Plaintiffs in Hunters Point suit demand Mayor Breed, Supervisor Cohen take action

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SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen agreed to 
an impromptu meeting today with a group of residents who are suing Tetra Tech, alleging it put their lives at risk by falsifying data from contaminated soil samples from a former Naval shipyard where the residents now live. 

The residents, who are all plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed on their behalf in May by attorney Charles Bonner, arrived at City Hall this morning and demanded to speak with Mayor London Breed and Cohen.

According to activist and former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown, who's involved in helping the group organize, the residents had unsuccessfully been trying for weeks to arrange a meeting with the two city leaders.

The group is demanding that Breed and Cohen lead the effort in allocating city funds for testing of all of the shipyard soil by certified environmental scientists approved by the neighborhood's residents; allocate city funds to test all of the area's residents for cancer and other diseases caused by radiation; and advocate for a Board of Supervisors vote to stop all development at the shipyard until all the soil has been certified remediated.

Several of the plaintiffs, who met at City Hall today, say they and their loved ones have been suffering from several diseases.

"I'm here because I am fearful for my life and my child's life," said Alamelu Aro, a Hunters Point resident since 2013. 

Aro says she and her child both suffer from severe asthma, which developed shortly after moving to the area.

"Rightfully, we just want to talk to the supervisors, the people who we voted to represent us... so we can ensure that our children are safe."

Lifelong Hunters Point resident Yunina Graham said she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2011. She says she doesn't exactly know what caused it, but said, "My understanding is there is no known place that multiple myeloma comes from, but the environment is a definite contributor to the disease," she said.

"I want them (the city) to pay for the testing and allow us to choose who does the testing," she said.

After being told this morning they had to schedule a meeting with Breed, the group walked into a Supervisors' Budget and Finance Committee meeting, where Cohen is a chair.

Following a tense, informal discussion with the residents in the chambers, Cohen eventually agreed to meet with them this afternoon.

According to Cohen aide Brittni Chicuata, the meeting lasted about 15 minutes and Cohen listened as the group made their demands.

"Supervisor Cohen just wanted to make sure everyone was heard," Chicuata said, adding that the group had "expressed their fears about the health and livability in their neighborhood."

Brown, however, said she felt as if Cohen wasn't responsive to the 
residents' demands.

"This is a deadly issue, it isn't some little protest," Brown said. "It's an ongoing horror, that will probably go down as one of the greatest environmental disasters in the country."

The lawsuit is representing the more than 40,000 residents of San Francisco's Bayview and Hunters Point neighborhoods and accuses Tetra Tech EC of "blatant, conscious, callous disregard of Bayview Hunters Point residents' lives, born and unborn" and "unfair and fraudulent business practices." 

The suit is seeking $27 billion in damages.

Two former Tetra Tech employees Stephen Rolfe and Jason Hubbard, who each pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco earlier this year to one count of falsification of records, are named as defendants in the suit.

Hubbard was sentenced in January to eight months in prison, while Rolfe was sentenced in May to eight months in prison. Both cases were kept under seal until after Rolfe was sentenced.

Following a hearing in May, Cohen announced that the Navy agreed to retest the soil in Parcel A at the former shipyard for hazardous materials. The retesting, which began on July 16, is being paid for by the Navy.

But another lawsuit was filed Wednesday by residents of a new residential neighborhood at Hunters Point, called The San Francisco Shipyard, which was built on Parcel A. 

The residents are suing Tetra Tech as well as Lennar, Five Point Holdings and certain company executives.

The lawsuit alleges that homeowners were duped into buying homes on contaminated land and that Tetra Tech and Lennar marketed the residential development to the prospective buyers as clean and safe.

"We can no longer sit back and allow greed and corruption to loom over our community. We refuse to accept mediocrity when it comes to our health and livelihood," plaintiffs Theo Ellington, a San Francisco Human Rights Commissioner, and his wife Victoria Ellington, said in a statement. 

"Our community has experienced yet another broken promise. The one time dream of a vibrant neighborhood with thousands of new homes and an abundance of amenities is now deferred because of irresponsible corporations."

Plaintiffs Linda Parker Pennington and her husband Greg said in a statement "no one has ever knocked on our door to ask to test our home or take a soil sample from the ground surrounding it-instead, the re-testing this past week literally consisted of a golf cart being driven over areas already covered in asphalt. Seeing that did not make me confident in the accuracy of results."

Anne Marie Murphy, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, "Residents bought into the dream that defendants were selling and now they are held hostage, raising their families in a toxic brew of radiation and chemicals."

The suit alleges that defendant Lennar Inc., with its affiliate FivePoint Holdings, Inc., developed and sold about 350 homes on Parcel A for about $1 million each.

Separately today, the organization Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice filed an administrative petition with the California Department of Public Health's Radiological Branch to revoke Tetra Tech's California Radiological Material License.

According to the group, Tetra Tech should have its license revoked because it committed massive radiological fraud in the remediation of the decommissioned shipyard. 

"The more we learn, the clearer it is Tetra Tech can't be trusted to do radiation work and its federal and state licenses should be revoked," Steve Castleman, attorney with the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic of the Golden Gate University School of Law, said in a statement.

The site in southeast San Francisco was exposed to radiation when it was used between 1946 and 1969 as a radiological defense laboratory by the Navy to study the effects of radiation on animals and materials and to decontaminate ships used in atomic bomb testing. In 1974, however, the 500-acre former Navy shipyard in Hunters Point was decommissioned and closed as a Navy facility and slated for housing, office and industrial development.

The U.S. Navy contracted with Pasadena-based Tetra Tech to clean up the radiation in 2002, paying Tetra Tech $1 billion for the job. However, in 2012, former workers contracted by Tetra Tech claimed that data on the firm's cleanup had been falsified and manipulated in order to minimize evidence of soil contamination, according to the environmental watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

In September 2017, the Navy made public a preliminary analysis of the cleanup specifically at two of the site's numerous parcels and determined that nearly half of the samples taken from the site had in fact been falsified or manipulated. 

In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with other state agencies, independently reviewed the Navy's report and found further signs of potential falsification, manipulation and data quality concerns. The agencies recommended resampling most of Parcel B and most of 
Parcel G.

Tetra Tech has vehemently denied that it falsified soil samples and has offered to pay for retesting.

"Tetra Tech EC is aware of a lawsuit filed by attorney Charles Bonner... citing health problems spanning decades allegedly related to the nearby Hunters Point Naval Shipyard," Sam Singer with Singer and Associates, the communications firm representing Tetra Tech, said earlier this month.

"Tetra Tech is confident that the nearby residents... will see that these accusations against Tetra Tech are without merit and will understand that the radiological testing and cleanup work that Tetra Tech EC 
performed over 15 years ago at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard was done with integrity, under constant supervision by the U.S. Navy," Singer said in a statement.

Singer said representatives with the Navy, EPA and the San Francisco Department of Public Health have expressed that the site poses no health or safety risks to the area's residents.