Groups Plan Protest Against Pacific Steel

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday November 10, 2006

West Berkeley residents will join environmental justice groups and community members on Saturday in a rally against the toxic pollution and noxious odors emanating from Pacific Steel Casting. 

The protest will begin at 11 a.m. in front of Gilman and 9th streets in Berkeley and then move on to Pacific Steel Casting at 1333 2nd St. 

The event is being sponsored by GreenAction for Health and Environmental Justice, the Ecology Center, West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs, PSC Protest Committee and Global Community Monitor.  

The West Berkeley steel foundry has been the source of complaints by neighbors, who claim the company has been polluting the environment with toxins and nauseating odors for years. Residents say that health risks from the emissions include headaches, nausea and chest tightness.  

The foundry is located in an area with a high concentration of low-income residents, several daycare centers, a retirement home and schools. 

PSC was sued by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in August for failure to meet statutory deadlines for reporting air emissions, and for violating the schedule to resolve ongoing air quality complaints. 

According to Bradley Angel of GreenAction, the protest seeks to send a clear message to PSC. 

“We want PSC to be a good neighbor and to clean up its act,” he said. “We want it to protect the environment, children, pregnant women, elders, workers and all the residents and businesses in the area. We also want to call on BAAQMD to do what is necessary to achieve this goal. The lawsuit was a positive step but it should be more aggressive. The City of Berkeley should also do what it can to put pressure on PSC. It is important to remember that the pollution problem is not going to go away anytime soon. It is only going to escalate.” 

Elizabeth Jewel of Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners—PSC’s public relations consultants—said she was aware of the protest but had no comment to make at the moment. 

Steve Ingraham, a Bay Area environmental activist and member of the PSC Protest Committee, said that the pollutants emitted by PSC could contribute to cancer, neurological harm, birth defects, respiratory problems (like asthma) and reproductive disorders.  

“Some of the specific pollutants emitted in large quantities include particulates, benzenes, formaldehyde, phenols, manganese, nickel, lead, zinc and chromium. Children are especially at risk from carcinogens as well as from PM 2.5 (small particulates),” Ingraham said. 

“Due to the failure of Pacific Steel to implement appropriate technology to reduce emissions from being released into the community, countless residents have fallen sick. The community has faced countless hurdles from the city and the Air District while trying to stop PSC from polluting the environment even further. This protest is a statement to show that we will not tolerate further delay in the health risk assessment test,” he said. 

The West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs carried out independent swipe tests in the West Berkeley neighborhood surrounding PSC in October, which pointed to the presence of already known toxins in the facility. 

Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor—the non-profit that helped residents carry out the swipe tests—said in a statement that the evidence pointed toward the harmful nature of the emissions. 

“We tested for 11 metals known to come from PSC at six residential locations,” he said. “In five samples, the tests found three or more target metals. In four samples the tests found four or more metals. In two samples, the tests found seven and eight metals that comprise PSC’s emission fingerprint. This is credible evidence of toxic fallout of a serious nature.” 

Martin Bourque, director of the Ecology Center, said that the protest would give citizens a chance to voice their protest against PSC and the air district.  

“PSC continues to ignore regulations and lawsuits,” he said. “They still haven’t provided the community with information on the health risk assessment tests. It is important that they hear from the people directly.” 

Willi Paul of Cleanaircoalition.net said that asking PSC to clean up its act was not enough.  

“We need to shut it down,” he said. “If they can clean it up then they can come back. PSC has been killing us for so long. It’s time for them to know that we can’t take this anymore.”