Environmental Justice for Lake Merced
The Westside's Hidden Toxic Hazards
“Our Nation has an abiding commitment to empower our workers and communities; promote and protect our public health and the environment ... Where the Federal Government has failed to meet that commitment in the past, it must advance environmental justice.”
Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis - January 20, 2021 | Presidential Actions
Environmental justice is defined by the EPA as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color national origin or income in the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” Fair treatment means no one group of people should bear a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal and commercial operations.”
Underserved communities are neighborhoods faced with environmental health hazards and vulnerable populations that include children, people of color, low income, tribal, disabled and homeless populations.
I also view as vulnerable thousands of students attending schools in San Francisco’s western neighborhoods.
Many Westside Observer readers are aware of the environmental health issues residents of heavily industrialized southeast San Francisco face but may not recognize the environmental hazards present in seemingly pristine regions west of Twin Peaks.”
Many Westside Observer readers are aware of the environmental health issues residents of heavily industrialized southeast San Francisco face but may not recognize the environmental hazards present in seemingly pristine regions west of Twin Peaks.
The Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program is applying an advanced environmental mapping and screening tool to augment interpretation of human biomonitoring urinary toxicology screenings and geospatial mapping in identification of hazards residents and workers at a federal Superfund site face. That tool is called the EPA EJScreen.
It would be discriminatory for an environmental analyst to exclude a neighborhood under the assumption it is not impacted by hazards like air pollution, lead paint exposure or proximity to hazardous waste sites. Especially if that neighborhood is where the analyst lives, attended college and medical school!
San Francisco’s heavily trafficked westside neighborhoods are criss-crossed by major highways and roadways subject to high levels of diesel pollution and particulate emissions. Fine particulate matter air pollutants were linked to 1 in 5 deaths worldwide according to research released by Harvard University in 2021.
Lake Merced Boulevard was constructed during the Great Depression under the federal Works Progress Administration. Its creation supported the State plan to connect main highways through broad intersecting arteries from Sunset Boulevard around Lake Merced to Skyline, Junipero Serra Boulevard and Highway 101.
The EPA’s environmental justice screening and mapping tool is based on national data that combines environmental and demographic indicators to assign an EJ index for risk factors of exposure combined with six key social factors that include percent low income, percent people of color and children under the age of five.
The eleven environmental factors include particulate matter, diesel particulate matter, air toxics cancer risk, respiratory hazard index, traffic proximity, lead paint and hazardous waste proximity.
The EJSCREEN Tool offers a creative approach to understanding health impact of environmental exposures and can be used by a school aged child to map their neighborhood. The YouTube video How to Interpret an EJSCREEN Standard Report is also available.
EJSCREEN Standard Report for the one-mile ring at Lake Merced Boulevard near Parkmerced. Note the EJ index for traffic proximity and volume, lead paint, hazardous waste proximity and wastewater discharge are greater than the risks 73 to 82% of Americans face.
Using the EPA EJSCREEN mapping tool, we can easily analyze the negative environmental impacts residents of San Francisco’s westside neighborhoods face for lead paint exposure. The areas in red representing westside neighborhoods where the risk of exposure to lead paint approaches the 100th percentile compared to the population of residents living in the US. This 100th percentile range simply means the lead paint exposure risk is greater for westside residents living in regions colored red than 100% of people in the country!
The EJScreen mapping of San Francisco’s westside neighborhood for lead paint exposure risk. Simply type in the region in the upper right hand search bar and select one or all eleven environmental indicators to map.
Now let’s examine another important environmental risk factor westside residents face every day, traffic volume and proximity. The seven miles of city blocks between 19th Avenue and Park Presidio represent the crosstown route of State Highway 1, and it has been historically recognized as a notorious danger zone for pedestrians.
Little focus, however, has been generated on the risk of exposure to diesel and fine particle emissions from vehicles stalled in traffic along major arteries coursing through westside neighborhoods.
EJScreen mapping identifies Lake Merced Boulevard to be in the 95th to 100th percentile compared with the US population for traffic volume and proximity. Of greater impact on the environmental health of small children are EJScreen mappings of diesel particulate exposure. In the Lake Merced Boulevard region exposure risks to one of the most dangerous air contaminants approaches the 100th percentile!
Diesel exhaust contains a mixture of gases and small particles of soot made of carbon, ash, sulfates, silicates and heavy metals along with carbon compounds known as aromatic hydrocarbons. The California Air Resources Board identifies diesel particulate matter as containing 40 cancer causing substances. Diesel engine emissions are believed to be responsible for 70% of the states estimated cancer risk from toxic air contaminants. Most heavy and medium duty trucks are equipped with diesel engines as are school buses and heavy equipment such as bulldozers and tractors.
Additional environmental hazards are posed by rising sea levels along western shorelines. A recently published report proposes strategies to enhance the resilience of San Francisco wetlands.
On October 5, 2020 the Commonwealth Club of California and the Climate Reality Project Bay Area Chapter presented Climate Justice: Radioactive and Toxic Waste and Rising Oceans. I was a speaker at that panel event and invite you to view it on YouTube.
On April 17, 2021 I was awarded the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine Medical Alumni of the Year Award for the pioneering work being conducted by the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program and Golden State MD Health & Wellness. My profile is posted to the Medical Alumni Association website.
Ahimsa Sumchai Porter, MD, West Portal, Medical Director Golden State MD Health & Wellness is a longtime neighborhood and environmental activist