Public Comments to Pacific Steel Casting - Berkeley
Synthetic Minor Operating Permit Revisions
L A Wood, December 14, 2016
The mission statement of the Air District claims it, and I quote, “aims to create a healthy breathing environment for every Bay Area resident while protecting and improving public health, air quality, and the global climate.” However, the district’s permitting practices for west Berkeley’s largest polluter, Pacific Steel Casting, have taken a much lower aim.
Over the last 15 years, our community has been in a heated conflict with the Air District over their lack of accountability to the large increases in PSC's metal and chemical emissions and the persistent odors. Also in conflict has been the total lack of public transparency especially as it relates to the district’s permitting practices and the PSC's Synthetic Minor Operating Permit compliance.
In 2005 (initiated by a complaint filed by Berkeley Citizen) there was a demand from the court for the air district to consolidate PSC's permits and emission inventories as required by law. This is only being considered now and only because of public outrage. This is why we are here tonight.
The legal failure to consolidate PSC’s SMOP permits can be explained, in part, by a political climate that has existed at the district for more than a dozen years that coincides with the current term of district APCO Broadbent and our now former Berkeley mayor and BAAQMD board member, Tom Bates.
Thus far, there has been no acknowledgement from the district regarding SMOP compliance or the air district’s preferential treatment of this west Berkeley company. This betrayal of the public trust helped shape the extreme changes seen in the last decade in west Berkeley developments, use permits, abuses of CEQA, and all at the expense of local air quality and health protections for residents.
Over these years that the PSC permit was allowed to fall into non-compliance, with the aid of the district, it also allowed the reporting of the company’s emissions to be minimized. At this same time, the District and PSC argued that the company and DISTRICT were in compliance with the law. It should be noted that PSC also operated under less stringent legal requirements than other BAAQMD permit holders.The district’s failure to penalize PSC over this egregious violation of their operating permit, as stipulated by district regulation, shows that little has changed, or is likely to change, in the district’s protective posture and oversight of Pacific Steel Casting.
BAAQMD did not bring about this public review. A complaint filed in 2015(again by Berkeley Citizen) with US EPA more that a year ago over BAAQMD's permitting practices triggered this current public discussion regarding PSC’s SMOP. Clearly the permit is not practically enforceable. There seem to be few safeguards to protect the community from the District’s political prejudices or from their lack of enforcement and compliance. BAAQMD's history can only be characterized as being asleep at the wheel.
The permit’s enforcement depends too heavily on odor nuisance and dodges the real community concern of protection from airborne chemicals and metals. I remind you that odors are airborne chemicals. When you smell odors from PSC, you are actually being touched by those chemicals. The permit itself gives no reliable measurement of these chemicals in the downwind neighborhoods. Evidence from the last decade via monitoring suggests a very serious issue of chemical and particulate exposure.
In addition, the permit relies on an 8-year-old Health Risk Assessment. This outdated document, even when it was drafted, clearly underestimated heavy metals and chemical exposure to downwind residents. The HRA evaluations do not conform to today’s health standards and are desperately in need of reevaluation, especially given the shrinking buffer between the foundries and downwind residents and businesses. This aspect of the permit is grossly unreliable.
As previously stated, the permit is virtually meaningless, especially to our most pressing concern, understanding residential off site exposure. Today, evidence-based measurements are the only guarantee to our community that we and our children are actually being protected. We demand that PSC's new permit include a condition for Continual Emissions Monitoring and fence-line monitoring. Further, that this public information be made readily available online. Today's technology certainly can provide this measure of compliance. All of these public protections are long overdue. Anything less is regulatorally dishonest. Frankly, we have had enough of that….