BioLabs in South San Francisco; How Safe and Secure are they?

South San Francisco, CA  August 12, 2023

REEDLEY, CA – A LESSON TO BE LEARNED

Many residents in South San Francisco have questioned the safety of the biolabs in our City as the numbers of life science developments continue to grow while also moving into what has been traditionally residential areas of town. With the news of the illicit Chinese-owned lab discovered in Reedley California, it is understandable that long-standing concerns were once again awoken locally. Early reports of the Reedley lab, which is located close to Fresno and within 35 miles of Lemoore Naval Air Station, stated mice had been genetically modified to catch and carry the virus that causes COVID-19, among other concerning finds.

 

Upon further investigation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found no materials, toxins, or agents that could be used as bioweapons, yet did identify infectious agents including E. coli, coronavirus, malaria, hepatitis B and C, dengue, chlamydia, human herpes, rubella and HIV that were not properly stored in this unauthorized business. Jesalyn Harper, the code enforcement officer in Reedley who found and reported this unlicensed business, expressed frustrated over the lack of regulation of these private labs and echoes city officials’ concerns there is no single government entity overseeing private medical laboratories.

 

 

So, while time and deeper investigation revealed initial reporting was not fully accurate, we can see what happens when government agencies are not transparent and forthcoming to the public they serve, the discovery of this illegal lab was made in December of last year, but who knew? At that time, Nicole Zieba, the City manager of Reedley, stated the Federal Bureau of Investigation instructed her not to share the information with anyone, including the City Council or the public. {County of Fresno Public Health Reports concerning Reedley CLICK HERE}

 

Due to such division in America today, especially on the political landscape, it is even more important that our elected officials are immediately informed of any and all concerns and to relay that information to the public they have sworn to serve. To view the timeline for the company involved with this discovery in Reedley, beginning in Tulare in 2015-  CLICK HERE. It is also worth noting the changes in the company name, ownership, and locations through the years, which only adds to the confusion. This happens more frequently than most would expect.

 

GENENTECH – EPA SETTLEMENT FOR HAZARDOUS VIOLATIONS

Back in August 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found Genentech {ROCHE} to be in violation for claims of hazardous waste management at THREE locations in South San Francisco, however the reports do not indicate when the investigation began, how long the violations were in progress, or which other agencies were notified, including South San Francisco officials. But they did include violation of hazardous waste AIR emissions.  {CLICK HERE for EPA press release}

 

On August 8, 2023, two years later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a press release stating a settlement for $158,208 in civil penalties had been ordered against Genentech. This amount hardly seems to cover the investigation expenses by the multiple agencies involved for two years.

These violations included:

*Genentech stored waste without a permit

*Genentech did not meet requirements related to monitoring hazardous waste air emissions,

*Genentech failed to mark equipment and record it correctly,

*Genentech failed to perform required inspections of emissions control equipment

*Genentech failed to maintain overfill protection controls for a hazardous waste tank.

*EPA inspectors also identified hazardous waste manifests that failed to include all necessary federal waste codes

 

The City of South San Francisco is as intertwined with local biotechs  as the DNA strands emblazoned  in the SSF Flag which was adopted in 2004

It is understandable that residents voice concerns that new life science developments are being built closer to residential areas as they ask what else is going unknown to officials, what else is not being reported, and what else is being investigated that will not be revealed for years to come. With our City boasting home to over 200 life science businesses and another 25++ acre development underway, questions of oversight need to be reviewed. Our residents echo the concerns found in Fresno that there is ‘no single government entity overseeing private medical laboratories’. Why?

 

Further, residents want to know why the biotech does not want residential housing in ‘their backyard’ while not respecting residents not wanting life science business in theirs. {See SF Chronicle CLICK HERE} {More on local Life Science as it relates to SSF CLICK HERE}

 

Note that residents have waited over a decade for the Safeway to be rebulit on El Camino Real and Spruce Ave, next to Francisco Terrace and across from Brentwood neighborhoods, yet current signage states it will be home to ‘LIFE SCIENCE’. The rebuilding of the Safeway has once again been halted but life science developments continue to flourish, and a stones throw from residential neighborhoods.

 

Debris has been removed, mountains of dirt have been assembled, signage of Life Sciences coming – but no signs of a rebuilt Safeway has angered locals.

