When we discuss environmental injustices, we often talk about places far from us. Little did we know, there is a Superfund waste site right in our backyards. A Superfund site is an area that has been contaminated by hazardous materials and must be cleaned up, for it poses risks to human health and the environment; determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Bayview-Hunters Point (BVHP) is a historically black community with high rates of poverty, asthma, cancer, and other health problems. It is located only 6 miles from USF. According to the SF Chronicle in an article titled “Working in a wasteland” by Jason Fagone and Cynthia Dizikes in 2018, the BVHP Superfund site is considered to be one of the “most contaminated places in the country, tainted by radioactivity, heavy metals, and other pollution.”

In 1946, the U.S. Navy performed various atomic tests in which bombs were detonated underwater, and radioactive waste was carelessly dumped into the San Francisco bay and basins surrounding BVHP. Tests were conducted to find out how living beings would be affected by radioactive contamination. The results astonished U.S. officials and the Navy, and with this information, they started conducting cleanup efforts in the bay with the hopes of bettering the health of the people. Unfortunately, their efforts were not successful, for at this point, the people had been affected. Men tested showed a 31% increase in lung cancer rates, while women experienced a higher chance of getting breast cancer (San Francisco Department of Public Health).However, even with this information at hand, U.S. officials still sent the most contaminated ships after the tests, to the BVHP shipyard, further polluting the community. 

Proper tests were not conducted in the area, so a third-party company, Tetra Tech, was hired by the U.S. EPA to rightfully conduct tests of the contaminated area of BVHP. During Tetra Tech’s testing, company workers came forward stating that Tetra Tech had been “violating safety standards to save money and make the site appear clean when it wasn’t” (Fagone & Dizikes, 2018). In 2018, after years of Tetra Tech denying these accusations, former Tetra Tech supervisors were sentenced to federal prison after admitting to the falsification of records and swapped soil samples (Fagone & Dizikes, 2018). 

In 2018, the U.S. Navy also finally admitted that Tetra Tech had falsified records and lied to the people about the cleanliness and safety of BVHP (Larsen, and Waxmann). It turns out that 90% of BVHP was not sampled, and of the 10% that was, the data had been falsified. The residents of BVHP were reassured that they had nothing to worry about, but alas, that was all a lie. 

Today, BVHP has yet to be retested for contamination, but the effects of the toxins continue to affect the residents. High rates of asthma and cancer plague the community. Instead of cleaning up, the U.S. Navy decided to place “durable covers on top of the contaminated soil” (Fagone & Dizikes, 2019). This was only a band-aid fix for a problem that ultimately requires proper cleanup efforts to remove the toxins from the land. 

Though the U.S. Navy plans to conduct retests of the area, they plan on transferring pieces of the federally owned land to the City and County of San Francisco for development once the testing is complete. According to an article titled “More housing approved for Hunters Point despite contamination concerns” in the San Francisco Examiner by Laura Waxmann, construction in BVHP is expected to begin in 2020. Even though the land continues to be contaminated, development for new housing will move forward. BVHP exemplifies the lack of concern for contaminated communities and the people of color who live there. This is not just an environmental injustice, it is also an example of environmental racism (Larsen). 

Today, organizations like Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice and Literacy for Environmental Justice are working closely with the BVHP community to give them a platform to have the community’s demands heard and met. On Tuesday, September 17, 2019, a protest was held by Greenaction at City Hall to address the injustices that the City and County of San Francisco has allowed to happen, to keep the city accountable in meeting the demands of the community, and to remind City Hall of the class action lawsuit against Tetra Tech for misleading the community. 

Although it may seem impossible for college students like us to fix this issue, there are many ways in which we can help:

  • Get involved in the community 
  • Have discussions about these issues (having a conversation about it raises awareness)
  • Volunteer with local grassroots organizations
    • Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice 
    • Literacy for Environmental Justice
    • Bayview Hunters Point Mobilization for Adolescent Growth in our Communities (BMAGIC) 

The demands of the BVHP, with text stating "We demand the city support the community demands: Comprehensive retesting and cleanup of radioactive and toxic waste at the Shipyard Superfund Site, Parcel A, & Adjacent Areas, Independent community oversight of testing and cleanup, Navy must reinstate the Restoration Advisory Board that they improperly disbanded, Convene a Community Advisory Committee that represents and advocates for the Community, not for Lennar/Five Points".

Image 1. Demands that the BVHP community holds for the city of San Francisco. These demands were expressed during the Tuesday, September 17, 2019 City Hall protest held by Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice. 

City Hall protester holding a banner with the text "Lennar: Stop contaminating and driving displacement in our communities!"

Image 2. Protesters at the Tuesday, September 17, 2019 City Hall protest.




Fagone, J., & Dizikes, C. (2018, July 28). Amid a toxic landscape, SF found a home for its elite cops. Retrieved from https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Amid-a-toxic-landscape-SF-found-a-home-for-its-13101114.php?psid=lsboH 

Fagone, J., & Dizikes, C. (2019, August 14). Report: Navy altered Hunters Point cleanup to cover, not remove, toxic soil. Retrieved from https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Report-Navy-altered-Hunters-Point-cleanup-to-14302320.php?psid=lsboH 

Larsen, K. (2018, October 19). Hunters Point reports say radioactive contamination worse than thought. Retrieved from https://abc7news.com/realestate/hunters-point-reports-say-radioactive-contamination-worse-than-thought/4514886/ 

San Francisco Department of Public Health letter https://www.sfdph.org/dph/files/listenshareconnect/3-7-19_BVHP_Cancer_Incidence.pdf

Waxmann, L. (2019, July 18). More housing approved for Hunters Point despite contamination concerns. Retrieved from https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/more-housing-approved-for-hunters-point-despite-contamination-concerns/