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Pacific Steel Settles with Air Quality District

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday May 04, 2007

The country’s third largest steel foundry agreed to a settlement with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Tuesday, which requires it to install a capture hood to control emissions and pay $150,000 in fines to the air district, though not all critics were satisfied by the agreement. 

The air district had sued West-Berkeley-based Pacific Steel Company (PSC) in August for failing to meet deadlines for reporting air emissions and violating the schedule contained in a settlement agreement designed in December 2005 to resolve an ongoing series of air quality complaints. 

The suit, which was filed in Alameda County Superior Court, sought civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each day that the emissions inventory was not submitted and asked that PSC be ordered to install a carbon absorption filtering system at Plant 3 as originally scheduled. 

Plant 3 was identified by the district as the source of the maximum complaints from neighbors who have repeatedly asked for tighter regulation of the facility. 

“The air district sued PSC in August for allegedly missing a whole series of deadlines, but the company disagreed,” said Elizabeth Jewel of Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners, the company’s public relations consultants, to the Planet Wednesday. “Specifically, they alleged that we missed a deadline of October 15, 2006, when in fact the lawsuit was filed in August. It was in the best interest of both the parties to come to an agreement. PSC agreed to install a new hood which will capture fugitive emissions from the electric arc furnace and direct them to an existing ventilation system through a carbon filter.” 

Jewel added that the new hood would be set up as soon as PSC received a permit from the City of Berkeley. 

Other improvements announced by the steel foundry to control emissions in West Berkeley include: 

• Use of a new binder in the sand molds that significantly reduces volatile organic compounds. 

• Upgrading the baghouse in Plant 1 including related capture hood and ductwork 

• A new capture hood over the electric arc furnace in Plant 3 

PSC and non-profit Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) filed a consent decree in Federal Court in February that would bring about specified emissions reductions, create a scrap metal inspection program, and establish a joint consultation committee to recommend and oversee ongoing pollution reduction efforts. 

A reserve fund of $350,000 was also created for selected projects to achieve a reduction in emissions levels at the facility.  

CBE had sued PSC in July alleging that the steel foundry violated the air district’s permit with respect to the amount of emissions from the steel foundry in Berkeley. 

Although PSC officials said in a statement that the improvements planned on Tuesday were a major step toward reducing emissions, community members disagreed. 

“The $150,000 is meaningless if you think about the negative impacts PSC’s emissions have had on West Berkeley for ages,” said environmentalist LA Wood, who installed an air monitor to measure PSC emission levels with the help of community members in April. 

“Pacific Steel has not at all been forthcoming about any of their regulatory documents for at least a decade and the [district] has done nothing about it either. I think the Air District should be fined some money also. We know no more about PSC than we did ten years ago. This is indeed very shameful.” 

PSC’s proposed change in its binders has been demanded for a long time by the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs, as part of a comprehensive Toxic Use Reduction (TUR) approach. 

“TUR requires open communication, honesty and collaboration among all stakeholders,” said Janice Schroeder of the Alliance in an email to the Planet. “As in past years, Pacific Steel is moving in the right direction, but only under pressure from lawsuits, and the industry is not yet fully transparent and collaborative with the whole community.” 

Schroeder added that PSC’s improvements were welcome but long overdue. 

“However, the community's concerns will not be easily allayed,” she said. “If Pacific Steel continues to cool castings outside, away from pollution control equipment, and to operate with its huge doors open, the clean-up effort will not work. According to Pacific Steel’s 2004 report to the California Air Resources Board, it releases 400 pounds of pollution daily into the air. How much will be removed by the industry's proposed ‘significant’ decrease in pollution?”