Faced with growing neighborhood complaints, West Berkeley’s Pacific Steel Casting Company announced Tuesday that it plans to install a carbon filter designed to eliminate the burning rubber smell wafting from its factory.
The filter, which Pacific Steel hopes to have installed by September 2006, will cost several million dollars, said former state Assemblymember Dion Aroner, a partner with AJE Partners, who is a spokesperson for the company.
“Pacific Steel is saying they believe they know what the problem is, and they’re going forward with a solution,” she said.
Pacific Steel installed carbon filters on its other two plants in 1985 and 1991 in response to neighborhood complaints about the smell. At the time, the company said a filter wasn’t needed for the third plant because it was rarely in operation.
However as demand for steel castings has risen over the past two years, Pacific Steel has increased production in the third plant, Aroner said.
“I’m glad to hear they’re finally doing it,” said Janis Shroeder, a West Berkeley resident and member of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs. But Shroeder and alliance member Andrew Galpern still fear that plant at 1333 Second St. is emitting harmful chemicals throughout West Berkeley and Albany.
“Their goal is to eliminate the odor, but they’re not addressing the fact that they are pumping other stuff into the air which won’t be captured by the filter,” Galpern said.
Pacific Steel is scheduled to undergo a health risk assessment, overseen by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District beginning later this year. The testing is expected to be completed by March, Aroner said, and will cost Pacific Steel about $500,000.
Prior studies by the Air District showed that emissions of cancer-causing particles were barely within state standards.
Also, in an agreement with Berkeley officials, Pacific Steel will still proceed with odor tests of all three plants determine the exact source of the burning rubber smell. The study will be prepared by environmental consultant Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and supervised jointly by the city, Pacific Steel and a monitor assigned by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Since March, the Air District has cited Pacific Steel with three notices of violation for releasing noxious odors.
Shroeder, who along with other West Berkeley residents sued Pacific Steel in 1984 over the issue, said the odor has dissipated in her neighborhood but worsened in others after the company inserted carbon filters on the two plants.
The filter is designed to absorb carbons released from the plant during the production of steel castings. Pacific Steel says the burning rubber smell is a by-product of heating sand molds and pouring in liquid steel, which then cools to form a steel mold.
In an unsuccessful attempt to reduce the odor, Pacific Steel tried different binders in the sand molds, but the quality of the mold was poor, according to Aroner.
The proposed filtration system would essentially rebuild the interior of the third plant, Aroner said. Before the company can move forward with installing the system, it must receive approval from the air district and Berkeley.
The city’s toxics manager, Nabil Al-Hadithy, said Pacific Steel’s plan appeared solid. “It looks like they’re cutting to the chase,” he said.
Councilmember Linda Maio, who represents the adjoining neighborhoods praised the proposal. “It sounds like a major commitment of bucks,” she said. “We hope what they’re doing will get the job done.”