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22 4 Disposal of San Francisco Waste, 1906–1966 There is a basic rule of thumb in this business: If you cannot dump the truck that you collected garbage with, then you cannot collect any more garbage. Prior to the earthquake in 1906, the primary place for the city’s waste, regardless of who collected it, was anyplace close by and in the bay. After the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires, there was chaos, people living in the streets, and serious concerns about health issues in San Francisco. The city fathers sought means to minimize the health threats from garbage and contracted with the Southern Pacific Railroad to build a crude transfer station in the general area of 16th and 3rd Streets. This is where the scavengers, with their horses and wagons, delivered their loads of garbage and dumped the waste into standard gondola cars designed for gravel hauling. Once a unit train of at least twenty cars was loaded, the train was transported to the San Francisco/San Mateo County border along the railroad’s mainline, which had been constructed thirty years earlier . After San Francisco’s garbage passed into San Mateo County, the health hazard it had posed for the City of San Francisco mysteriously disappeared. Onsite, the waste was unloaded with clamshells and dumped into the bay; San Francisco used this method to dispose of its waste from 1906 through 1966. As the horses and wagons were replaced with gasoline trucks, the scavengers drove those trucks directly to the future garbage transfer station located in the Southern Pacific train yards, in the vicinity of 16th and 3rd Streets. At this point, the refuse wagon would be backed up to the ramp, where the refuse would be shoved down the ramp by hand into waiting gondola cars and then rail-transported to the future City of Brisbane in San Mateo County. There the untreated garbage would be unceremoniously dumped by clamshell into San Francisco Bay but beyond the San Francisco city limits of San Francisco Bay. Once gasoline engines and trucks were adopted, the transfer station at 16th and 3rd Streets was phased out. This means of dumping garbage in the bay with no environmental controls was a practice followed by virtually every city that 23 Disposal of San Francisco Waste, 1906–1966 bordered the bay, and the practice of waste disposal was considered to be “reclamation” of property from those “stinking mudflats.” At the time, most cities dumped raw sewage into the bay. When the tide went out, the residuals were exposed, creating offensive odors—thus the term “stinking and useless mudflats.” Covering them with garbage was considered an acceptable option. As sad as it was, there were few efforts to contain the severe water pollution created by dumping raw garbage into saltwater. The only attempt to minimize pollution was to float a series of telephone poles, linked together with cables, in front of the raw garbage going directly into the bay waters. The only pollution control , if you want to call it that, was that a majority of float waste did not get out into the bay. Aside from water pollution, there was also air pollution. In addi­ tion to burning certain forms of trash and the resulting contami­ nation, there were also severe odor problems. Mixing newsprint and other paper products with saltwater creates hydro­ gen sulfide gas. Sometimes the smell was so bad that some said it would “gag a maggot.” Fortunately, the predominant westerly winds that historically flowed down Visitacion Valley blew the pungent odor out across the vacant bay, so the smell offended only an occasional boater passing by. That would soon change. In 1952, when U.S. Highway 101 cut across the bay from Sierra Point and north past and through Candle­ stick Hill, the drivers on the new freeway could not help noticing the horrible rotten-egg odor. As a Band-Aid cure, an engineer was hired to design a fifteen-foot-high metal fence. This was not to hide the garbage dump. The westerly wind velo­ city averaged seventeen miles per hour. Using that factor, it was concluded that, with a fence at a fifteen-foot elevation, the odor would be lifted up and over the automobiles. This solution was marginally successful, but when the wind velocity was below seven­ teen miles per hour, the odor was present more than ever; and when the wind exceeded seventeen miles per hour, it started to blow the fence down. Although covered...


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