 

So, yes,  Life Sciences/ BioTech have a long arm that reach those South Citians who ‘live, work – and play’ here, they are deserving of answers along with the quality of life that brings them security from worries of biolab harms.

We know they do exist.

 

PUBLIC TRUST IN GOVERNMENT AT ALL TIME LOW –

When is the public right to know, and what amount of information should be shared, is a fine balance, as noted in the Reedley case.

 

Informing the public too early might jeopardize an investigation, yet not informing the public in a timely manner creates false narratives that continues to reduce the public trust in government, which is at all time low with over half of Americans reporting they do not trust their government.

 

And when news media comes out saying ‘Officials report‘ many just shake their heads and ignore it seeing it as more propaganda or reporters seeking headlines. It’s hard to know what is true anymore.

 

But the distrust in our US Government appears to be one thing that unites Americans, per the PEW poll above.

 

ESC LEADS SSF TO ADD NEW INFO TO WEBSITE

Upon multiple recent inquiries to Everything South City (ESC) regarding the safety of biotech in our own area, we contacted City Manager, Sharon Ranals, including copies to Assistant City Manager, our City Council, City Clerk, Planning Commission, Police and Fire Chiefs, and Senior Planning staff asking for answers to some of the general questions given to us.

 

Everything South City logo with red outline

 

Founded in 2009, Everything South City has fielded dozens of questions and concerns regarding the biotech industries and the safety issues they bring to our City. Every industry leaves footprints, we know this from years of being home to farmland, meatpacking, steel manufacturing and the infamous garbage dump that lays beneath developments at Oyster Point, where most of the biotechs are built.

 

We received complaints from former Amgen employees that the narrative presented by then SSF Fire Marshall Luis DaSilva was a smoke screen bigger than the fire at one of their buildings. In addition, officials have told us, off record, of mulitple buildings they been called to inspect, that had toxic chemicals unmarked, stored improperly, warehouse dock doors left open, among a myriad of other issues, plus issues the public has also reported.

 

Overall, we were seeking a list of hierarchy of agencies, who is in charge of which area of concern, from business licenses, to taxes, to onsite building safety inspections, hazardous storage and waste removal, and so forth, as well as who over sees the overseers?  What is the chain of command? What can we share with our community at large to not only quell fears, but to educate our residents, and our Staff to realize where tighter regulations might be necessary? Who’s feet do we hold to the fire to enforce the safety of the general public?

 

Below you will find some information from the County of San Mateo  Environmental Health Services which was designated by the State Secretary for Environmental Protection as the Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA) for San Mateo County in 1996.

 

It is not lost on anyone that the majority of biotechs are east of highway 101, in the area locally known as ‘East Grand’. This area consists of landfill (think –SF Millenniun Towers tilting), in a region known for earthquakes which are predicted to become larger, and with weather becoming more unpredictable, and sea level rise along our San Francisco Bay. So, yes, residents are right to be concerned, and for very good reasons.

 

The risks have become higher for residents as they see their homeowner insurance rates rising, demanding coverage for not only fire, but for flood and earthquake, or having their policy canceled due to living in a ‘fire zone’. If the risks are higher for them, then surely even more so for tech companies east of Grand, and those moving closer to residential neighborhoods.

 

Residents question where officials loyalties fall – to the biotech industry or to the residents who cast a vote, and not money, to represent them.

 

Concerned residents cannot be dismissed as annoying ‘Gadflies‘ by city officials or staff, they must be taken seriously and addressed. For each question posed, there are 50+ others seeking the same answers, although they might not articulate the questions themselves. Our ‘gadflies’ are an important part of our societal ecosystem and we need to encourage the public to speak up and ask for clarity when they have questions and we must demand timely answers that aren’t CYA narrative from those sworn to protect us.

 

Public servants must remember they are not rulers over us, as some might believe, but they are here to serve us all, and the majority are true to that role. We must make it clear we are dependent on them, and the weight is on their shoulders, while recognizing missteps fall on all of us.

 

To that end we appreciate the response from City Manager, Sharon Ranals, addressing some of these concerns:

 

Thank you for contacting the City regarding the regulation of biotech businesses in South San Francisco. You raise questions which are concerning to members of the public. Your inquiry prompted staff to provide *relevant information on our website which addresses your questions so that it will be accessible to the community. Additional questions and answers will be added over time.

