An ongoing air study at the popular Harrison soccer fields in west Berkeley continues to show elevated levels of particulate matter, which some say can aggravate respiratory problems.
Particulate matter is pollution, small airborne pieces of liquid or solid that originate from a variety of sources. It is most often associated with exhaust from automobiles, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management Web site.
The findings come despite the installation of a long-planned dust suppression system that promised to improve safety standards for employees at the Berkeley Transfer Station. City officials had hoped the system would also reduce particulate levels at Harrison Field.
The study revealed that each month since April the airborne matter exceeded state Environmental Protection Agency standards by nine to 15 times.
And according to city Hazardous Materials Supervisor Nabil Al-Hadithy, the tests show that air at Harrison Field is twice as concentrated with the particulate matter as downtown San Jose, and three times as high as downtown San Francisco.
Despite the findings, Al-Hadithy said there is no hard evidence that a significant health risk exists.
“City staff is not going to make any assessments about possible health risks until further analysis is completed,” Al-Hadithy said.
The field is used heavily by the Alameda-Contra Costa Soccer League, which consists mostly of players between the ages of 6 and 18. Despite the lack of specific information about health risks, the city posted a sign at the field warning users about possible risks from particulate matter.
Particulate matter can be hazardous to children and the elderly who are more sensitive to respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis, according to the BAAQMD.
Particulate Matter 10, which is responsible for the high levels at Harrison Field, consists of particles about 10 micrograms in size. PM 10 is not as dangerous as Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), which is much smaller and embeds deeper in the lung’s membrane. Data from the last four months of the air study shows PM 2.5 has not exceeded state standards, although 25 days of data are missing from the May and June reports.
The field is adjacent to the Berkeley Transfer Station, where large amounts of dust are kicked up when waste is moved from trucks to hauling containers. In May, the city installed a $60,000 dust suppression system. As a byproduct of the installation, city officials had hoped the system would lower the level of PM 10 at Harrison Field.
However, the results show PM 10 exceeded state EPA standards at a greater rate after the system was installed. In March, before the system was put in, the air at the field had elevated PM 10 levels on nine days. During May and June there were 11 elevated days in each month.
Air quality could be a consideration in a recent proposal to build the Ursula Sherman Village, a transition home for 132 adults and children who are struggling to get off the streets. Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency is developing plans for the home, which would provide a variety of services including education, job training and an on-site health center. The project is proposed at the southwest edge of the field.
Community Environmental Advisory Commissioner L A Wood, who is also a candidate for Council District 4, said the study ought to change its focus.
“I would like the city to take their blinders off and look at the industry around the park instead of just the freeway and transfer station,” Wood said.