Hunters Point Power Plant
For three quarters of a century the power station at Hunter’s Point supplied electricity to heat and light the city of San Francisco. Those who lived near the power station believed that the plant was the genesis of many health problems and had been lobbying to get the station closed for a number of years.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company owned the power plant. PG&E submitted a legal document to the California Public Utilities Commission in March of 2006 informing the commission of their intention to shut down the power plant by the end of the year. The agreement was signed, state regulators confirmed that the station was no longer needed and Pacific Gas and Electric Company quickly closed the facility two months later.
Hunter’s Point Power Plant was built in 1929. It was reputed to be the oldest and dirtiest plants in the state, and it was the biggest source of air pollutants in San Francisco. The soup of pollutants released into the atmosphere by the Hunter’s Point facility included carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and other unstable mixtures that can cause respiratory ailments, cancer, and other illnesses. The PG&E-owned power station was located in a highly industrialized military shipyard which was known to be contaminated. The facility operated as a naval shipyard from 1941 to 1974, and was responsible for performing maintenance and repairs on all types of Navy vessels.
After nuclear bomb tests were conducted in the Pacific Islands in the 1940s, the irradiated military ships were returned to Hunter’s Point to be used in improving techniques of decontamination. The Naval Radiological Defense Lab was constructed to research and test ways of safeguarded the population against radiation. The lab was active at Hunters Point from 1946-1969, and the facility was housed in many of the buildings on base at one time or another. The presence of the Naval Radiological Defense Lab, and the tons of radioactive substances that the personnel experimented with, is one of the most enduring and persistent worries concerning the Navy base.
Both power plants and shipyards were notorious sources of another pollutant: asbestos. The interiors of both ships and power plants are subjected to extreme temperatures and, in the case of Navy ships, firepower, and thus asbestos, an extremely heat-resistant mineral, was used in walls and floors and as insulation.
Now that the Hunters Point Power Plant is no longer active, PG&E is commencing the cleanup process. The property clean up is being conducted in compliance with state-approved guidelines, and Pacific Gas and Electric has pledged to work with community leaders and keep an open line of communication during the project.