letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor: Remediation Needed – Toxic Plumes Around 2550 Irving St.


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To: Meredith Williams
From: Adam Michels
Re: Remediation of toxic plumes around 2550 Irving Street

I live one house away from the proposed demolition site at 2550 Irving St. which is under the Department of Toxic Substances’ (DTSC) oversight. Your agency has tested the air in my house three times, and each time it has found the level of PCE soil gas vapor at four times the residential screening level. It is my understanding that the gas plumes are under 40 homes and businesses and that the highest levels of PCE vapor beneath the 2500 block of Irving Street are more than 150 times the screening level. Also, the investigation is not complete.  My family and neighbors are upset and concerned that we have been breathing gasses that cause cancer. Five of my neighbors on just this block have been diagnosed with cancer, and another neighbor on 27th Avenue recently died from cancer.

On Sept. 8, 2021, DTSC scientists walked through my home and informed me that there was a “hot spot” in my downstairs shower drain, where vapor was entering my home. Of course my wife and I were worried. We’ve been breathing contaminated air for more than the 22 years we have lived here and raised our two children, ages 18 and 21. 

What was especially upsetting, and what we still don’t understand, is why your agency would approve of a vapor barrier under the new building at 2550 Irving to protect the new residents from toxic vapor and not us.  How is protecting only the residents in the new building a holistic or comprehensive solution for the neighborhood? Isn’t this merely a mitigation measure that provides no protection for the surrounding neighborhood? We also learned that recent State guidance says even the proposed mitigation beneath 2550 Irving is only an interim measure; what happens to the residents in the affordable housing when that vapor barrier fails?  

Should we feel grateful that your agency is protecting the new residents from cancer but doing nothing to protect us? I understand that the developer, TNDC, does not want to spend money unless it has to, but isn’t your agency’s mission to protect human health by cleaning up contamination?  That’s what the DTSC community meeting flyer told us. Your mission is not to let the developer do whatever it wants and whatever is the least protective to the neighborhood.

We were heartened to learn that when you met with our environmental experts Don Moore and Lenny Siegel, Supervisor Gordon Mar and Paul Holzman from my neighborhood association in September of 2022, you stated that you and DTSC would “push to get the most protective remedy,” and that your team would come up with a “creative” and “holistic” solution. That meeting gave me and my neighbors hope that DTSC was finally going to protect us from the PCEs seeping into our homes. However, that meeting was over four months ago, and to my knowledge nothing has been done to remediate the PCE around my neighborhood or to change the flawed Response Plan proposed by TNDC. A vapor barrier under one building is a method that is not holistic by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it protective of the neighborhood. Were the words you spoke at the September meeting just an empty promise?

The DTSC project manager, Parag Shah, testified at last week’s SF Board of Appeals hearing, and he gave no indication that there was a plan to remediate the toxins in the neighborhood. Professional geologist Don Moore and executive director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, Lenny Siegel, identified two possible sources for the contamination, both of them former dry cleaner sites, but only one of them has been investigated.  Why would DTSC investigate one of the potential sources and not the other? The second possible source of the contamination (at 2550 Irving itself) is about to be demolished, but Mr. Shah expressed no sense of urgency or duty to sample the soil at the exact footprint of Miracle Cleaners or to preserve the evidence at the site.  In fact, Mr. Shah had very few answers to the Commissioners’ questions, which is why the hearing will be continued on Feb. 22, 2023.

I beg you to take immediate action to complete the site investigation and remediate the toxins with soil vapor extraction, which I understand is consistent with DTSC guidance and supported by multiple experts.  Please tell Mr. Shah about your plan to protect everyone by remediation before he speaks again at the Board of Appeals on Feb. 22.

I will publicize this letter to the greatest extent possible. 

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your response.


Adam Michels

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