The West Berkeley Community Monitoring Project will release test results today (Tuesday) for air samples taken near the Second Street-based Pacific Steel Casting to check for toxics.
The release, at the West Berkeley Senior Center, 1900 6th St., 7 p.m., culminates more than six months of testing made possible with help from Global Community Monitor—an environmental justice organization—and grants from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). The event is hosted by Greenaction, Global Community Monitor, West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs and the Ecology Center.
A group of residents got together between April and November and collected 66 air samples at 24 locations near the steel foundry to monitor for particulate matter using portable air samplers recommended by the air district. Control samples identified pollution coming from the freeway and other nearby sources.
According to LA Wood, who participated in the project, the sampler used a calibrated pump to gather particles on filters which were tested for heavy metal pollutants such as lead, manganese, nickel and zinc by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved laboratory.
“It’s quite timely since Pacific Steel’s Health Risk Assessment (HRA) report is being reviewed for public comment until Thursday,” he said. “Our sampling project will undoubtedly give those in West Berkeley real hope that something concrete is being done to actually investigate the air emissions and health concerns generated by Pacific Steel.”
Prepared by Pacific Steel Casting with assistance from the environmental consulting firm ENVIRON, the HRA report examines the effects of both current and future emissions on residents and whether West Berkleyans need to be notified about health risks under air district guidelines. The community project’s air sampling identified Pacific Steel as “the largest point source of a variety of air pollutants of concern.”
“Whatever the outcome of the tests, it’s impossible to tie it to one source,” said Elizabeth Jewel, of Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners, the public relations firm representing Pacific Steel.
But Denny Larson, a project participant, said: “For years complaints and concerns have focused on odors of gaseous chemicals and not the particulate pollution which can be more reasonably assigned to Pacific Steel and is arguably more hazardous to health as heavy metals can accumulate in the body.”
Although preliminary test results released in August indicated high levels of toxic metals nickel and manganese, Pacific Steel called the findings inconclusive and misleading since the air monitor was not EPA-approved and the results were not verified by the air district.
According to Mark Cherniak, an independent international health expert, the levels of nickel and manganese found in the samples taken near the West Berkeley steel foundry were hundreds of times higher than considered safe by the World Health Organization.
Community members are concerned that the Pacific Steel’s own health risk report identified children at the Duck’s Nest preschool—located a block away—as being most susceptible to risks from airborne hazardous material and subsequent cancer risks.
The city’s Zoning Adjustments Board mandated the foundry’s first Health Risk Assessment in 1991 due to the pre-school’s proximity to it. “Our results are not inconsistent with the HRA,” Wood said. “We all recognize that there is a problem. What we differ on is the level of the problem. We believe that the sampling is indicative of a chronic exposure.”