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Group to Announce Results of West Berkeley Air Quality Testing

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday August 28, 2007

Air monitors set up by a group of West Berkeley residents in May to detect emissions from Pacific Steel Casting (PSC) reveal high levels of toxic metals nickel and manganese. 

The group, which calls itself the Berkeley Community Monitoring Team, is scheduled to present its results at a press conference at a monitoring site on Eighth Street today (Tuesday). 

Pacific Steel contends that the test results are inconclusive and misleading. 

“The results as published by the Berkeley Community Monitoring Team ignore data that does not fit its preconceptions,” a statement issued by PSC said. “The team singles out PSC as the sole source of emissions when air samples tested are cumulative of all sources (including Highway 80) in the industrial neighborhood of West Berkeley. The air monitoring machine is not approved by the EPA, results are not verified by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the machine has limited capability in detecting small amounts of individual metals.” 

Located at 1333 Second St., PSC produces steel castings that are used in various industries. Area residents have complained for years about its noxious odors and emissions which they call a health risk. 

“These are preliminary findings but one of the goals is to daylight our monitoring project and encourage other people to stand up on their roofs and put up a monitor,” said L A Wood, who is part of the team. “We went into it with some basic assumptions. Some of the prior sampling by the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs show traces of formaldehyde and lead and this raised questions in the community. I think our results will seriously challenge Pacific Steel’s Health Risk Assessment Report and urge them to take another look at it.” 

Pacific Steel presented its Health Risk Assessment report to the air district last month. The report—which is yet to be released to the public—will help determine whether the steel foundry poses a health risk to Berkeley residents. 

Wood added that while the air district had supported their project, Pacific Steel had not cooperated. 

“We wanted to know their times of operation but were unable to do so,” he said. “We knew it was primarily at night so we based our sampling on that assumption. One of the main indicators was the smell. Every time you talk about West Berkeley emissions, the city government has pointed to the freeway. But this has more to do with all the industries in West Berkeley than the freeway. There’s a reason why the air district gave us the money for the monitors. They know that something is wrong at the steel foundry.” 

The preliminary results from the community air monitor are based on two dozen samples. The final report will be released after 100 air tests have been completed. 

“These test results are even more proof that Pacific Steel must immediately stop its pollution that threatens the health of the community,” said Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. “The health of residents is more important than corporate profits.” 

According to Mark Cherniak, an independent international health expert, the levels of nickel and manganese found in the samples taken near the West Berkeley steel foundry were hundreds of times higher than considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

“The nearest and largest facility known to emit these metals is Pacific Steel,” said Wood. 

“At the locations where monitoring found excessive levels of both manganese and nickel, these levels were found in proportions similar to PSC’s known emissions of these metals.” 

Cherniak’s analysis stated: “The manganese levels at the 700 block of Gilman Street were four to five times the WHO’s guideline value for this contaminant while nickel levels at this location were 180 to 220 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s reference concentration for this contaminant.” 

Additionally, “Manganese levels at the 600 block of Gilman Street and the 1300 block of 3rd Street were 10 to 20 times the WHO’s guideline value for this contaminant while nickel levels at these locations were up to 330 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s reference concentration for this contaminant.” 

Cherniak also said that all that data from the sampling suggests that PSC was the source of these excessive levels of contaminants.  

“By using a mobile monitoring station, we are for the first time getting an idea of the particular pollution coming from Pacific Steel,” Denny Larson, director of the non-profit Global Community Monitor, an organization that promotes environmental justice and human rights for communities, told the Planet. 

“So far, complaints have always centered around odor. There has never been a comprehensive study of tiny particles eliminated from the foundry which people can’t smell or see. We want to put some scientifically incredible numbers to these particles so that people know how big of a health risk they can be. We are finally honing in on what is harmful.”