Activist Demands Scrutiny of Foundry
Marc Albert, Berkeley Voice, May 27, 1999
Last Thursday, Miriam Kaminsky held her nose during a
softball game. It wasn't because her daughter's team was losing. According
to Kaminsky, both teams, about 30 girls, from the Berkeley-Albany girl's
softball league spent much of the game covering their noses and trying
to stay upwind of an insidious smell. Described as that of a burning
pot handle, the odor has been a fact of life for northwest Berkeley
and Albany residents and a known quantity to state regulators for years.
"All the kids were complaining about it, all the
parents were smelling it, it was a really heavy stench. There was really
nowhere you could move to get out of it. One of the coaches thought
it was a train burning its breaks. But I knew what it was." Kaminsky
The game was played at Fielding Field, a stretch of industrial
land near Albany Village converted to a playing field by sports enthusiasts.
The source of the smell is the 65-year-old Pacific Steel Casting metal
foundry a few blocks away. At the factory at Second and Gilman streets,
350 well-paid union workers fabricate metal parts for machinery and
industry. The plant was recently awarded a commendation by the city
for staying put, and keeping its well-paid, moderately skilled jobs
In many ways the case is emblematic of land-use and environmental
struggles throughout the country. Land-use patterns are changing, and
every year more housing developments and recreational destinations are
approved along the edges of Berkeley's shrinking industrial quarter.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District says the
public shouldn't be concerned with the unpleasant odor. The smell is
associated with organic compounds which smell bad, but aren't particularly
harmful. According to the agency the sources of concern -- burning nickel,
cadmium and other metals‹ are odorless, and releases are far below
levels considered to be dangerous.
The reassurance of regulators is hardly soothing to Kaminsky,
who along with neighborhood groups has fought the factory since at least
the early 1980s.
"Pacific Steel is putting thousands of pounds of
waste into the air each year," she charged, "including nickel,
chromium and manganese, which are known carcinogens and toxins. I don't
believe this terrible stench of burning metal is harmless."
In I998, the plant won permission to burn off some of
its waste at the site." The incinerator went on line about a year
ago and regulators say, the operation is cleaner now than it was before.
Environmental activist L A Wood says there's more than
meets the nose. Wood maintains that the incinerator is not just a malodorous
nuisance, but a genuine public health concern.
By comparing the permit issued by BAAQMD for the incinerator,
which the agency calls a "fluidized bake oven" with numbers
prior to its installation, a picture begins to emerge. The incinerator
alone puts out 2.5-tons of particulates, .7 tons of nitrogen oxide,
a key ingredient of smog, and 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide annually.
But as Ted Hull, a BAAQMD air quality engineer contends,
the amounts are inconsequential. "Even a small internal combustion
engine would emit more than that (amount of nitrogen oxide). That's
less than 10 pounds a day. We wouldn't consider that a lot."
Wood insists the air district fully investigate plant
emissions and study cumulative health effects. According to him, the
board's ruling that the company's emissions are within all regulatory
standards is a misnomer. Wood charges that the board overlooks cumulative
effects of various pollutants on human health.
"They are losing the forest for the trees. Pacific
Steel Casting is one of the biggest dischargers into Alameda County
air and the air board is treating them like a mom and pop cleaners."
But according to the BAAQMD, the state agency charged
with regulating air pollution, the smells may be unpleasant, but the
odor itself is not a public health problem.
"The existence of an odor problem does not necessarily
correspond with a health risk," said Brian Bateman, who leads the
district's toxics division. The odor, described by the air board as
similar to a burning pothandle, is created when organic compounds in
metal forms are burned.
Numerous complaints of public nuisance in the early 1980's
prompted the district to act. The agency forced the company to install
an efficient incinerator and raise the height of its smokestack. A higher
stack disperses pollutants over a wider area, but in lower concentrations.
"There hasn't been any specific complaint, and no public nuisance
or notice of violation in at least six years," said BAAQMD supervisor
Richard Lew, "The odor was a lot, lot worse before."
But neighborhood groups insist the mix of industry and
homes is inappropriate for an incinerator. Wood and Kaminsky say the
factory is within 1,008 feet of a day-care center. Wood complains that
a public hearing required before stacks are located near schools was
never held, though the factory predates the school and the law.
Wood also charges that the complaint process is too circuitous
for the community. "They have to have three people call in one
hour and only then they'll come out and take some air sampling. The
community is burned out on the regulatory process."
Wood wants constant monitoring of the plant's emissions.
"The last time there was any talk about the health
effects was 10 years ago," he said. Wood said the company is allowed
to burn 10,000 tons of material annually, and the board won't study
cumulative health effects.
"Their main emission's nickel," Bateman countered,
"but again they are within established limits. It's a well-controlled
plant." Bateman said his agency doesn't commission health risk
studies unless scientists estimate the health risk at over one cancer
in 100,000 people over a 70-year period. Pacific Steel Castings is below
"I'm not sure where Mr. Wood is coming from,"
said company spokeswoman Christine Chan, " I'm not sure what he
is talking about.
"Since (the 1980's) we have done a lot. We
were the first company in the country to put in a carbon filtration
for the emissions before it is released from our plant. The company
has been working within its permit. I don't know what we can do to convince
Mr. Wood that we are a health and safety conscious company."
Neighbors Raise Stink over Odors: Air Quality Officials
Downplay Dispute over Pacific Steel Castings Berkeley Judith Scherr, Daily Planet, June 13, 1999
Local activists say Pacific Steel Castings is making more than metal
widgets. They say the toxic substances emitted by the 65-year old foundry
on Second Street may be making them sick.
But Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokesperson
Lucia Libretti downplays the concerns. "The problem is less serious than breathing car and
truck emissions, just from crossing the street," she said in an
A hearing board is looking at the question of emissions
that go into the air after passing through a cleansing process that
some call a "bake oven" and others call an incinerator. PSC
makes casts of sand and glue and disposes of them by putting them in
the bake oven/incinerator.
Libretti called the panel of five, appointed by the air
district, a "quasi-judicial body" made up of experts and lay
people who are not air district employees."They serve as a resource for BAAQMD," she said.
The board held a hearing with activists and PSC representatives
Tuesday evening. The hearing will be continued in July. A date has not
A spokesperson from PSC was not available for comment
The hearings were set up when the foundry asked the air
district to lift an Unconditional Abatement Order, imposed on it in
1985 after numerous complaints from the neighborhood. The air district's
strict order forces the company to stay within "acceptable"
levels of emissions. "(PSC) spent over $2 million to abate odors in the
neighborhood. Since 1991, they haven't had any violation notices. There
have been 120 complaints and 20 were confirmed," Libretti said.
PSC put in a new piece of equipment last year to burn
even more of its waste so that less gets hauled to the landfill. "The district is not opposed to having (the abatement
order) lifted, given (PSC's) compliance record," Libretti said.
Community activists, however, are concerned about the
emissions coming from the new piece of equipment. They claim the foundry
emits dangerous particles that include carbon monoxide and potentially
dangerous metals including chromium and nickel.
They want the Unconditional Abatement Order to be maintained,
and they want to get answers to questions about the emissions and their
impact on the health of people in Berkeley.
"We have no clue about the (exact) constituents of
sand emissions," said L A Wood, who has been working with a group
of concerned citizens.
Wood said the group wants the air district to place ambient
air stations strategically around Berkeley to measure the contents of
emissions and to examine what toxins are in the soil. "We're asking for an independent toxicologist to
look at the problem," Wood said.
Libretti, however, said officials know what the emissions
are because the substances that go into the oven are known. Further,
she argued, the district already has monitor stations in Richmond.
Libretti said that when five complaints are made to the
district in a 24 -hour period, an inspector comes out and talks to the
complaining party and confirms, by smelling, that there is in fact an
odor. Libretti characterized most of the odors emitted by the PSC plant
She said it's not comparable to being near a refinery.
The activists say odors are a problem, but they are just one of the
"Odors are only part of the issue. It's what you
don't smell," Wood said.
City Council Calls for Inquiry into Local Steel Plant's
Christine Fu, Daily
Californian, September 16, 1999
The Berkeley City Council requested this week that a Bay Area environmental
agency investigate a local steel production company.
