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Daly City Residents Blast PG&E Over Toxic Ground

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Daly City Residents Blast PG&E Over Toxic Ground
They report illness long after cleanup

Marshall Wilson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 10, 1998 2000 San Francisco Chronicle

Angry residents of Daly City's Midway Village housing project demonstrated outside a PG&E facility yesterday, contending that the power company and San Mateo County are responsible for what is making them sick.

The dozen residents held signs that read ``Stop Toxic Pollution'' and shouted to passing drivers outside PG&E's Martin Service Center near the Cow Palace. They hoped to draw attention to their long- term fight against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the county's Housing Authority over health problems they believe is caused by toxics in their soil.

They claim the toxic soil is buried under their homes and is causing mysterious rashes, tumors, breathing troubles, bloody noses and other illnesses. A lawsuit against the utility and Housing Authority was dismissed last year when a judge ruled that the residents failed to link the chemical exposure to their maladies. An appeal is pending.

Standing on Geneva Avenue outside the PG&E substation, LaDonna Williams, 38, rolled up a sleeve to reveal a recurring dark rash she blames on her exposure to the dangerous chemicals.

Williams, who grew up in Midway Village, said similar rashes have developed on dozens of children who romped at playgrounds and yards contaminated with toxic soil.

``They knew this place was dangerous, but they ignored it because it's a minority community,'' said Williams, a former resident who has relatives living in the community. ``We want justice.''

The toxins were deposited by a PG&E plant that operated at the start of the century. The plant, which was closed in 1913, converted oil into gas for lighting, heat and cooking but deposited coal tar and a powdery soot called lampblack.

During World War II, the federal government seized about 50 acres in Daly City, including the PG&E property. Soil from the old gas plant was used as fill for military housing.

In the 1950s, federal officials returned the plant site to PG&E and deeded the military housing to San Mateo County. The county rebuilt the housing complex with 150 units in 1976 atop the toxic soil.

PG&E found the waste at its service center in 1980. Ten years later PG&E notified county officials that the soil near Midway Village was polluted with suspected carcinogens.

Mary Rodriguez, a PG&E spokeswoman, said Midway Village was cleaned of toxins in 1994. The utility paved over some areas and removed contaminated soil from front and back yards.

``We took responsibility. We stepped up to the plate. We cleaned it up,'' she said.

But residents said no one will take responsibility for their illnesses.

``I don't think it's right they can put chemicals anywhere and get away with it,'' said Tonya Lee, 29. ``I'm appalled.''

Lee showed a large scar on her abdomen from surgery to remove gallstones. She also had lumps removed from her breasts that she blames on chemical exposure to cancer-causing polyaromatic hydrocarbons from the toxic wastes.

After the protest, residents headed to the San Mateo County Hall of Justice to meet with a court mediator in an attempt to settle the pending lawsuit.

Lula Bishop, who has lived at the well-kept housing project for 23 years, said she wants her day in court.

``I am praying the Lord keeps me alive so I can fight forever,'' she said.

2000 San Francisco Chronicle

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