New legal challenge revives ‘huge war’ over Hunters Point’s toxic legacy

Marie Harrison warned for years that the Hunters Point shipyard where she once worked on San Francisco’s southeastern edge was a slow-motion public health disaster.

Parts of the former Navy shipyard were contaminated during the Cold War by fallout from ships brought there after atomic-bomb tests. It’s a toxic legacy that left residents like Harrison, the mother of Bayview-Hunters Point’s environmental justice movement, to wonder if it might be connected to neighbors’ nosebleeds, breathing problems and tumors.

The Navy and public health officials long denied any links, and Harrison’s challenges ended abruptly two years ago, when she died of lung disease. Then, last year, her neighborhood became San Francisco’s COVID-19 epicenter.

Today, Harrison’s daughter Arieann sees the community at a new crossroads with construction back under way on 12,000 new homes planned for the shipyard and neighboring Candlestick Park. It’s dredged up familiar concerns about toxic land, accelerating gentrification and stark health inequities — and in the process, revived Harrison’s sense of activism.

“There is simultaneously a huge war with the housing and environmental issues,” Arieann Harrison said. “They’re colliding.”

Late Thursday night, attorneys for the younger Harrison and 9,000 other Bayview-Hunters Point residents who are part of a class-action lawsuit asked a judge to halt construction at the former shipyard, unless multibillion-dollar developer Lennar Corporation and offshoot FivePoint Holdings can prove that they’re controlling the release of toxic materials as required by state law.

Lennar declined to comment on the legal challenge, which a federal judge will consider in a hearing scheduled for July 29. In a statement, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Public Health said the department didn’t “believe it necessary to halt construction” for additional dust monitoring, since all work at the site must already comply with health codes requiring daily dust control and monitoring.

What happens next in the decades-old development battle, which has already spawned a tangled web of lawsuits, could help shape the Bay Area’s next chapter. Hunters Point is…

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Ahimsa Porter Sumchai MD - PoliticoMD!

Golden State MD, Author, Researcher, Nutritionist and... PoliticoMD!