Election Section

Commentary: West Berkeley Odors Mandate Comprehensive Tests By DAVID SCHROEDER

Tuesday August 16, 2005

On behalf of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs, I would like to respond to Matthew Artz’s Aug. 5 article, “City, Pacific Steel Will Study Noxious West Berkeley Odor,” and to Tom McGuire’s Aug. 9 letter to the editor about Pacific Steel’s “daily emissions of toxic effluvia,” as Mr. McGuire eloquently puts it. The West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs builds on the more than 25-year history of community action regarding Pacific Steel Casting Company’s pollution. We are everyday people in Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito and Kensington concerned about the quality of life, the impact on workers at Pacific Steel and other local businesses, the risk to children in nearby childcare centers and schools, the risks to pregnant women and their unborn, the risk to elders and those with compromised immune systems, and the danger to the environment. 

We have had experiences with the acrid burning pot handle/burning brake odor very much like Mr. McGuire’s. Some of us had the means to move out of the area, while others had to close our doors and windows, trying to coexist with the odorous pollution. Some of us experience difficulty breathing, headaches, nausea, and throat/eye irritation when we are exposed to Pacific Steel’s emissions. Some of us suffer from asthma, other respiratory illnesses and cancer. 

We believe that Pacific Steel Castings and other local industries must take full responsibility for their production, keeping the air clean and jobs safe. We denounce the false dichotomy advocated by industry that we can either have job creation and economic development or we can have a safe environment. We can have both, and the financial and technical burden of this responsibility should fall to the owners and managers of industry, not to the workers, neighbors, or tax payers. We take a Keep It In My Back Yard (KIIMBY) approach, advocating for industry to be responsible employers and good neighbors. We want the facilities to stay here and clean up, keeping decent jobs local and preventing dirty industries from running away to pollute elsewhere. 

Although we were able to address the problem well over 15 years ago when the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Hearing Board (at our behest) forced Pacific Steel to mitigate emissions from plants 1 and 2 (but not plant 3) with pollution control equipment, fugitive emissions continued to escape. Pacific Steel’s production has increased, and the odor is as bad as ever. Over the odor’s decades-long history, authorities have responded with too little, too late. 

We have been imploring the Air District, the City of Berkeley, and Pacific Steel to undertake a comprehensive and well-conducted Health Risk Assessment (HRA). When the Air District decided (after receiving many community odor complaints) that the HRA had to be done by Pacific Steel, the Alliance pushed the Air District and the City to improve the HRA protocols and plan. It is a perversion of our public regulatory agencies’ responsibilities to have a known violator hire its own consultants to study its own emissions. This is the job of our public regulators and the scientists we pay with public money. They should be protecting us, but are not. 

Initially, there was to be no public input in the HRA process, and data in the health risk assessment was to include 1989 statistics. However, the West Berkeley Alliance has urged the city to intervene, providing public review and requiring testing of all sources of emissions. The city has apparently been successful in getting these interventions inserted into the process, and has received assurances form Pacific Steel that they will fund additional studies not required by the Air District. Unfortunately, the Air District and the city have not solved the problem in the past and thus far have not been extremely forthcoming with initiative and information. This leaves many people in the alliance wondering if the public will ever have full access to all of the information and decision-making in the HRA process, and in the overall resolution of this problem. 

Therefore, the West Berkeley Alliance is conducting its own testing. Community members, without government or industry assistance, have been trained to use state-of-the-art air sampling devices to gather data. This testing is laborious and expensive, but provides results independent of the Air District and Pacific Steel’s consultants. 

We are still hopeful that the City of Berkeley, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and Pacific Steel Casting Company will step up and protect the health of workers and residents. The West Berkeley Alliance encourages the city to initiate a comprehensive neighborhood health survey, conducted by the county and state departments of health, with community oversight. The alliance urges the Air District to follow its regulations, to thoroughly and continuously enforce permit to operate conditions, and to constantly monitor all of Pacific Steel’s sources of emissions until the pollution problem is mitigated. We believe that on behalf of workers, the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics, and Allied Workers International Local 164-B should demand that OSHA conduct a longitudinal health study of the workers’ long term and chronic health issues. Lastly, we hope Pacific Steel will protect its workers and the community by installing necessary pollution controls to eliminate all toxic and nuisance emissions. 

To reach our goals, we are educating the public about the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and how to call in odor nuisance complaints to the Air District. Any time (24 hours a day) anyone experiences an odor nuisance in the Bay Area they should call 1-800-334-6367 and make a complaint.  

We haven’t exhausted our ideas for cleaning the air and preserving safe and healthy jobs, but we are always open to public input and new members. We invite Mr. McGuire, and everyone else impacted, to join the West Berkeley Alliance: 558-8757, or westberkeleyalliance@yahoo.com. Or go to our webstie: http://westberkeleyalliance.blogspot.com for ongoing updates.  


David Schroeder is a member of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs.