Pacific Steel Casting, Berkeley, CA, has submitted a Health Risk Assessment report to California's Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the state regulatory agency charged with oversight for the region. The report is part of the effort to demonstrate the steel foundry presents no health risk to people living near Pacific Steel's operations.
The company produces cast components for truck and bus manufacturing, as well as water valves, and is one of the largest steel foundries in the U.S. For several years, Berkeley residents have charged that odors from the foundry's three plants constitute a threat to their health. The company has installed carbon adsorption systems in order to ameliorate the odor problem, but complaints by neighbors and environmental groups continue. In February, Pacific Steel agreed with local groups to install more pollution controls and to cooperate in efforts to diminish future environmental risks.
The Health Risk Assessment report is part of the agency's effort to determine if the community's complaints are valid. The report is being reviewed by BAAQMD officials, and it is expected to be released to the public soon for a 90-day public review period.
“It will go through a series of reviews,” explained Elisabeth Jewel, a public-relations agent for Pacific Steel, in local press reports. “It could even be changed. But, it’s important information for the neighbors that may help them better understand what kind of impact Pacific Steel has on the community.”
California's Environmental Protection Agency uses risk assessments to identify where health hazards exist, and to set realistic goals for reducing exposure to toxins in order to minimize public health threats.
Local environmental activists contend that the Health Risk Assessment will not force Pacific Steel to "clean up" its operation. They call for BAAQMD to require the foundry to institute a "Toxic Use Reduction" program, which they say would be a way to achieve "transparency" and "accountability" in the operation. Toxic Use Reduction is the subject of a legislative initiative pending in California's legislature, which would require industries to examine their industrial processes and determine how to reduce the risk of toxic chemicals.
Martin Bourque of Berkeley's Ecology Center told a local reporter: “There is so much that goes into the (Health Risk Assessment) report that’s heavily biased that it can never be taken seriously. The results are biased to make it seem that there is no health risk ... Their assumption is that it’s okay for one person in a million to get cancer. We don’t think it’s okay. The results are not going to convince members of the affected public in any way.”
He added that because Pacific Steel had financed the Health Risk Assessment, it could not be a fair analysis of the situation. “Even though the consultants are a third party, they know where their paychecks are coming from,” he said. “I doubt that the Health Risk Assessment will produce any significant negative results, and PSC will just turn around and say ‘we told you so.’”