Modification to the Use Permit (8957) UP # 06 10000045 for Pacific
Steel Castings, 1421 Second Street, Berkeley.
L A Wood, Zoning Adjustments Board, City of Berkeley May 10, 2006
Dear Board Members:
Over the last two decades, questions regarding the potential health
impacts from the west Berkeley foundry operations at Pacific Steel Castings
have gone unanswered. Please accept these comments regarding the proposed
modification to the use permit for Pacific Steel Casting as I will be
unable to attend the May 11, Zoning Adjustments Board hearing.
The proposed carbon adsorption system PSC is part of a settlement agreement
between the foundry and BAAQMD. ZAB should be aware that settlement
agreement, like all other past PSC permitting, has been conducted in
a vacuum, excluding public participation. As might be expected, this
current BAAQMD process has not been supported by those directly affected
by PSC emissions and odors.
More on PSC’s Carbon Adsorption
ZAB has been told this system is mandated but BAAQMD has yet to offer
much substantial information about PSC’s scrubber technology other
than the foundry’s ten year old press articles included in the
ZAB packet. There is much that ZAB is not being told about this two
million dollar technology including:
• There is very little known about the technology as it is being
used at PSC, including the most the basic understanding about the chemical
interactions and impacts of the carbon bed on the chemical emissions.
This is due to the fact that during the last 15 years, the steel mill
has failed to produce any reports or scientific papers to support the
safe use of PSC’s carbon scrubber technology.
•The carbon scrubber technology is not supported by the Bendix
health assessment that does not address any of the issues regarding
the use of this scrubber technology. Additionally, the Health Risk Assessment
recently promised by BAAQMD will not to address issues regarding the
use of the proposed scrubber technology
.• PSC has failed to demonstrate that its carbon scrubber system
can maintain an adequate efficiency level and that it can insure there
are no dangerous byproducts from the system when specific blend of odorous
and toxics chemicals pass through it.
Instead, the history of PSC carbon scrubber history shows that the foundry
has been shielded by a bankrupt regulatory process that has never demanded
any of the previously mentioned scientific research and documentation. Moreover, BAAQMD’s compliance experiment
with PSC has residents playing the role of guinea pig to the carbon
scrubber’s incomplete science. This is outrageous, illegal and
should stop now! The use permit modification request to install the
carbon scrubber technology should be denied.
Independent (of BAAQMD) Zoning Evaluations
ZAB members should be aware that although the use permit for Facility
No. 3 was not formally brought back to ZAB in 1999, it was addressed
by the Berkeley City Council September of that year in letter sent to
Pacific Steel Castings. The Council felt it necessary to communicate
their concerns over foundry operations and their desire to determine
the potential health effects for the emissions from PSC. The Council
also made a formal request to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District
to do the following:
• Provide an independent, facility screening-evaluation of human
health risks for all Pacific Steel Casting facilities in Berkeley.
• Screen for human health effects for all chemicals emitted from
Pacific Steel Casting at the maximum quantities permitted.
• Provide confirmation of the analyses by conducting ambient air
and soils testing in the vicinity of Pacific Steel Casting.
Initially, the air district agreed to conduct the above evaluations
requested by the City Council in 1999, but then reneged. The unaddressed
council requests to BAAQMD should be used as a guideline to impose the
following permit conditions for current operations of Facility No. 3,
regardless of whether ZAB moves to approve the proposed carbon adsorption
system. The 1991 use permit provides ZAB the discretion to:
1. Require PSC to conduct an independent Facility No. 3 screening-evaluation
of human health risks for this specific part of PSC operations. This
should be independent of the current facility-wide health risk assessment
now promised by BAAQMD and should focus more directly on the use permit
# 8957 and its expanding activities at that site over the last decade.
2. Require PSC to conduct a screen-evaluation for human health effect
for all chemicals emitted from Facility No. 3 at the maximum quantities
3. Require PSC to complete a regimen of soils and dust testing and analysis
in the vicinity of Pacific Steel Casting.
4. Require PSC to undergo a full environmental review to answer the
many serious health questions that have been raised about the carbon
absorption technology at PSC and the expanded operations of Facility
No. 3 operations since the last decade.
5. Require PSC to install of Continuous Emission Monitors (CEMs) on
the facility’s stacks. Regulatory reporting of stack emissions
could be made more transparent with monitors tied electronically to
the BAAQMD could be accessible to the Berkeley community.
