Federal and city officials announced Monday they would investigate new allegations that government staff colluded with developer Lennar Corp. to cover up health risks associated with the redevelopment of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the San Francisco Department of Public Health announced their investigations after Bayview neighborhood activists on Monday released emails from 2006 to 2009 in which officials asked the developer and its consultants to help draft public statements about the safety of dust kicked up by the controversial building project.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved much of the sprawling redevelopment plan last year after receiving assurances from federal and local officials that it was safe, despite toxic compounds, radioactive contamination and naturally occurring asbestos in swaths of the shuttered shipyard’s soil. A 75-acre outlying chunk of the project area was transferred to Lennar in 2005, but the construction of homes has not yet begun.
“I’m sure you will also want to change my wording on how I portray the problems, lack of monitors, etc.,” San Francisco Department of Public Health official Amy Brownell told Lennar employees in an Oct. 13, 2006 email while preparing for a safety-related presentation. “Go ahead and change any way you want. I may change some of it back but I’m willing to read your versions.”
Several months later, department official David Rizzolo told Brownell and another colleague that he did not want to obtain any more data on worker exposures to asbestos.
“It seems to me that the available facts are on our side, so we should stay away from trying to create more data,” Rizzolo wrote in the Jan. 19, 2007 email. “More data might not help us. We can talk more about this directly.”
The new allegations come on top of claims that former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration helped strip a state-administered environmental communications contract away from a local nonprofit that publicly criticized aspects of the redevelopment project.
More recent examples of alleged collusion with Lennar released Monday by the activists involved the federal government.
“I’m searching for a way to justify that the development is acceptable without getting into details of risk assessment,” EPA Region 9 Remedial Project Manager Mark Ripperda told a Lennar consultant in a Nov. 3, 2009 email regarding dust that was stirred up the developer’s grading operations. “I’m open to any written narrative or bullet list that you think might work.”
Work shutdowns occur when airborne asbestos levels at the construction site are unsafe. Lennar was fined $515,000 by air regulators in 2008 for engaging in practices that allowed dust to blanket surrounding neighborhoods.