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Environmentalists Protest Pacific Steel Emissions

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday November 14, 2006

Gas masks, air filters and angry posters marked the Pacific Steel Casting protest rally on Saturday, which drew more than 250 protesters. 

Environmental activists, West Berkeley residents, parents and children turned up to send a message to the West Berkeley-based steel foundry protesting its emissions. 

Children carried posters asking Pacific Steel Casting (PSC) to stop polluting their soccer fields while parents donned dust masks to show how harmful the fumes from the foundry could be. 

“The rally was one in a series of protests which will continue to take place until PSC agrees to clean up its act,” said Bradley Angel, director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. “The turnout exceeded our expectations and the diverse representation symbolized the community’s mounting concern over this problem. This was definitely a family protest.” 

West Berkeley has been fighting PSC’s emissions over the last 30 years. Neighbors have complained about its noxious odors, saying they have resulted in headaches, nausea and chest tightness for many over the years. 

“We are putting PSC on notice,” Angel said. “Now it’s up to them to clean the air and save the neighborhood from environmental degradation.” 

The demonstrators challenged PSC, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the City of Berkeley and Alameda County to address the problem immediately. Councilmember Linda Maio, in whose district the steel plant is located, attended the rally along with Alameda County supervisor Keith Carson. 

“It was moving to see parents of children suffering from asthma in West Berkeley speak at the rally,” said Steve Ingraham, a member of the PSC protest committee. “There are so many kids who play in the soccer field or attend day care near the steel plant. PSC has to stop this before the problem escalates any further.”  

During the rally, about a dozen workers from the foundry came outside and listened to the speakers at the rally. The organizers called upon them to work with the community to help clean up the air. 

“We will keep rallying until there is complete transparency from PSC about its operations,” said Janet Schroder of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs. Schroder moved into West Berkeley in 1979 and started having symptoms of nausea and chest tightness which she associated with a burning odor coming from the steel plant. 

“The odor got less frequent at one point in time, but it became really strong from 2000 onwards,” Schroder said. “We hope to carry out swipe tests in the future that will help pinpoint harmful chemicals emitted from the plant.” 

Anuja Mendiratta, a Berkeley resident who attended the protest on Saturday, said that she notices the noxious odors everytime she runs on the Olhone Trail in West Berkeley. 

“There are so many young moms and children smelling those noxious odors when they are out there everyday,” she said. “It’s just outrageous. Pacific Steel should know that we will not tolerate this any more.”