Pacific Steel Prepares Health Risk Report

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday July 17, 2007

West Berkeley-based Pacific Steel Casting (PSC) is scheduled to release its health risk assessment report (HRA) to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Monday. 

The report, which will help determine whether the steel foundry is a health hazard, was originally due in April, but was delayed due to further testing required by the air district. 

Elisabeth Jewel, of Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners, the public relations firm representing Pacific Steel, said that consultants hired by PSC prepared the report based on the emissions inventory report made public on Feb. 23. 

In an email to the community, Brian Bateman, the air district’s director of engineering, said that the HRA would be available for public review after the air district completed its preliminary review of the data. 

“We expect that we will be able to get this done by the end of July,” he wrote. “We plan on providing copies of the document (hopefully in electronic format) to the city of Berkeley for their review and distribution (as we have done with several related preceding documents). We will also provide copies to the local public libraries.” 

For residents of West Berkeley, the release marks the end of a much anticipated wait for information. 

Some, such as environmentalist LA Wood, remain skeptical about its contents. 

“The HRA is a reminder of the ongoing conflict in West Berkeley between mixed-use housing and light industry,” he told the Planet Monday. “If the HRA had any sense of honesty, it would state that the area surrounding the steel mill is not an ideal location for long-term housing. The same should also be said about the steel mill given that PSC has no buffer to the residential community.” 

Wood added that the HRA process reflects a sixteen-year lapse of city zoning regulation oversight of PSC and concern over community health.  

“The HRA should have been done years ago,” he said. “The one PSC operates on right now was done in 1991 and was recognized by the zoning staff as inadequate. The entire process marks a serious failure of the regional air district for waiting so long to update the HRA. The foundry’s increased activities, employment and new sources of emissions demanded a review years ago.” 

PSC has operated out of West Berkeley since 1934. Area residents have protested the foundry’s emissions and odors, which they say pose serious health and environment hazards, for over two decades. 

In an email to the community on June 6, Mayor Tom Bates addressed the HRA release. 

“I understand the limitations of the study, specifically the concerns raised about the threshold standards of the HRA,” he said. 

“The mayor’s comments suggest that the new HRA is headed down the same path as the 1991 steel mill’s health assessment,” said Wood. “The HRA is about community health. Hopefully we are all going to have a review period for this document.” 

According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, risk assessments “help scientists and regulators identify serious health hazards and determine realistic goals for reducing exposure to toxins so that there is no significant health threat to the public.” 

The four-step process of risk assessment usually includes hazard identification, exposure assessment, dose-response assessment and risk characterization. 

The air district is currently in the process of installing a mobile air station to further test and monitor emissions in West Berkeley which will establish baseline ambient air quality and the sources of variations in the air quality.  

The air district and Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE) recently settled their lawsuits against PSC. The air district settlement requires the steel foundry to install a capture hood to control emissions and pay $150,000 in fines to the air district. 

“We have applied to the air district for a use permit to install a capture hood at Plant 3,” said Jewel.  

“As per the settlement with CBE, we will be installing an air filtration system as soon as the air district gives us the necessary use permit.” 

A separate small claims lawsuit filed by the nonprofit organization Neighborhood Solutions against Pacific Steel is scheduled to be heard at the Alameda County Superior Court on Monday.