The City Council moved on Tuesday to recommend that the
Bay Area Air Quality Management District determine the amount of pollution
being emitted from West Berkeley's Pacific Steel Casting Company, according
to air quality district spokesperson John Selawsky. (Note:
John Selawsky is a city of Berkeley commissioner)
The air quality agency plans to conduct on-site air and
soil testing to determine whether the company's chemical output endangers
human health, Selawsky said.
Pacific Steel Casting manufactures steel casts, or heavy
steel parts, for the trucking and oil industries.
"There is a need for more air control, and a cumulative
screening of air quality is needed for the quarter mile surrounding
the Pacific Steel Casting," Selawsky said.
The city's recommendation followed the community environmental
advisory group's decision to ask the Bay Area air quality agency to
evaluate the impact of the steel plant's emissions on human health.
But Pacific Steel Casting spokesperson Christina Chan
said the company does not produce harmful chemical emissions.
The PSC is confident that there are no health risks and
that living in West Berkeley is no more dangerous than living anywhere
else," she said.
Chan said the casting company is planning to cooperate
fully with the regional air quality agency's investigation.
But Nabil Al-Hadithy, manager of Berkeley's toxic management
division, said the industrial area of West Berkeley has a history of
Complaints from West Berkeley residents resulted in City
Council actions eight years ago, he added. At the time, the council
passed a measure that required industrial plants like Pacific Steel
Casting to install anti-pollution devices.
An uproar arose when the casting company requested the
removal of the abatement order, said Al-Hadithy.
As a result, two public hearings were held, attracting
the attention of community activists like L A Wood, who said that the
Bay Area air quality agency must take action on pollution caused by
the steel company. "The Bay Area Air Quality Management District needs
to be more progressive and begin to conduct all-encompassing air quality
investigation," Wood said.
A blood test conducted on West Berkeley resident Shay
Stephens showed her blood contained many toxic chemicals, including
arsenic, chromium, nickel, and formaldehyde, according to Wood. "There is a definite need for a multi-facility and
holistic approach to air quality control," Wood said. "The
BAAQMD needs to be more futuristic and begin to include multiple facility
screenings in conjunction with single plant investigations for health
risks in the area of Oceanview and Albany."
The Bay Area air quality group has already done preliminary
research the chemicals that may present a health risk to humans, Al-Hadithy
"So far there is no indication that there are any
risks or threats to the community, but in order to alleviate the public's
concern we will do an air sampling and further investigation,"
Pacific Steel Casting Remains Under Scrutiny
Judith Scherr, Berkeley
Daily Planet, September 22, 1999
The City Council has added its voice to those of West
Berkeley and Albany citizens who are concerned about adverse health
affects allegedly caused by emissions from Pacific Steel Casting facilities
in West Berkeley.
During last week's meeting, the counci1 asked the city
manager to write to the Bay Area Air Quality District, asking the agency
"to provide an independent, facility screening evaluation of human
health risks for all Pacific Steel Casting facilities in Berkeley."
The board has been conducting a series of hearings, relative
to odors emitted from the plant. The hearing panel has permitted testimony
with respect to smells only. People who attempted to testify to perceived
health impacts were told that testimony was inappropriate for purposes
of the panel's investigation.
This study requested by the council, therefore would address
those health questions that the panel did not address.
Environmental activist LA. Wood asked councilmembers to
go beyond this resolution. He wanted them to ask the air board for a
study of all the various emissions and their health affects in west
Berkeley. "To only evaluate PSC emissions when its neighbors
on adjacent properties also discharge large quantities of similar emissions
is extremely shortsighted and says virtually nothing about actual air
quality in the immediate area," he said in a letter to the council.
The council, however, declined to take action on the broader
question and resolved only to ask the air district to address the health
affects of PSC emissions.
The BAAQMD will continue its public hearing on odors emitted
from PSC tonight at 6 p.m. at the State Health Department Auditorium,
2151 Berkeley Way.
Draft Report Not Released to Public
Judith Scherr, Berkeley Daily Planet, January 5, 2000
The Bay Area Air Qua1ity Management Board hearing panel will be discussing
its October decision on Pacific Steel Castings Thursday.The deliberations
are open to the public, though the public may not be able to understand
what the discussions are about.That is because no member of the public
is permitted to view the document on which the deliberations will be
The document in question is a draft decision, written
by BAAQMD's hearing panel, a body independent of BAAQMD. The summer
hearings on PSC's request to lift a 1984 Unconditional Odor Abatement
Order, brought out dozens of West Berkeley and Albany residents who
contend the odor coming from the plant is noxious.
