City Council Hopes to Regulate Berkeley Steel Plant's Odors

Pacific Steel Casting Company Odor Management Plan »

Pacific Steel's Odor Management Plan

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Hoping to further reduce and eliminate odor complaints from residents living near a West Berkeley steel plant, the Berkeley City Council decided to dig deeper into the history of the plant's regulation and develop a new plan to combat the odors at its Tuesday meeting.

In a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which regulates the Pacific Steel Casting Company, the council will ask the district to rescind its acceptance of the company's Odor Management Plan, which outlines steps the company has taken to reduce odor emission. The council will also ask the district to investigate the removal of an unconditional order of abatement - which held Pacific Steel to stricter guidelines to respond to odor complaints - at a public hearing in 2000.

Under the rescinded order, the facility was required to stop operations or face fines and possible closure when an odor complaint was filed, according to Janice Schroeder, member of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs.

Toni Stein, an environmental engineer who was appointed to serve on the district's five-member hearing board from 1999 to 2001, was the only member to vote against the removal of the order. Stein said the four who voted in favor of the removal felt Pacific Steel had addressed all the issues associated with odor complaints.

"I knew that there were going to be continuing complaints based on the information that they gave us and indeed there were," Stein said.

In February 2008, the council asked the district and company to create a plan to reduce odor emissions after Councilmember Linda Maio requested a use permit revocation process with the intent of drawing attention to the problem.

Even before the air district approved Pacific Steel's Odor Management Plan in October 2008, the company began upgrading the facility and has spent millions of dollars upgrading the three plants over the past five years, according to Elisabeth Jewel, spokesperson for the company.

"We're getting fewer complaints, but we're not done yet, and it's not acceptable," Maio said. "Wrestling this stuff down is really the job, but I think that I'm not trained to evaluate how well they're doing, but the air district is."

Although the district worked with Pacific Steel to develop the plan, Aaron Richardson, spokesperson for the district, said the district may not be able to directly enforce it by rule or regulation, though inspectors have verified the company is following practices outlined in the agreement.

Christopher Kroll, a member of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs, said while he appreciates the council's efforts to appeal to the air district, the city needs to do more to demonstrate it cares about citizens' health.

"The Odor Management Plan is grossly inadequate," Kroll said at the meeting. "It's not adequate to just say 'they can't be addressed, and let's just move on.'"


Stephanie Baer is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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