Op-ed: Concerned about health risks posed by Berkeley’s Pacific Steel Casting? Deadline for voicing them is Jan. 19

The facility emits “tens of tons of harmful air pollutants each year, including sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter, commonly known as soot.”

Residents of Berkeley familiar with the health risks posed by Pacific Steel Casting Company (PSC), as well as the noxious odors it emits (described as burnt pot handles, acrid chemical or burning brakes), have a chance to voice their concerns to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Residents must act soon, however, as the deadline to submit public comments on the latest Pacific Steel permit is Thursday, Jan. 19.

For over three decades, Pacific Steel Casting Company, the third largest steel foundry in the US, located at Second and Gilman streets in West Berkeley, has been a major source of air pollution in the region. The facility emits tens of tons of harmful air pollutants each year, including sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter, commonly known as soot. The facility further emits significant quantities of hazardous air pollutants like lead and manganese, and the associated cancer risk of 31 in a million has made PSC subject to annual public notification requirements under the state’s Air Toxics Hot Spots program.

In 2005, following a request by the Air District, Pacific Steel submitted an application for a new operating permit. The permit, known as a Synthetic Minor Operating Permit, is intended to limit facility emissions and to ensure compliance with state and federal law. Now, more than a decade later, the Air District is finally soliciting public comments on PSC’s permit.

Though PSC was once struggling financially, it appears the company is again achieving financial success. According to Speyside Equity – which purchased the facility in 2014 after the previous owners declared bankruptcy – PSC’s three plants in West Berkeley employ 430 people and generate nearly $100 million annually. In other words, PSC is now in a position to be a good neighbor and protect the community by installing continuous emissions monitors and fence line monitors, and by making the resulting real time data publicly available online. PSC must be fully transparent and accountable if it is to regain the community trust it lost long ago due to its pollution and odor problems.

Likewise, the Air District can earn the community’s trust by issuing a permit that protects the community, ensures that PSC shares monitoring data with the public, requires appropriate responses to odor complaints and guarantees that the Air District will strictly enforce PSC’s permit conditions.

Now is the time for all who have been affected by PSC, especially those who have experienced PSC’s noxious odors, to inform the Air District about their experiences living in PSC’s shadow, demand that the Air District do everything possible to limit the pollution emitted by PSC and put a stop, once and for all, to the odors impacting the community.

The deadline to submit comments is rapidly approaching. All comments must be submitted to Senior Air Quality Engineer Nicolas Maiden by 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017.

Comments should be emailed to him at nmaiden@baaqmd.gov. For more information on this process, including the Air District’s archive of information on PSC, please visit the Pacific Steel section of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District website.

For more information on PSC’s emissions and associated health impacts, please visit the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs website.

Janice Schroeder is a core member of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs, and a 38-year resident of West Berkeley.