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Test shows poor air quality at Harrison Park

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Saturday August 04, 2001

Initial results of a Harrison Park air study confirmed predictions that airborne particulate matter has increased over the soccer field and alarmed some city officials with an increase as much as 60 percent above state-recommended levels. 

“I expected higher numbers, but was surprised at the level of increase,” said Hazardous Materials Supervisor Nabil Al-Hadithy. 

Parks and Waterfront Director Lisa Caronna cautioned that the findings are preliminary and there is still more testing to be done.  

“We don’t have all the data yet and when we do, we will take whatever is the most appropriate action.” 

The $40,000 study began at the newly-finished soccer field July 1 and will continue for 11 months. The data for the month of July was released Aug. 2 and is considered preliminary. The study will be carried out over the course of a year to monitor air quality under all kinds of weather conditions. 

A 1997 study has been criticized by members of the Community Environmental Advisory Commission as insufficient because it was conducted over a period of only two days. 

The city contracted with private consultant Applied Measurement Science to perform the study. The contract called for analysis of two different sizes of particulate matter. The study will also analyze the air for traces of the carcinogen chromium 6. 

The two particulates are Particulate Matter 10 (PM10), which are particles about 10 micrograms in size, and the even smaller Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5), which is 2.5 micrograms in size, or about one-seventh the width of a strand of hair, according to Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokesperson Ralph Borrmann. 

Particulate matter is small airborne pieces of liquid or solid matter that comes from a variety of sources, but is most often associated with exhaust from automobiles, according to Borrmann.  

Eric Winegar, who is carrying out the analysis for Applied Measurement Science, said the equipment he was using to measure PM2.5 was not working correctly so the results are unavailable. But he did provide a month’s worth of data on PM10. 

Both particulates can infiltrate the lungs but the more dangerous of the two is PM2.5 because it is so small it can deeply penetrate the membranes in the lungs.  

“PM2.5 is more of a sensitive issue for people who are more naturally sensitive to respiratory problems such as children, seniors and those who suffer from respiratory problems,” Borrmann said. “It can increase the frequency and severity of asthma attacks and bronchitis for example.” 

The initial test results show that on nine occasions in July, the levels of PM10 rose above the state Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended level of .050 micrograms per cubic meter. In one case, on July 2, the 24-hour average was 35 micrograms or 60 percent above what the state regards as acceptable.  

Al-Hadithy said he can’t say whether the high numbers constitute a health hazard until a toxicologist examines the test results. 

According to an Aug. 2 staff report from the Toxics Management Division, there was an expectation of higher numbers because the field is located near a section of Interstate 80 that was recently widened, which resulted in a 20-percent increase in the traffic volume during heavy commute times. Another 18-percent increase is estimated by 2005 according to the report. 

The initial results show the worst times of day at the soccer field are between 10 a.m. and noon. The hours caused Community Environmental Advisory Commissioner LA Wood to speculate the particulates were coming from the city’s refuse transfer station located next to the park at Harrison and Second streets or perhaps from two industrial sites in the area. 

Al-Hadithy said the monitoring equipment was placed in an area where it would be close to the transfer station and the freeway so test results would show a “worst case scenario.” 

“I’m very interested in the sources of the particulate matter,” Wood said. “I’m surprised that there’s no mention of the possibility of Berkeley Asphalt or Pacific Steel as possible contributors.” 

Both businesses are within three blocks of the playing field. 

Wood also said he was suspicious of the faulty equipment that was unable to produce the more hazardous PM2.5 results. 

“There’s two things that make me wonder if the city is sitting on more results, the test has been going on for the last month and there should be more information then what’s been released,” he said, “and the city’s historic tendency to sweep air issues related to Harrison Park under the carpet.”