Watchdogs Demand Release of Pacific Steel Report

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday August 04, 2006

Supporters of neighborhood watchdog group Cleanaircoalition.net will be coming together with environmental and community groups this month to demand that Pacific Steel Casting make the results of their already delayed emission inventory report and health risk assessment available to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the City of Berkeley immediately. 

Willi Paul, director of Cleanaircoalition.net, told the Planet that plans for the protest will be discussed on Saturday. “People need to understand that PSC is withholding information from the air district, the city and the community. We cannot let this injustice go on any longer. It’s time to turn up the heat again,” he said. 

Pacific Steel has recently been receiving a lot of heat from environmentalists for spreading toxic air plumes over areas of Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito and Kensington for decades. Due to their increased capacity and the volume of castings, the problem has grown greater and community members are demanding that the air district regulate and protect the public from health hazards.  

Nabil al-Hadithy, the City of Berkeley’s hazardous materials manager and secretary for the Community Environmental Advisory Commission, told the Daily Planet on Tuesday that the city had yet to receive the emission inventory reports. 

“We had anticipated the data to be forthcoming in May this year. It’s already running late by two months. It is important for the installation of the carbon filters by September. Unless we have the data for the inventory and the point sources, we cannot determine whether it is actually harmful to humans,” al-Hadithy said.  

He added that the new thing about this set of data was that a lot of sampling had been carried out at different venues. “Previously, a lot of information that regulators have had to carry out health risk evaluations on were based on models. This is going to be fresh data available from the actual location itself. That is why we are anxious to see it. But unless BAAQMD receives it from PSC, we will not be able to see it. I am very concerned about the whole situation.” 

Elizabeth Jewel of Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners, the PR firm for Pacific Steel, told the Planet that PSC had no comment on the issue except for the fact that they were working as hard as possible to get the report out. 

The PSC emission inventory report after being released to the City of Berkeley will be made available to the public. The city also notified the air district staff in late June that they had contracted with a separate environmental engineering firm to perform a separate review of the PSC emission inventory report and Health Risk Assessment, data and results.  

In a July 31 e-mail to Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, Peter Hess, deputy air pollution control officer for BAAQMD, admitted that the submittal of the emission inventory report of PSC to the BAAQMD was behind schedule.  

According to Hess, the emission inventory report was already in the hands of the attorney for Pacific Steel Casting, and BAAQMD was “anxiously awaiting its receipt.” 

The e-mail further stated that the air district engineers were in near daily communication with the engineering and plant representatives of PSC to “ascertain the status of the emission inventory report and move the project along as soon as possible to completion.”  

Steve Ingraham, a long-time Berkeley clean air activist and Alliance Member told the Planet that he was disappointed in the failure of policy and enforcement.  

“BAAQMD is allowing PSC to keep polluting despite the delay in the promised information. Although one might expect more of the same from Pacific Steel Casting Co., it is high time that we demand that BAAQMD do its job and do it right. I believe that this coalition of groups will press this point home. We have the help of Greenaction, which has dealt with deceit from the air district and then prevailed with Red Star Yeast and an Oakland medical incinerator. On those two they had joined forces with Pacific Institute and we have the latter’s promise of assistance as well. Founding members of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs are also lending their support,” he said. 

“Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice is ready to join with Berkeley residents who are concerned about the ongoing pollution from Pacific Steel and the ongoing foot-dragging by Pacific Steel and the Bay Area Air District. The Air District is improperly allowing Pacific Steel company to continue polluting even though the company continues to delay providing emissions test reports and this delays evaluations of the risk. Greenaction believes no company should be allowed to operate in a community unless the emissions of pollutants are proven to be safe, yet the Air District is allowing large amounts of pollutants to be emitted before it is proven safe. We will join residents in demanding clean air, healthy communities and justice,” said Angel. 

With respect to the status of the actual testing, Hess’s e-mail to Angel said that the emission source testing of the equipment under evaluation in the health risk assessment of the sources had been completed by an independent testing firm under the supervision of the air district staff. These emission source tests were “direct measurements of the emissions of air contaminants from the operations of individual pieces of equipment at Pacific Steel Casting.” 

Prior to testing, the air district staff had reviewed the emission source testing protocols and analytical analysis procedures in order to ensure accuracy and after the review and subsequent approval of the protocols and procedures, the air district engineers and inspectors observed the actual source sampling. 

Hess also mentioned in the e-mail that the additional source testing (now completed) to determine whether other compounds were being omitted from certain emission sources at PSC had taken much longer to be completed than had been originally assumed. 

He added that a separate independent environmental engineering consulting firm had reviewed the emission results and “combined the plant operational throughput information from Pacific Steel Casting to develop emission factors for the emission sources.” These emission factors contained in the emission inventory report would be used to develop the health risk assessment. 

With respect to how long BAAQMD would take to evaluate and take action on test and study results, Hess said that after the review of the emission inventory report was completed, the submittal would either be “approved or returned to the company and contractor for corrections.” 

After the Air District approves the emission inventory report, the health risk assessment could proceed “using the evaluation protocols and emissions approved by the air district” and after its completion it too would be subjected to a thorough review by the air district, independent consultants and state agencies.