Civil Suit Brought Against Berkeley Steel Foundry

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After years of continuing controversy, a class-action lawsuit was filed against West Berkeley's Pacific Steel Casting Company last week alleging that it emits unsafe levels of pollutants into the surrounding neighborhood.

If the plaintiffs win, the suit would require the company to reduce emissions to safe levels or move out of Berkeley, and provide monetary compensation for the thousands of neighbors expected to join the suit.

According to Timothy Rumberger, the attorney representing the neighbors, hundreds of people have already joined the suit. A class-action lawsuit allows an individual or a small group to file a suit on behalf of a larger group.

"I don't think that anyone can say with a straight face that Pacific Steel Company is not the biggest polluter in Berkeley and has been for decades," Rumberger said. "Just because they're big doesn't mean they should be able to continue poisoning the neighborhood. If they can't do it safely they're going to have to do it somewhere else."

Company spokesperson Elisabeth Jewel declined to comment.

Two separate cases against the company have recently been settled, resulting in the installation of emissions-reducing systems. A small claims suit has also been filed on behalf of several neighbors.

But Rumberger said this suit is different because it allows the entire community to get involved.

"This entitles everyone that's being impacted by this for representation and potential compensation," he said. "I think there's a lot more potential for change if the whole neighborhood is together."

Rumberger said the suit is the culmination of over a year's worth of work in the neighborhood. Data on emissions were collected from 23 sites around the foundry that monitored the concentrations of chemicals in the air.

Rumberger said that, under standards set by the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency, the observed chemical concentrations were "far above what would be healthy for a human to breathe."

The suit's lead plaintiff, Rosie Lee Evans, who has lived near the foundry for 47 years, said the worst part of living so close to the foundry was the smell of burnt copper coming from the plant.

In February, the City Council threatened to declare the foundry a nuisance, which could have closed it down. However, the council instead has been meeting with the company to draft steps it can take to reduce emissions.

"We can suggest kinds of things that they can look into but really they're going to have to be proactive in getting the very best advice and the very best technologies installed in the plant," said Councilmember Linda Maio, who represents the area around the foundry.


Amy Brooks covers environmental issues. Contact her at [email protected]

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