West Berkeley Air Quality Plan
Falls Short
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There is truth in the '60s idiom and verse, "you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." Nevertheless, Berkeley's City Council is considering a proposal to fund a six-day air monitoring project for west Berkeley. This new $10,000 air emissions study comes on the heels of more than two years of focused public criticisms about the Oceanview area's deteriorating air quality and most recently, to the city's decision to build a playing field next to the freeway and local industry. In an obvious rush to silence the growing debate over Oceanview's increasingly toxic emissions, council representative Linda Maio has introduced the newest round of air quality sampling.

Most of us understand that any environmental sampling, whether soil, water or air, often involves more than science because of prevailing business and political interests. It should come as no surprise that these influences can define an environment investigation as much as regulatory science.

Historically, these forces have handpicked the "experts" to investigate and have set the budgets in a regulatory process that has little public oversight. Consequently, air monitoring schemes can vary greatly. So what about the Maio Plan? It seems a fair question to ask about the project's science and its claim that the monitoring objectives are defined to provide the maximum spacial information. In a recent TV spot, Representative Maio said her plan focused on freeway emissions and that she hopes to generate a report to send to Sacramento.

This public statement suggests that Maio is a bit confused about the stated objectives of the contract. Does the Maio Plan seek maximum spacial data or freeway emissions data? If the focus is actually the freeway, then why hasn't air sampling been proposed all along South and West Berkeley's contact with I-80? Instead, most of the single day monitoring stations are to be located in the manufacturing sector of Councilwoman Maio's district. This suggests other objectives.

A close look reveals that air sampling will be collected next to Pacific Steel Castings (PSC), next to Berkeley Asphalt and at two other locations near the freeway, as well as the recently approved Harrison Street Playing fields. Your readers should know that in the last two years, Councilwoman Maio has supported the expansion of these two businesses and the creation of the fields in the face of a district controversy over increasing air emissions and community health. It appears that the real intent of the Maio Plan is to collect data relating to these use permit changes. Yet, even Maio must admit that few scientific conclusions, if any, can be drawn from the project's six meager samplings.

It should be understood that the Maio Plan has not been properly peer reviewed and evaluated. Perhaps this is an attempt on Maio's part "to keep it simple" but her scramble to begin the sampling makes more evident the political expediency to act decisively than to answer the public health issues. This is also reflected in the fact that all future sampling related to the Maio project remains undefined. How can realistic monitoring objectives be established when the Maio Plan is not fleshed out? Some of the promises of the Maio Plan, like presenting meaningful periodic stack release information from this very complex emissions-laden area, raise further suspicions about the proposed scope of work.

Why haven't Maio's experts factored in a worst case scenario into the monitoring project? What about Cal EPA or the Air Resources Board? Their expertise and other regulatory resources should be sought out in order to expand the sampling tenfold. And why sample only in the winter? Come on! This will result in extremely limited meteorological data and will probably just add to the confusion about West Berkeley's air quality. Moreover, there is a serious concern that this half-baked monitoring scheme will lead to an underestimation of emissions and health risks. Surely Councilwoman Maio must know that there is a history of this in all of Oceanview's past air monitoring projects.

Few will remember that in 1988, after parents of a preschool near Fourth and Gilman street raised their concerned voices about the impact of local air quality, a single monitoring station was set up between PSC (one of Maio's proposed monitoring locations) and the preschool. This limited sampling data was then used to generate a regulatory report and subsequently to pacify parents. Today, like with the 1988 air monitoring report, we now know that a single sample approach for any location produces less than a snapshot of emissions levels.

This selective air monitoring technique was again repeated in 1997 with the Harrison Play fields in a two-day sampling. It is a serious omission for any project, including Maio's, to develop a sampling protocol which does not allow for some direct comparative analysis over time, i.e. multiple samplings at the same location, and with different meteorological settings and times of the year. This is the only way to create a real emissions profile for west Berkeley, if this is truly the intent.

West Berkeley Air Quality Plan Falls Short
L A Wood, Berkeley Daily Planet, March 14, 2000

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