Community members turned the heat up a notch on Pacific Steel Casting Tuesday when Berkeley lawyer Tim Rumberger filed a class-action nuisance lawsuit against the foundry on behalf of thousands of West Berkeley neighbors.
The lawsuit—filed in the Superior Court of Alameda County—names Pacific Steel neighbor Rosie Lee Evans as the lead plaintiff. It seeks an injunction requiring the foundry to reduce “off-site toxic emissions impact to safe levels or relocate from this neighborhood,” and demands a compensation to “the thousands of neighbors affected daily by the noxious odors and toxins.”
Pacific Steel spokesperson Elizabeth Jewel of Aroner Jewel and Ellis, the public relations firm representing Pacific Steel, refused comment on the lawsuit.
“It will proceed and we will go to court and that’s about it,” she said Tuesday.
The class-action complaints against the foundry include negligence, trespass, public and private nuisance, intentional misrepresentation and unlawful business practices.
“Rosie lives in the shadow of the plant,” Rumberger told the Planet. “She has been poisoned with toxic fumes and hazardous materials from Pacific Steel for a long time.”
He added Evans was a good representation of the neighbors who had lived in the downwind homes surrounding the three industrial plants off Second Street in Berkeley for a six-month period during the last three years, as mandated by law to qualify as part of the class.
Evans, who has lived in the neighborhood for 47 years, said she has smelt burnt copper for a long time.
“It was something stinky, sometimes it’s hard to describe the smell,” she said. “But it made me cough really bad. It was only when I talked to my other neighbors that I believed it was coming from Pacific Steel.”
Evans said she believed her husband’s dry cough and her grandchild’s asthma have been caused by fumes from Pacific Steel
“I don’t know how many residents make up the class,” Rumberger said. “I have been consulting with many of the neighbors for almost a year now and doing research. We wanted to get the science right. For a long time people have believed they were being poisoned but the plant denies it and has said the emissions are from the freeway. But the neighbors are ready to fight it. It’s our burden to prove that the chemicals are coming from Pacific Steel.”
The lawsuit provides scientific air sampling data collected over a six-month period from near the Second Street-based foundry by Global Community Monitoring under a grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
The test results show evidence of manganese and nickel concentrations hundreds of times higher than deemed safe by the World Health Organization.
Jewel told the Planet in an earlier interview it was impossible to tie the outcome of the test to one source.
A recent report by Global Community Monitor on grassroots action monitoring toxic pollution names Berkeley as one of the worst polluted cities in the world based on the Pacific Steel air monitoring project case study.
“The city and the air district have failed the people miserably in West Berkeley and have caved in to the threats of Pacific Steel Casting again,” said Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor. “So it’s time to take the issue to court and to the streets to seek justice until the health of the neighbors is really protected.”
Several hundred Pacific Steel workers turned up at a Berkeley City Council meeting in February to protest Councilmember Linda Maio’s proposal to declare the West Berkeley-based foundry a “public nuisance” and refer it to the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board for odor abatement.
The council voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with Pacific Steel to cut odor and emissions within a specific timeline.
Pacific Steel Casting’s appeal of a small claims court decision which went against the company in November and awarded $35,000 in damages to a group of West Berkeley neighbors who sued the foundry for loss of use and enjoyment of their property and mental distress began last week .
Rumberger’s class action lawsuit also charges Pacific Steel for emotional distress and fear of adverse health consequences caused by what it claims to be “exposure to harmful and offensive emissions or odors, fumes and articulate matter,” caused by the foundry’s negligent conduct.
The lawsuit asks the court to mandate that Pacific Steel to maintain records of all complaints, claims or emission reports and to install and maintain continuous 24-hour fence line monitors which would transmit emissions to a public web site.
It also urges the formation of an independent Pacific Steel neighborhood organization to address resident concerns.
Pacific Steel agreed in a settlement of a lawsuit by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to install a $2 million carbon absorption unit on Plant 3 to reduce emissions and odor last year.
It also settled a suit from Communities for a Better Environment by agreeing to install an air filtration system.