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Some SF streets filthier than world’s poorest slums, says UC Berkeley professor

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Local report finds 153 trash-laden blocks downtown

Syringe found on the shores of San Francisco.
Syringe found on the shores of San Francisco.
Photo by Wollertz/Shutterstock

NBC Bay Area published an analysis of the filthy conditions of 153 downtown San Francisco blocks on Sunday and discovered conditions that compare unfavorably to some of the poorest slums in the world.

Reporters from the network took to the streets and observed significant amounts of waste on nearly every block, noting that “vast majority of trash found included large heaps of garbage, food, and discarded junk.”

Worse, there were discarded needles on 41 blocks and feces on 96. There’s an interactive map to check which blocks yielded which types of waste, should anyone want to go down that rabbit hole.

UC Berkeley professor Lee Riley, who specializes in infectious diseases, told NBC Bay Area that the level of insanitary conditions on the worst SF blocks is “much greater than communities in Brazil or Kenya or India.”

In Brazil, six percent of homes in major cities like Sao Paulo lack proper waste disposal facilities, leading to illegal disposal of sewage in waterways or streets (according to a World Bank study).

While in Nairobi, Kenya the civic government has so much trouble hauling away garbage that, according to the Daily Nation, the city is “sinking in trash.”

NBC concentrated its survey on the blocks “bordered by Van Ness Avenue, Market Street, Post Street and Grant Avenue,” so of course the areas around Civic Center and the Tenderloin are going to reveal conditions not typical of most San Francisco neighborhoods.

Tenderloin. Photo by EQRoy

But those areas are also some of the most densely populated in the city; in 2011, the Planning Department estimated that 44,240 people lived in the Downtown/Civic Center area, roughly five percent of the city’s population at the time.

And according to U.S. Census estimates from 2015, the three SF ZIP codes that overlap with the Downtown, Civic Center, and Tenderloin areas are the three mostly densely populated in the city. So, the possibility that the problem may be concentrated in a relatively small area is not much of a relief.

In 2016, the San Francisco Controller’s office reported that citywide, areas blighted with “feces, needles, and condoms” declined slightly since the previous year in commercial areas, but rose in residential neighborhoods, while complaints about broken glass declined.

In all, 38 percent of residential streets and 35 percent of commercial blocks registered some complaint.