The panel held three hearings in Berkeley, listening both
to residents' complaints and to PSC's response. Community members asked
the panel to keep the abatement order in place. PSC argued that the
number of complaints never amounted to a violation -- five verified
complaints on a single incident constitute a violation and that no one
had proved the odors were coming from the plant rather than from nearby
industries. PSC attorneys concluded that the 1984 order --which carries
hefty fines for violations -- should be lifted.
On Oct. 28 the hearing panel rendered a decision: The
order would be lifted, but certain conditions would be imposed for a
year. The hearing panel put the decision and its conditions into a draft
decision and in the middle of December and sent copies to the BAAQMD
Mary Romaidis, Deputy Clerk of the Boards, said she was
unable to provide the Daily Planet or the public with a copy of the
draft decision because "it's like going to court' and having a
draft decision made by a judge. "You don't want a draft copy circu1ated,"
Emeryville City Councilmember Greg Harper, a member of
the BAAQMD, was surprised that the public would not have access to the
document. He thought the BAAQMD counsel, Robert Kwong, might facilitate
making it available, but Kwong said that because the document came from
the hearing panel, he could not provide it to the public.
Both PSC and the Air Quality Management Board wrote letters
to the hearing panel, objecting to the decision. These letters are part
of the public record and were given to the Daily Planet. Although the
public will not be privy to the basis on which the discussion will be
held and will not be permitted to comment --deliberations are among
panelists and the meeting is not a public hearing -- the public may
Berkeley resident L A Wood tried unsuccessfully to obtain
a copy of the draft decision. In response, he shot off a letter to the
panel, which said, in part "let it be said that this kind of backroom
decision process invalidates the public deliberation process and defeats
the notion of public participation envisioned by our legislators."
Odorous Order: Air Quality Board Places New Conditions
Judith Scherr, Berkeley Daily Planet, January 10, 2000
Over the objections of two of its five members, the Bay
Area Air Quality Hearing Board ruled Thursday to impose new conditions
on a west Berkeley foundry.
According to the order, Pacific Steel Castings must:
Hold at least two community meetings to address citizen
concerns and to explain efforts to reduce odor nuisances.
Submit a report by Sept. 1 to the Bay Area Air Quality
Management District and the hearing panel "detailing all complaints
received by PSC between Oct. 28, 1999 and Sept. 1, 2000"
Include the results of the community meetings and actions
taken by PSC in response in the report.
The hearing board will make a decision by Oct. 1, determining
whether to continue the conditional abatement order or lift it.
At issue was a 1984 order by the air district for PSC
to abate odor complaints. Having installed new equipment and having
not received any violation notices for two years, PSC asked BAAQMD to
lift its order, which imposes hefty fines when violated.
Three hearings were held in Berkeley over the summer,
where citizens testified that odor problems - "the smell of burning
pot handles" - persist, albeit, the objectionable odor occurred
less frequently than it had in the 1980s, some said.
Although PSC's attorney had argued that the lack of public
nuisance violations against the company showed that the odor had been
abated, the hearing board took the citizens' concerns into account in
rendering its decision Thursday.
Moreover, the report slammed the district's method of
determining a violation, although the hearing panel has no jurisdiction
over changing the methodology.
The Hearing Board report - denied to the public in the
draft form discussed at the meeting, but available to the public from
the BAAQMD Hearing Board in its final form - took note of specific public
The report said that Peter Holloway testified that he
did not know where to complain about an odor after hours; L A Wood said
it was a burden to require five verified complaints per noxious odor
in order to declare an official violation; James Miles testified that
the person complaining had to wait at home until a staff person from
the district arrived.
"Once a resident learns where to go, the complaint
process is a tedious one," the report says. "It is a heavy
burden to place on residents to expect them to repeatedly call and complain
and wait for an inspector."
