A small building on the east edge of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park may hold a nasty secret, one that’s becoming more and more apparent as those who work there succumb to cancer.
According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, in the last several years, individuals who’ve worked in the small offices at the Kezar Pavilion, all employees of the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department, have died of or been diagnosed with cancer. The workers and their families want to know why.
“Since the 1990s, out of approximately 40 Rec and Park employees who have worked a significant amount of time in the Athletics Division offices at the back of the old gymnasium, five have died of cancer,” the article states. “Three others have developed tumors – in two of those cases the growths were malignant – and a fourth worker continues to be monitored for growths found in his lungs.”
Despite the presence of asbestos in the building, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) official says the toxic mineral can’t be blamed for the deaths and illnesses.
Employees disagree. The building, which hosts high school basketball games, a summer pro-am basketball league and a variety of other events, contains plenty of asbestos and was also recently found to have high levels of lead in its water supply.
“There’s something in the building, in the environment, that’s getting us sick,” said Sandoval, 48, who has been diagnosed with Stage III testicular cancer that has spread to his lungs, sternum and near his liver. “With the small staff we had, it’s way beyond normal.”
The union officials that represent the Park & Rec workers are also beginning to take notice and have told city management that they believe Kezar Pavilion is an unsafe place to work.
“We have workers in an environment they shouldn’t be in,” said Margot Reed, an organizer with SEIU Local 1021. “We don’t want our women and men working in a place that they honestly believe is unsafe, and we have language in our (collective bargaining) contract that addresses that.”
Experts tend to agree with the union’s assessment of the building. However, these same medical experts also agree that it’s difficult and rare to link cancers to a common exposure, even within a small work space.
“Anytime you see a grouping of cancers, it causes concern,” said Dr. Robert Hiatt, chair of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF. “But it’s very unusual to find a cause for a cluster of cancers. It’s one of these disconnects between public concern and scientific finding.”