Berkeley Councilmember Linda Maio and Bay Area Air Quality Management District Executive Director Jack Broadbent’s Jan. 7 letters to the editor demonstrate their willingness to deny the seriousness of the air pollution in Berkeley schools and neighborhoods. Immediately taking a defensive stance instead of resolving to research and resolve the problem (unlike public officials in other states cited in the articles), both Maio and Broadbent argue that the recent USA Today report is based on flawed data. This is not true.
In my correspondence with USA Today reporter Blake Morrison about Mr. Broadbent’s letter, Mr. Morrison states that “Mr. Broadbent appears to misunderstand how we used TRI.” Mr. Morrison notes that the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data was not used by USA Today for risk assessment, but rather risk screening. Furthermore, USA Today consulted with the EPA to make sure they used the TRI data correctly, specifically working with EPA official Nick Bouwes, who actually developed the model.
Mr. Broadbent tries to bolster his criticism of the USA Today study by suggesting that the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) believes the TRI data to be invalid and inaccurate. Mr. Broadbent is wrong. In my correspondence with Professor Michael Ash, a representative of PERI, about Mr. Broadbent’s letter, Dr. Ash notes that “Mr. Broadbent has inaccurately characterized our discussion of the accuracy of the RSEI data.” (The RSEI data is based the underlying TRI data.) On the contrary, Dr. Ash believes that the data used in the USA Today study is “unbiased” and a “best-practice screening system for community exposure to airborne industrial toxics.” He further notes that the data has been extensively peer reviewed by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, and that PERI specifically endorses how USA Today has used the data in their study.
It is alarming that the first, apparently knee-jerk response of Maio and Broadbent to the USA Today study is to criticize the findings. Sadly, however, this appears consistent with their policies over the years that have lent support to largest polluter in Berkeley, as cited in the USA Today report, Pacific Steel Casting (PSC). PSC has a long, well-documented history of emitting large amounts of toxins into the air, including manganese, a metal known to cause major health problems in children, including cancer, birth defects, asthma, and IQ deficiencies. Mayor Tom Bates, Maio, and Broadbent have failed to protect Berkeley children and citizens on their watch. Now, as they are exposed, they are pretending that no problem exists and hoping that we buy it. Berkeley deserves better.
Maggie Liftik is a Berkeley resident.