The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has announced that Recology must cease operations at its unpermitted construction-debris-crushing site on Pier 94, the existence of which was long a sore point in the Bayview Hunters Point community.
The move, said BAAQMD executive officer Philip Fine, was “a clear demonstration of the Air District’s commitment to protect the health and wellbeing of Bayview Hunters Point residents.”
District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton said that his office has been “pushing the Air District and Recology to address this site for quite some time,” and that it’s a relief that closure is imminent.
The Air District made the announcement last week that it would mandate the closure of the “inert debris recycling facility” on the 700 block of Amador Way, along the water’s edge in Bayview Hunters Point, by December. “Inert debris” includes construction site waste: Steel, wood, drywall, plaster, brick, clay tile, asphalt and concrete.
According to Dr. James Dahlgren, a physician working with Bayview resident Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai’s Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program, any plant that crushes cement releases three Class 1 human carcinogens: Asbestos, crystalline silica and chrome 6.
“These are chemicals proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to cause cancer in human beings,” said Dahlgren, ticking off a list of complications experienced by residents due to pervasive heavy industry. “That whole area is a major cause of ill health, cancer, asthma, disease.”
For reasons that are unclear, the site was never permitted, yet was allowed to operate for 14 years.
“My question is: Why so long?” asked Kamillah Ealom, a Bayview Hunters Point native and organizer with Greenaction for Environmental Justice.
On most maps, the Recology site doesn’t even show up at Pier 94, which sits alongside scenic Heron’s Head Park, a destination for kids and birdwatchers.
That’s because the trash giant is only permitted to operate out of neighboring Pier 96, AKA Recycle Central, where every day about 750 tons of San Francisco’s paper, metals and glass gets sorted and shipped to manufacturers for reuse.
The Pier 94 site, known as Sustainable Crushing, has been operating without permits for years, said Arieann Harrison, founder of the Marie Harrison Community Foundation and Bayview Hunters Point native. She is also the daughter of Marie Harrison, a renowned environmental advocate for the district who died in 2019 of lung disease related to the neighborhood’s contaminated air.
“Recology’s been a problem since 2009, but we really started going hard on them in 2019. What we found out is all these concrete crushing factories surrounded us like a circle of dust — and a bunch of them had no permit to be operating.”
Air quality for the 40,000-odd residents in the 94124 zip code has long been problematic. The historically Black Bayview Hunters Point boasts arguably the best views in the city, and a rich history that has influenced Bay Area culture for decades, but has been the target of environmental harm since the Navy took up lodging on the shoreline in the 1940s.
Though demographics are changing due to gentrification, health outcomes in the community are not. Asthma rates in 94124 are 3 times the citywide average, and 96 percent higher than anywhere else in California — and this number is just based on reported hospitalizations for asthma attacks.
Between the 101 and 280 freeways, the Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant and approximately a third of all Brownfield Sites in the city, residents are being literally choked out.
“This is a plan of elimination, as far as I’m concerned,” said Harrison referring to the concentration of heavy industry and lack of enforcement around pollution in the district.
In February, Harrison’s organization helped petition lawmakers to add Bayview Hunters Point to the statewide Community Air Protection Program under AB 617, which regulates air pollution in impacted communities.
The process of shutting the site down is likely to churn up as much dust as its operations. So, the Air District has laid down strict guidelines for closure, including watering down debris and roads, a 5 mph limit on trucks, and street sweeping the area several hours a day, Monday through Friday.
Fine, formerly of the Environmental Protection Agency, started his job in February, replacing longtime director Jack Broadbent. The former director “was really good at kicking the can down the road,” said Harrison.
“We see people; they see numbers and liability. The air district is trying to make amends and do things differently this season,” she said. Her organization played a major part in securing closure of the site at Pier 94.
The Air District and Recology have yet to follow up with Mission Local’s questions regarding permitting and site closure.
Dahlgren commended the Air District for intervening in Recology’s operations, but was frustrated that “the only reason they’re closing the plant is because they don’t have a permit” — not because of toxic materials being spewed into the neighborhood.
Michelle Pierce, executive director of Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates, an organization that has long pushed for the closure of the plant, pointed out the high risk for residents living near or on Amador.
“The plant is next to people’s houses, senior care centers, daycares, churches, unhoused people. It’s always concentrated in neighborhoods like ours.”
Pierce stated that there are several polluting companies on Amador Street, aside from Recology: CEMEX, Hanson Aggregates, Central Concrete and Darling Ingredients, a rendering plant.
The Air District supplied Bayview Hunters Point with air monitors managed by Greenaction, but the hardware is having some issues that have resulted in unclear readings. Ealom and others got ahold of portable air monitors for their homes, which are “giving us numbers off the roof” of particulate matter.
These air monitors only account for PM2.5 and PM10, which is the thick dust from businesses and traffic that residents inhale. They don’t measure exactly what chemicals are being released into the air.
Ealom expressed gratitude for the direction the Air District is headed, but there’s work to do. “We are dying while waiting for the Air District and Environmental Protection Agency to implement effective solutions,” she said. “We’re forced to take matters into our own hands.”
Pier 94’s closure, she said, is a result of the “hellraising” of residents and local organizations.
The next community meeting regarding air in Bayview Hunters Point is April 19. Anyone interested in joining can email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the mailing list.
Update, March 30, 4 p.m.:Robert Reed, Recology’s press contact, responded to Mission Local’s questions, stating that operations at the Pier 94 facility started in 2009 and “ceased crushing operations” in 2021, claiming that “economics and regulatory changes have led to the decision to close the facility permanently.”