*Relevant info cited below

This is a good first step and we applaud the updates to the City website as we share them below.

 

 

San Mateo County Public Health would be the local lead agency and can be found at https://www.smchealth.org/hazardous-materials-cupa

 

To view the City website Zoning Map this disclaimer must be accepted by the viewer first.

It is also noteworthy that the zoning for particular areas can change without the general public being notified.

 

 

With this said, this is still an excellent first step in providing information to the public and we look forward to additional information as residents pose more questions and the City offers answers and resources.

 

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Below are additional resources regarding biohazards.

Please feel free to add any resources that may benefit our community.

 

 

Information below gleaned from https://assignmentpoint.com/biological-hazard/

From our San Mateo County Public Health Department –

Hazardous Waste Info

To learn more CLICK HERE

 

PROGRAM OVERVIEW:

The Unified Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Materials Management Regulatory Program (Unified Program) was established in 1993 to protect public health and safety, and to restore and enhance environmental quality, and sustain economic vitality through an effective and efficient implementation of the Unified Program. San Mateo County Environmental Health Services was designated by the State Secretary for Environmental Protection as the Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA) for San Mateo County in 1996.

Compliance is achieved through routine inspections of regulated facilities, and investigation of citizen-based complaints and inquiries regarding improper handling and/or disposal of hazardous materials and/or hazardous wastes.

If your facility needs to be regulated for any of the CUPA programs listed below, you need to obtain a permit by registering your facility with San Mateo County Environmental Health Services. Please contact the designated district inspector for assistance with the registration process.

A complete list of active and inactive hazardous waste (CUPA) regulated facilities is now available on the County’s Open Data site.  The list is updated monthly.  Site-specific information can be found on the State’s Regulated Site Portal.  This site includes activities related to hazardous materials and waste, state and federal cleanups, impacted ground and surface waters, and toxic materials.  It is maintained by the California Environmental Protection Agency and the information is updated monthly.  On this site, you will find information about regulated facilities, chemical storage, open violations.  If you would like additional details about a particular facility, please make a public records request.

 

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Editors note: bookmark this page to research the links embedded to gain more information

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your neighbor
your neighbor
9 months ago

Thank you EverythingSouthCity for this expose’ of the fissures in the BIO industry in SSF’s back yard. The evidence is there for everyone as the editor bravely exposes what disturbingly has been swept under the rug but the troubling discovery in small towns across our own state should make us hit pause on all Life-Science buildings locally out of respect for the phrase quality of life issues the City includes in staff reports every request to justify them .
Already we are a city transformed, into this bio-mecca of dangerous pathogens.
The City Council reps are seemingly unconcerned, as they keep building them, nevermind the increasing walls enclosing the once quaint views of the San Bruno Mountain, peaks of the bay views or of ascending plane flights that filled the skies of our little patch of bay area being taken away despite protests and comments from residents to cease the assault on our senses.

Having placed it to blight our spirit is another skycraper over Linden Ave.now called Lindenville and named the Southline Development bordering the City of San Bruno,that proudly hangs a sign Lane Partners to assault our senses. From almost every angle this eyesore shadows the skyline; with 8-10 stories, motorists can’t escape it, the view once enjoyed by residents in both cities, gone. The neighbors in San Bruno aren’t happy about it and neither are we in SSF.

Mark S
Mark S
9 months ago

what levels of bio are there is SSF? Where are they located? Anyone know?

alana gomez
alana gomez
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark S

take a ride over there, on east Grand Ave.it’s like you left SSF, Janssen, Genentech, Merck the bio-giants are there over 200 labs, large and small. The boat dwellers hear the monkeys out in the marina when the right wind conditions allow.

Cathy Gregor
Cathy Gregor
9 months ago

LOL I remember when Mayor Joe Fernekes was called Mr SSF but we’d laugh and agree it was Mr Biotech, he was so happy to land Genentech and the others following
I always thought it was foolish to be a one industry town, Mayor Matsumo said that once too but as Fernekes said the die was cast there is no turning back now

Jess a
Jess a
9 months ago

Your rulers don’t care what you peons think shut up stay inside on your screens watching tic tock play games mindless idiots