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Mobile station to monitor air quality near steel foundry

Berkeley , CA (USA) - The Bay Area Air Quality Management District will spend roughly $750,000 over the next year or so to monitor the air near Pacific Steel Casting, the West Berkeley steel foundry neighbors say emits a foul odor and hazardous toxins. The air district put the mobile air monitoring trailer last month at Sixth and Camelia streets, about three blocks from Pacific Steel, in the wake of a bevy of problems related to the foundry.

"It's long overdue," said Berkeley community activist L A Wood.

The foundry's problems have included three lawsuits over odor and emissions in the last few years and dozens of complaints from residents about headaches, nausea and a tightness in their chests because of a foul odor.

"The goal here is to locate these trailers in various impacted communities over time so we can better quantify air quality issues in those areas," said air district monitoring manager Eric Stevenson. The district has 31 air monitoring sites around the Bay Area.

Stevenson said the cost of the trailer, a white boxy structure on wheels, was $250,000. Staff time and other costs for 12 to 18 months _ the length of time the trailer will stay in West Berkeley _ could run an additional $500,000.

The trailer is equipped with air monitors on top and computerized monitoring equipment inside. It's surrounded by a barbed wire fence.

Pacific Steel spokeswoman Elisabeth Jewel toured the trailer Tuesday with a few city officials and air district staff members.

"We are interested to see what the data is," she said. "There's never been so much data about air quality in West Berkeley before. The important thing to remember is it collects data from multiple sources and there is no way to distinguish what emissions are coming from what sources." The air district's trailer comes in the wake of independent testing by volunteers with the Global Community Monitor of San Francisco. Between April and November a group of volunteers used a portable particulate monitor to conduct 66 tests on rooftops in two dozen locations near the steel foundry.

Denny Larson, the executive director of Global Community Monitor, called the air district's trailer a win for the community.

"It's a huge victory that the trailer is up, and the community, for the first time, will get an idea of what they are breathing and find out where it's coming from," Larson said.

Larson said his group should be credited for helping bring the trailer to West Berkeley.

"They got the ball rolling and started generating data. Before that it was just finger pointing in the other directions, and studies based on calculations rather than actual measurements," Larson said.

Last summer, Global Community Monitor released preliminary data that showed levels of manganese and nickel much higher than those deemed safe by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The air district is still reviewing that data. The group expects to make their final findings public by Jan. 29.

Meanwhile, the health risk assessment report for Pacific Steel will be presented to the public at 6 p.m. today at a community meeting at West Berkeley Senior Center, 1900 Sixth St. Staff from the air district and the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health will answer questions.

The health assessment was mandated by the air district under a state air pollution control law.

The report, conducted by Environ in Emeryville, a paid consultant for Pacific Steel, shows that cancer risks and non-cancer hazards for those exposed to facility emissions and for those living, attending school or day care near the facility do not pose a "significant risk."

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