off the tower than preserving it. As he recently noted, a private dinner party was held next to the tower’s murals last spring. His ballot measure calls for limiting such events there.
That move has been greeted with skepticism by the Recreation and Park Department, which oversees the tower’s operations and wants a new vendor to host private functions to pull in more money for the agency. The Arts Commission also wants money to repair the murals.