6. Require PSC to conduct long-term ambient air monitoring for Facility
No. 3 and with the specific requirement for placement of at least two
(2) air monitors at Facility No. 3. One monitor should be placed at
the (downwind) fence line of Facility No. 3 and another monitor should
be placed within the adjacent residential neighborhood.
The placement of the permanent monitor would allow for real time, continuous
monitoring of the chemicals, metals and particulate matter that are
emitted by Facility No. 3. Even more important, this will begin to provide
some verification to nearby residents that they are being adequately
protected from PSC emissions, especially the high volume of airborne
* Note: The Board should see the requirement for a stationary air
monitor at ground level, set close to the downwind property line is
no extraordinary request. If fact, the city own project at 4th street
and Harrison was monitored more than a year because it was questions
arose about the air quality. And like PSC, the city argued that there
was no problem with the air quality at the west Berkeley soccer park,
but did reluctantly place a monitor onsite. The city then was surprised
to find the monitor reflected that the PM10 airborne particulate levels
exceeded the state low standard by over 100 days a year. The conditions
at PSC, less than a quarter mile away, appear to be substantially worst.
The following commentary is provided as additional comments and background
to the proposed use permit modification. http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/article.cfm?issue=05-09-06&storyID=24090
Pacific Steel Castings: ZAB’em Berkeley Daily
Planet May 9, 2006
Absent for over 15 years, Pacific Steel Casting (PSC) has finally made
a return to the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board. The steel mill is
requesting modification of their use permit No. 8957 for operating one
of their three facilities on Second Street. A privately owned West Berkeley
company, PSC has the distinction of being the city’s biggest stationary
air polluter. This fact is also reflected in its long history of neighborhood
conflicts, odor nuisance complaints, and abatement orders.
Specifically, the mill has petitioned for changes to Facility No. 3,
an open-air pour foundry permitted by ZAB in 1979. The last modification
to this use permit was made in 1991. At the same time, an out-of-court
settlement forced PSC to address its odor nuisance. The settlement required
the foundry to “determine and alleviate the odor problem within
18 to 22 months.” In retrospect, ZAB should have waited to approve
the changes to Facility No. 3 until the court-linked evaluations were
Although the 1991 permit modification created real confusion for ZAB,
from the foundry’s perspective, pushing the use permit forward
made good sense. In this regulatory fog, the foundry managed to maneuver
changes to its operations and postpone any real verification of the
impacts. The folly of ZAB’s permit approval was obscured by PSC’s
half-hearted attempt to comply with the settlement agreement. This left
the evaluations for both the use permit and the settlement agreement
incomplete, as they remain today.
Pacific Steel wants permission to install a carbon filtration system
for emissions control at Facility No. 3. Why hasn’t anyone questioned
the logic of spending two million dollars to upgrade this residentially
bound steel mill? PSC should be encouraged to move this smallest and
dirtiest portion of its operations to a less urban area. Instead, the
Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), which issues PSC’s
air discharge permits, has only praise for the foundry’s financial
commitment to the proposed system.
Perhaps PSC now recognizes the political benefits connected to this
investment, a lesson gleaned from the two existing adsorption units
in Facilities No. 1 and No. 2. Although these two units have been only
moderately effective in suppressing odors, over t he long haul, they
have been absolutely effective in deflecting public criticism of PSC’s
emissions. Besides, how could anything possibly be wrong since the steel
company claims it spent nearly two and a half million dollars to install
both carbon systems in 1985 and 1991!
Objecting to the installation of another carbon adsorption unit at the
foundry might seem a bit wacky since PSC is one of the largest steel
mills of its kind in the country. However, even with the use of both
carbon absorption beds at Facilities No. 1 and No. 2, odor complaints
continue to be identified with both buildings to this day. Indeed, these
absorption units may be linked to some of PSC’s unsolved odor
The best available technology
The community has been told repeatedly that PSC’s carbon absorption
system is the best available technology. This has never been at the
center of the debate over the proposed carbon beds. Instead, the discussion
has been about how well the technology actually works at PSC. The history
of t his pollution control system might come as a surprise to many,
especially its proprietary connection to the foundry.
At a 1999 BAAQMD hearing about the foundry’s odors, a spokesperson
for PSC said, “We started this whole thing. We were the first
ones with a carbon absorption unit.” When asked by the hearing
board who else employs PSC’s system, it was revealed that while
one company in Arizona was considering it, the foundry’s 15-year-old
technology was not being used anywhere else in the country.
