Protesters Call For Cleaner Air Near Schools

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Residents and local environmental groups concerned about harmful emissions protested the practices of a West Berkeley steel manufacturer Saturday.

About 250 people marched to the Pacific Steel Casting Company on Second Street after a December USA Today report listed some Berkeley private schools as having the poorest air quality among schools in the nation.

According to the report, three Berkeley private schools-Nia House Learning Center, Via Center and Black Pine Circle School-are in the first percentile of poor air quality.

"We expect city government to make sure our kids are breathing clean air," said Judith Barish, a Berkeley resident with children at Berkwood Hedge School, listed in the second percentile.

While schools in the Berkeley Unified School District were not in the first percentile, spokesperson Mark Coplan said emissions are a concern because the USA Today report may not be accurate.

"The state is questioning how the study was put together because it has two places down the street from one another with completely different ratings," Coplan said.

The report is in addition to a Global Community Monitor report, which found that nickel and manganese levels between April and November 2007 exceeded what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.

"We want to pressure Pacific Steel, Bay Area Air District and the city of Berkeley to dramatically reduce pollution coming from the plant," said Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.

Residents in the past few years have filed lawsuits against Pacific Steel, but on Dec. 15, a judge overturned previous rulings that the company was solely to blame for poor air quality.

"There were claims that ranged from headaches to nausea to odor," said Elisabeth Jewel, spokesperson for the company. "The judge agreed with Pacific Steel that you could not associate all of these things with one company."

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District conducted a health risk assessment of the company in 2007 and found emission levels below the limit necessary to mandate action.

"It may be one of the largest stationary sources of air pollution in Berkeley, but our data shows us that probably the air quality in West Berkeley is more affected from motor vehicles," said Henry Hilken, director of planning and research for the district.

Councilmember Linda Maio said the city will act after data gathered by a monitoring station set up in November 2007 is available in the summer.

"Soon as we have results, we'll be able to determine what the next best steps are," she said.


Contact Arielle Turner at [email protected]

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