The report concludes that "the Hearing Board is persuaded
that the evidence and testimony presented show that the district's policy
and procedures for citizen odor complaints may not accurately reflect
actual odor emission occurrences and hence nuisance."
One of the hearing panel members, Larry Milnes, asked
for a delay in the proceedings, because he had just received a revised
copy of the draft document and hadn't time to read it. He was overruled
by the chair, Alvin Greenberg.
Another of the hearing panel members, Antoinette Stein,
had previously argued that since citizens still complained of odors
and since they found problems with the district's reporting process,
the Unconditional Order for Abatement should not be dropped.
She wrote a dissenting opinion. "It is therefore
especially important that the Unconditional Order for Abatement not
be lifted at this time, since it should remain in place as a tool for
citizens to use to fully rectify odor nuisance problems that Pacific
Steel Casting fails to recognize" she wrote.
The air board's objections to the hearings were also dismissed
by the chair. The BAAQMD attorney said that the hearing board was exceeding
its authority by instituting new conditions, when the hearings had simply
been on whether the unconditional order to abate should be maintained
Greenberg, however, said the Hearing Board was within
its rights to write a Conditional Order for Abatement for the foundry.
PSC has previously said it would challenge the imposition
of new conditions. Neither the PSC general manager nor its attorneys
responded to the Daily Planet's request for comment for this story.
Foundry continues to concern neighbors
Judith Scherr , March 17, 2000
A handful of residents concerned about odors they say are emitted from the Second Street Pacific Steel Castings foundry showed up Wednesday evening at a public meeting hosted by managers of the 66-year-old plant. Holding two public forums this year is one of the conditions imposed on PSC by a Bay Area Air Quality Management Board hearing panel, when it removed a more stringent Abatement Order imposed on the foundry since 1984.
The second meeting will take place some time in April.
Several of the neighbors in attendance underscored their support for the 'foundry and said they were especially pleased that Chief Executive Officer Robert Delsol addressed the meeting, even though he was unable to stay for the question-and-answer session that followed. They also praised the new filtration system for having significantly reduced odors. At the same time, people in attendance said they continue to be concerned about odors that they believed were emitted by the plant.
"We appreciate the fact that Pacific Steel is in our neighborhood. We appreciate the economic activity, like having real work and not paper shuffling," said northwest Berkeley resident Paul Cox in his remarks at the meeting. Cox said, however, that he continued to experience "episodic" odors. "How much of your product is getting filtered? Clearly it is not everything," he said.
Christine Chan, environmental engineer and PSC spokesperson, responded that 90 percent of the combustible material goes through the filtration system, resulting in less-than-detectable odors. It is not known if the reported odors come from the plant or from one of a number of nearby industries, Chan said. She also explained that the facility without a filter - one of the company's three facilities - releases a very low level of emissions, making a filter unnecessary.
The discussion turned to criticism of the Bay Area Air Quality
District's process through which the public makes official complaints about odor nuisances.
For the district to "confirm" an odor complaint, five people need to call the district about it and an inspector needs to verify the complaints. "It's rare that an inspector makes it to my house within an hour," said Avery Beer, who said he has been making complaints for years. By the time the inspector gets there, the odor has dissipated.
Beer said that he gets headaches as a result of the odor and asked for more information about the toxic effects of the emissions. "I wouldn't give a hoot about the smell unless there was concern about toxicity," he said.
Mark Murray, from the public relations firm of Wong and Murray, who was moderating the meeting, was quick to remind attendees that the subject under discussion was odor and not toxicity.
The plant is in Councilmember Linda Maio's district. Maio attended the meeting and expressed her surprise at the small number of people present. She told Chan that at constituent meetings, concerns with odors from the plant are frequently raised to her.
Maio said her office got notice of the meeting only the day before the Wednesday meeting. While Cox said he had got notice of the meeting the Friday before, others who had attended last year's hearings on PSC said they had received no notice at all.
Berkeley Children Deserve Clean Air March
Berkeley, CA, February 21, 2009
West Berkeley Neighbors came out in force today to protest the ongoing pollution emissions problems at Pacific Steel Castings in Berkeley. The rally and march to the 2nd Street foundry was sponsored by Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, Global Community Monitor and many other local groups including the Healthy Air Coalition