When the foundry’s abatement scheme was first introduced in the
mid 1980s, the board labeled it “fundamentally speculative”
and suggested it to be an “overly optimistic process.” The
BAAQMD board was not convinced that the proposed carbon system would
eliminate the odor problems plaguing nearby homes and businesses. There
were strong doubts as to whether the proposed system was really the
best technology, much less the best odor control measure.
Some have asked, “Why not look at the recycled carbon to understand
what the adsorption system is really doing?” Unfortunately, PSC’s
used carbon is handled by a private contractor, which apparently distances
the foundry from any reporting requirements. The recycler, who handles
the dirty carbon for PSC, hauls it off to somewhere like Modesto, or,
even out of state, to be incinerated.
It is logical to assume that the ash from PSC’s recycled carbon
is hazardous due to heavy metals that would inevitably be embedded in
it. What toxic pollutants in PSC’s chemical inventory are captured
on the carbon beds? Which ones are not captured? Monitoring and evaluation
of the carbon system’s effectiveness, by an independent expert,
are desperately needed.
The air board’s assumption that another carbon adsorption system
is going to improve the impact of emissions and odors at PSC is truly
wishful thinking. For all that is known about the adsorption system’s
efficiency, it may, at times, actually exacerbate some of PSC’s
toxic emissions. Moreover, the existing adsorption systems have never
been able to adequately control the foundry’s odors. No technology
can ever protect nearby residents without an adequate buffer zone. This
is why other Berkeley foundries have relocated.
The health risk: how bad can it get?
Of all the egregious acts of use permit abuse recorded in Berkeley,
none is greater than ZAB’s acceptance of the Bendix report as
a qualified health risk assessment. The scope of the health risk evaluation,
as stipulated by the 1991 use permit, was to determine “if there
is a potential for adverse health effects of chemicals stored and used
at Facility No. 3. Bendix Environmental Research, which was hired as
the contractor, chose instead to refocus the scope of the work to the
evaluation of odors. This was an area in which Bendix had no formal
training or expertise.
From the beginning, this report was off the mark. The health risk data,
limited to information previously gathered by others, was presented
without any qualification of its validity. ZAB further contributed to
the distortion of this evaluation by allowing Bendix to refocus away
from the use permit for Facility No. 3 and to broaden the scope of the
report to include all three facilities.
The real twist to the Bendix report is that the steel mill became its
greatest supporter. In the last decade, each time the health risks from
its operations have come up for discussion, the foundry points to the
Bendix report to silence the public. PSC is quick to remind critics
that it paid for this report and that ZAB endorsed it. Recently, PSC
has agreed to undertake another health risk assessment for all of its
Berkeley operations. Neighbors have already objected to the proposed
protocol as woefully inadequate. ZAB should demand more.
Changes to the operations of Facility No. 3 in 1991 included a review
under the guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The foundry’s request for flexible hours was deemed to have insignificant
impacts. Since that time, however, PSC has changed substantially. In
fact, Facility No. 3 has grown from 80 employees to a three-shift operation
of 180 workers!
PSC has tried to shrug off the huge growth of employees and production
by arguing the foundry was underutilized in the last decade. This is
a grossly misleading explanation for the steady rise in plant activity
and the near doubling of the steel tonnage in production over the last
two years alone. This increase has already generated significantly adverse
impacts that will only grow as PSC is allowed to expand its operations.
The use permit now demands a full environmental review. This review
must include the proposed carbon absorption unit and its effectiveness
as an emissions control. If ZAB moves for approval, it should require
installation of continuous emission monitors. These CEMs can be connected
electronically to BAAQMD, making the regulatory reporting of PSC’s
stack emissions more transparent to ZAB and our Berkeley community.
The 1991 use permit debacle is at the core of the current community
conflicts with the steel mill, BAAQMD and the city. The injustice of
this outdated permit, more than a decade of unanswered questions about
emissions and health risks, and this shoddy regulatory oversight must
stop. Pacific Steels Castings should be made to conform. ZAB ‘em!
Cc Susan Adams, Council, Bay Area Air Quality Management District
Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board Members
Jim Ryden, Chief, California Air Resources Board, Enforcement Division
Gerardo Rios, Office Chief, Permits, U S Environmental Protection Agency,
Region IX, San Francisco, CA
Patti Barni, Section Chief, Compliance Division, CA Department of Toxic
Substances Control, Berkeley Office
Leslie Krinsk, Council, California Air Resources Board
Transcript of PSC Zoning Adjustments
Board hearing May 11, 2006