Air District Releases Health Assessment of Pacific Steel

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday October 19, 2007

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District released Pacific Steel’s long-awaited health risk assessment report to the public last week and will be accepting comments until Jan. 31. 

Prepared by West Berkeley-based Pacific Steel Casting with assistance from environmental consulting firm ENVIRON, the report examines the effects of both current and future emissions on residents, and whether West Berkleyans need to be notified about health risks under air district guidelines. 

Pacific Steel released a statement, not yet approved by the air district, stating that the “the estimated cancer and non-cancer risks for all population, regardless of location” was found to be below the risk reduction level set by the air district. 

Diagrams in the report illustrate that of a million people near the facility, ten might be at an increased risk of developing cancer from the plant’s emissions. 

“Ten in a million may be acceptable for industrial areas but may not be acceptable for residential areas,” said Nabil al-Hadithy, the city’s toxic manager. “It looks to me that a couple of residential units are within the ten in a million risk. Whether ten in a million is acceptable in residential areas is open to interpretation. The city has hired Tetratech to analyze the report independently. We will be submitting our comments to the air district once that is over.” 

Elisabeth Jewel of Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners, the public relations firm representing Pacific Steel, said that the seventeen residential units that faced increased risk from cancer would be notified. 

“They are a mixture of office and live-work units belonging to The Tannery near the plant,” she said. 

Air district spokesperson Karen Schkolnick told the Planet that the agency had found the report to be complete and had sent it to the State Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) for an independent review. 

“We are required under the state Air Toxics Information and Assessment Act to ask for the health risk assessment report,” she said. 

“Before we make any kind of determination about whether the findings are accurate, we have to accept comments from OEHHA.” 

Environmentalists and community members remain skeptical about the report and have labeled it “whitewash.” 

“The so-called ‘health risk assessment’ released by Pacific Steel Casting is a self-serving document prepared by the very polluter that has emitted enormous amounts of noxious odors and toxic pollutants into the community for years,” said Bradley Angel, executive director, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. “The fight to protect the health of residents will continue.” 

Janice Schroeder, a volunteer for the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs, said that the report was a sham since the plant could tweak its equipment until emission numbers were abnormally low, then run official source tests which show numbers at or below allowable thresholds.  

After settling with the air district over a lawsuit last year, Pacific Steel installed a $2 million carbon absorption unit on Plant 3 that, Jewel said, had greatly reduced odor and emissions. 

However, complaints about headaches, nausea and chest tightness from exposure to the plant’s emissions continue. 

“Pacific Steel must minimize the community's exposure to its toxics by incorporating a comprehensive Toxic Use Reduction program which includes full transparency and community involvement in the entire process,” Schroeder said. 

Jewel said that the methodologies used to prepare the report were approved by the air district, and that the health analysis was guided by the California Air Resources Board. 

“Pacific Steel has made substantial improvements in the neighborhood,” she said. “We have spent millions in emission control equipment. We are a lot better than we were before.” 

Global Community member LA Wood, who performed air tests near the foundry with the help of air district funds, said that preliminary sampling suggested that manganese and nickel levels were higher than what was considered safe by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

“There are health concerns if you are within a third of a mile of Pacific Steel,” he said. 

“Drawing circles around the foundry and saying it’s a manufacturing area is nonsense...This part of West Berkeley may be designated as a manufacturing district, but time has radically altered the character of the area which now contains many residential housing units and schools. The new HRA [health risk assessment] avoids addressing this reality when it rationalizes lower regulatory concerns for public health.” 


The report can be viewed at www.baaqmd.gov. 

Comments can be submitted to Scott Lutz, Manager of Toxic Evaluation, BAAQMD, 939 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94109. Email: slutz@baaqmd.gov.