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Poor air quality notices wanted at west Berkeley soccer fields

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Saturday November 03, 2001

After receiving several months of data from a year-long study at Harrison Soccer Fields, the Community Environmental Advisory Commission asked city staff to post notices of poor air quality around the popular field. 

The recommendation also asks the planning department to make sure parents have signed mandatory waivers before allowing their children to play at the field, located at Fifth and Harrison streets.  

Some commissioners thought the notices and waivers were critical because of the many youth soccer games at the field. According to the Alameda-Contra Costa Soccer League Web site, 137 soccer games are played at the field between Sept. 8 and Nov. 10. 

The commission approved the recommendation at its Thursday meeting by a vote of 6-1-2, with Commissioner Robert Clear voting in opposition and new Commissioner Sarah MacKusick and temporary Commissioner Dan Simon abstaining. Clear said he voted against the recommendation because he thought the commission did not have enough time to discuss the issue before voting. 

With Vice Chairperson LA Wood chairing the meeting while Chairperson Elmer Grossman is away, the commission requested the posting because preliminary results from an air study showed the level of Particulate Matter 10 exceeded state standards an average of five times a month since July 1, when the study began. The most recent test results show that during the first two weeks of October, the particulate matter level exceeded state standards four times. 

“I believe the city has an obligation to inform the public because Harrison Field was a very controversial project to begin with and the most controversial thing about it was its environmental quality,” Wood said. 

The sports facility was the site of another environmental controversy earlier this year when construction of the Harrison Field Skate Park, also located at Fifth and Harrison streets, was halted because of the discovery of the carcinogen Chromium 6 in groundwater during excavation of nine-foot deep skate bowls. Removing the groundwater, sealing the base of the bowls and redesigning the skate park added $365,000 to the city’s total cost of construction. 

Particulate matter is small airborne pieces of liquid or solid matter that originates from a variety of sources, but is most often associated with exhaust from automobiles, according to information posted on the Bay Area Air Quality Management Web site. 

The city contracted with Applied Measurement Science to conduct a one-year air study because of concerns about the widening of the Interstate 80 Freeway, which is adjacent to the field. In addition there are s several industrial manufacturing facilities and a waste transfer station nearby. 

The $40,000 contract was for a study that included 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. PM2.5 is considered by medical experts to be the more dangerous substance because its small size allows it to become deeply imbedded in the tissue of the lungs. 

So far Applied Measurement Science has been unable to produce any useable PM2.5 data because of equipment problems. But according to Hazardous Materials Supervisor Nabil Al-Hadithy, it is reasonable to assume that the PM2.5 has been exceeding the state Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended levels – .05 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over 24 hours.  

“The PM2.5 data could be available as early as next week,” he said. 

Al-Hadithy also cautioned it would be unwise to assume the preliminary test results mean there is an excessive health risk for people who use Harrison Soccer Field or live nearby.  

Dr. Eric Winegar, who is carrying out the study for AMS, said he will include a health risk assessment when the study is completed in June. 

“Generally speaking risk assessments are done over a long period of time,” he said. “Three to four months just isn’t enough.” 

Winegar said there was enough information to post notices at the field as long as they were not worded in an alarming way. 

The commission also asked the planning department to determine if soccer organizations that use the field have been fulfilling the requirement put into place with the site’s use permit, that parents sign a waiver. According to the use permit, parents and adults who use the field are required to sign a waiver stating they understand that field is in an industrial area and that traffic noises and odors in the area are “normal.” 

“I’ve asked to see these waivers, which Current Planning (a division of the planning department) is supposed to have on file,” Commissioner Wood said. “And I don’t think they exist.” 

For to-date test data from the Harrison Field air study go to and for more information about particulate matter 10 go to