In San Francisco’s most polluted neighborhood, polluters operate without a license, reports show


Raymond Tompkins thinks the high-efficiency air filters in his old, golden Mercedes are among the car’s best features. They trap dust and tiny pollution particles, and they’re equipped with activated carbon to help remove odors, an invaluable feature for a longtime resident of San Francisco’s most polluted neighborhood.

“You know, I’m supposed to be dead,” said Tompkins, 72. “Most black men don’t live that long here in Bayview. I go to a funeral every month.

Living in Bayview-Hunters Point, a mostly low-income and minority neighborhood in the city’s southeast, means brushing the dust away from the sand and asphalt hills piled up in industrial yards and ignoring the stench of a gas station. sewage treatment plant and an animal rendering plant next to their home and school.

A confluence of pollutants dominated the four-square-mile neighborhood for decades, and a state environmental scan identified the Bayview area as having the highest cumulative pollution load in the city.

State and local agencies should actively try to reduce pollution in Bayview, local advocates said. Instead, they continued to allow polluting facilities to operate there without final pollution permits.

On Bayview Piers 92 and 94, which border the San Francisco Bay, a concrete batching plant and two sand offloading facilities have operated for years without a final pollution permit from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, according to published reports. in 2017 and 2020 by Environmental Justice. Law Clinic at Golden Gate University Law School. The concrete plant is owned by CEMEX Construction Materials and the sand plant was sold by Hanson Aggregates Mid-Pacific to Martin Materials in November.

While the Air District was made aware of the alleged violations as early as 2017, it continued to delay enforcement action and allowed most factories to continue operating, saying they were working with the facilities on permit projects. .

But more than four years after the Air District contacted the facilities with notices of violation, those permits remain in the draft stage, while the facilities continue to operate.

“Under the Clean Air Act, if you don’t have a permit, you can’t pollute,” said Lucas Williams, associate professor of law at Golden Gate University and lawyer at the Legal Clinic. The Clean Air Act, the main federal air quality law enacted in 1963, requires that polluting facilities obtain permits from local air quality agencies in order to operate.

The Air District requires polluting facilities to submit completed permit applications within 90 days of notification by the Air District of a violation, otherwise they will be prevented from functioning – a rule the Air District does not enforce, according to the Air District. report.

Instead, the district allows “an extended period of back-and-forth” with the permit applicant when he does not submit enough information, according to the report. This long-standing practice results in permits that have been pending for years, while polluting installations are in operation in the meantime.

Ralph Borrmann, head of public information for the air district, said in an email that the agency had delayed progress on permits because “more information is still needed to better understand the impacts on the neighborhood.” The Air District will conduct an environmental review of the facilities to find out more, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970, he said.

“These projects took longer to assess than we would have liked,” Borrman said. “As the Air District has gone through this process, the rules, policies and priorities have changed resulting in some delay.”

He added that the air district “tries to collect fines in an amount that would deter future violations.”

The Aerial District filed a complaint with another concrete batching plant that violated its license, demanding a $ 75,000 fine from Central Concrete Supply. The district eventually settled with Central Concrete for $ 9,000. Recology, a recycling facility that operated a concrete crushing operation while waiting for a permit it applied for in 2016, closed the division after receiving a ticket in 2021.

The Bay Area Air District regulates stationary sources of air pollution in the nine Bay Area counties. For concrete and sand installations, the aerial district issues permits limiting the amount of flow, or raw material, that can be processed over a given period of time. The Air District also regulates the moisture content of processed materials — materials with a moisture content exceeding 5% are exempt from permit requirements.

However, the CEMEX concrete batching plant has “steadily” exceeded the unauthorized throughput amount of the Air District, processing up to five times more than its license limit of 60,000 tonnes, according to reports from the Legal Clinic.

The two Hanson sand and material handling facilities at Piers 92 and 94 have operated without a license since 2001. The facility at Pier 94 was initially exempt, but lost the exemption when the Air District discovered that the level d The humidity of its stocks was less than 5%.

CEMEX and Martin Marietta did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Residents are concerned about the health effects of operating these facilities near their homes and a few thousand feet from a Covid-19 emergency homeless shelter.

Concrete plants like those at Pier 92 and 94 emit types of fine particles called PM 2.5 and PM 10, the names referring to particles of 2.5 or 10 microns. These particles can stay in the atmosphere for weeks and reduce visibility. They can also be easily inhaled and enter the lungs, causing negative health effects including asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart attack, and premature death.

Bayview has some of the highest hospitalization rates and the most emergency room visits for asthma in the city, according to a 2016 study from the San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership.

Williams, the legal clinic’s staff attorney, said facilities operating without valid permits should be shut down in the meantime, instead of just getting a slap on the wrist in the form of fines. Lax enforcement on the part of the Air District is indicative of a more widespread trend and practice of failing to protect disadvantaged communities in the Bay Area, he said.

“At the end of the day, the district shouldn’t be putting more polluting facilities where there is already a ton of polluting facilities,” Williams said.

The Air District does not have the capacity to shut down these facilities: they would need a court order or the approval of a hearing panel to do so, said Simrun Dhoot, senior quality engineer at air at Air District, in an interview with Inside Climate News.

It is up to the air district whether or not to initiate legal action against an offender, said Dave Owen, professor of environmental law at the Hastings College of Law at the University of California at San Francisco. In this case, the Air District decided that a better solution than shutting down a facility was to work with the facility on a new permit, he said.

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But while the Air District cannot unilaterally make the decision to shut down operations, it could “at least take coercive action, and the threat of a shutdown order would likely cause facilities to take permits and licenses more seriously. pollution control, ”Owen said. .

“I think it’s a problem,” he added. “For industrial-scale transmitters, operating for years with draft permits and in a crowded community is not the way things are supposed to work. “


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