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Excavation and decontamination work at a former gas station at the corner of 16th Street and South Van Ness Avenue, where a developer wants to put up condominiums, was halted Friday night after the Department of Public Health determined that gas odors could be smelled throughout the vicinity.

The Local Oversight Program Division of the Department of Public Health posted a cease-and-desist letter Friday night at the construction site, which is near Marshall Elementary School.

“Excavation has become more extensive than expected under the approach remedial action plan,” reads the letter. “Petroleum hydrocarbon odors are smelled on and off site during excavation.”

The letter also summoned the developer to an abatement conference next week and stated that the company could face civil penalties. Health department staff could not be reached for comment.

JCN Developers, a San Francisco firm, wants to build a seven-story, 84-unit condominium complex on the site, formerly a gas station and auto repair shop.

On April 5, 2011, the developer obtained a permit to remove soil contaminated by underground gasoline tanks that had already been removed. While this was underway, some nearby residents said they began to smell bad odors.

Erwin O’Toole, the project manager at the site, said it’s possible that the excavation has created the odors, but “there is no indication that it is harmful.”

He added that his company, Granite Excavation and Demolition Inc., monitors the sites at all times and no harmful toxins have been detected.

Since excavation began last year, however, neighbors said they have complained to the city about the smell. One neighbor was concerned enough to call 911, a resident near the site told Mission Loc@l.

Javier Lopez, who works across the street at a flower shop, said he had some mild headaches last week because of the gasoline-like odor.

“What’s going to happen if someone lights up a cigarette?” he asked.

Marc Solomon, a nearby neighbor who is opposed to the development, told Mission Loc@l in an email that there have been strong benzene odors throughout the neighborhood.

“They are finding hot spots of benzene and gasoline there, and whenever they hit one it really stinks the neighborhood up,” he said. “Benzene is carcinogenic, leading to leukemia.”

Solomon’s main concern is that children at Marshall Elementary School will be exposed to the toxins.

Brett Cline, who lives directly across the street, said the smell was strong a couple of months back, but he has not smelled anything since.

“It was for a couple hours; if it had smelled for a couple days, I would have been more concerned,” he said.

The Health Department’s action is the second setback for the development. Last year the site’s environmental review was put on hold temporarily because the contractor failed to reply to a request for additional information from the San Francisco Planning Department.