Marie Harrison’s grandson would wake up some mornings with his pillow soaked in blood.

The 4-year-old suffered from asthma attacks and chronic nosebleeds, which Harrison blamed on emissions from the Hunters Point power plant located directly across the street from where he was living in Bayview-Hunters Point.

So, she campaigned for the plant’s closure, joined Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, blockaded the plant’s doors with community members and protested for nearly a decade until Pacific Gas and Electric Co. shut down the 77-year-old plant’s operations in May 2006.

Greenaction, a nonprofit activist group based in San Francisco, sought assurances from PG&E that hazardous waste from Hunters Point would not be placed in another community.

“That was part of our demands. Not in our backyard and nobody else’s either,” Harrison said. “We couldn’t see our way clear to causing the same kind of problems in other communities. That’s not fair.”

But highly hazardous soil containing PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, was sent from the closed plant to a Kettleman Hills landfill, according to PG&E spokeswoman Melissa Mooney.

The landfill lies approximately three miles southwest of Kettleman City, a community located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles where more than 1,500 predominately Spanish speaking residents live.

The PCBs sent to Kettleman City from Hunters Point were widely used as insulators in capacitors and transformers throughout the energy industry until 1977, when they were found to be potential human carcinogens and banned by Congress.

Although they’ve been outlawed, the contaminants persist in outdated electrical systems.

Joe Molica, another PG&E spokesman, first said that PG&E “changed all of our transformers out in the ’70s and ’80s” but in a subsequent interview acknowledged that PCBs found in the soil at the Hunters Point came from PG&E transformers.

Disposal options

When asked why the PCBs were shipped to the Kettleman Hills landfill, PG&E’s Mooney said state law required it.

“The Kettleman Hills landfill is the only Class 1 hazardous waste disposal facility in the state of California permitted by the Department of Toxic Substances Control to accept and dispose of PCBs, according to the California Health and Safety Code,” she said.

But Angela Blanchette, public information officer for the Department of Toxic Substances Control, said landfill disposal was not PG&E’s only option.

Blanchette said California does not have treatment standards for PCB wastes, so disposal would follow Toxic Substances Control Act regulations.

“In general, the TSCA regulations identify three principal disposal methods for PCBs: incineration in a TSCA-approved facility, disposal in a TSCA-approved chemical waste landfill and disposal by an EPA-approved alternative method,” Blanchette said.

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