Pacific Steel, Berkeley in Settlement Agreement

Feb. 18, 2008
City had threatened foundry with public nuisance declaration
Pacific Steel Casting has entered into an agreement with the city of Berkeley, CA, to reduce noxious odors coming from one of its plants in the city. According to local news reports, the voluntary agreement was reached as the city council prepared to consider declaring the company a public nuisance. No terms of the settlement have been reported. For several years, the company has been the target of local activists who object to odors and fumes from the operation. Pacific Steel Castings is one of the country’s largest steel foundries, and produces castings for commercial vehicles and water valves. It uses shell-mold, green-sand, and air-set processes to produce carbon and low-alloy and stainless steel castings weighing up to 7,000 lb. Late in 2005, Pacific Steel agreed with the state’s environmental authority to install carbon absorption systems to control odors and emissions. The company also concluded a settlement with an activist group in February 2007, whereby it also agreed to install new pollution controls. In December 2007, an Alameda County Superior Court judge awarded thousands of dollars in damages to a neighborhood group that had sued the company, citing loss of use and enjoyment of their property and mental distress. In her ruling, the judge found that that company had created a “private nuisance” for several of the plaintiffs. If the council had declared the company a nuisance, Pacific Steel contended recently, it would have had to close in order to avoid further penalty. In a letter to the council, the company agreed to "cut odor and emissions while producing superior steel castings," according to the local reports. Pacific Steel had said it would have to shut down and lay off 640 workers if the city went through with its formal nuisance proceedings to alter its use permit. Those proceedings could take time and end up in court. "They are letting us know the use permit route is harmful to them, but they want to collaborate on an agreement that will still get us there," stated councilwoman Linda Maio. "I don't want a drawn-out process. There could be many public hearings, appeals and lawsuits, and it could be messy." While claiming she preferred to negotiate a settlement with the company, the councilwoman reportedly will continue to use the threat of the nuisance proceedings to enforce environmental compliance by the foundry.