For Immediate Release February 26, 2009
Contact: Denny Larson, Global Community Monitor: 415-845-4705; Ray Kidd, West Oakland Air Monitors 510- 653-1563; Ina Bendich, EXCEL Law Academy: 510-386-1657; Jill Ratner, Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment: 510-220-1885
New West Oakland Air Monitoring Program Targets Toxic Pollution from Troubled Scrap Metal and Aluminum Melting Plant
McClymonds EXCEL Law Academy Students Identified Threat from Scrap Metal facility
(West Oakland, CA) A new Community Air Monitoring Program will target toxic pollution from scrap metal and aluminum manufacturing plant. Neighbors of the plant and students of the McClymonds Excel Law Academy will begin a series of toxic air tests to target Custom Alloy and Scrap Sales (CASS), which refines and produces aluminum from scrap metals. This is a follow-up project on the work that McClymonds students have conducted over the past two years.
“The CASS facility has been a major health concern to the neighbors and nearby schools because they release dangerous toxins such as dioxin and heavy metals,” said Ray Kidd of the West Oakland Air Monitors (WOAM). “It is very important that the community be able to test our own air and use the data to identify sources at the facility that need to be cleaned up.”
In early 2008, students of McClymonds EXCEL Law Academy, working with the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, released alarming findings about high lead levels found in their classroom downwind of CASS. The student campaign to reduce neighborhood pollution began as a class project. “We are proud to work with these amazing students. It’s great to see what they have been able to accomplish, working with their neighbors, in such a short time,” said Jill Ratner, Director of the Rose Foundation’s New Voices Are Rising Project.
Neighbors formed a pollution patrol watchdog group, West Oakland Air Monitors (WOAM), with the assistance of the Global Community Monitor (GCM). The neighbors took 5 air samples over 24 hour periods upwind and downwind of CASS operations and found extremely high levels of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal known to have serious health effects. Other toxic metals were also found in the samples along with large amounts of aluminum, which indicates the source of pollution is likely the CASS operations.
"CASS doesn't seem to care about the harm that they may be causing in terms of health issues for people who live in the neighborhood and youth, like us who go to go school right down the street,” said Brittnie Collins, student at EXCEL Academy. “We want our voices to be heard and to be a part of the community monitoring efforts to change this situation."
"CASS might be one of the contributors to the severe asthma that me and my peers suffer from,” said Danyale Willingham student at the EXCEL Academy. “They don't understand how this affects us since the people in charge over there don't live in this neighborhood.”
In 2009, GCM received funding from the San Francisco Foundation, the Women’s Foundation of California and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund to conduct air monitoring around the CASS scrap metal and aluminum re-melting plant. Seed funding for GCM’s initial monitoring work with the EXCEL/McClymonds students was provided by the Rose Foundation.
“We are excited that major San Francisco bay area foundations have funded this community led effort to clear the air around industrial plants located in the middle of homes and schools,” said Denny Larson, Executive Director of GCM. “The problem of ‘mixed use’ zoning presents a clear threat to the health of families that is ignored by city and Air District officials.”
A team of community members and students have been trained to follow US EPA protocols to locate portable particulate monitors around the CASS facility. Quality control/ quality assurance methods approved by the Bay Area Air District will ensure that samples are an accurate representation of pollution in the neighborhood. A US EPA laboratory will analyze the samples for heavy metals and aluminum in order to identify sources with CASS for priority clean up.
“We have been meeting with Oakland City officials and CASS management to resolve the serious issues of pollution, noise and blight created by a scrap metal operation in the middle of our neighborhood,” said Jerome Carloss of WOAM, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years. “We want CASS to clean up their act and be a good neighbor, not shut them down.”
“Sometimes the smell can be so bad that I don’t want to breathe for fear of inhaling the toxins,” said Linda McFadden, a CASS neighbor and WOAM member, “The City of Oakland is very responsive, but I personally feel that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is negligent. They still -- to date -- have not performed any tests for toxic metals in the air we breathe -- despite the horrifying results of our preliminary air tests.”
After a series of meetings with Oakland city agencies, inspections were conducted to investigate community complaints. The City Code Enforcement Dept cited CASS for 8 hazardous violations and the Fire Department hazardous materials division cited CASS for serious violations after an inspection. The Fire Department cited CASS for operating without proper Hazardous Waste control measures. The work of the students and neighbors has also prompted the Bay Area Air District to also target CASS with particle monitors.
West Oakland Air Monitors (WOAM) is a community group focused on cleaning up a neighboring scrap metal recycler and aluminum re-melting plant – Custom Alloy Scrap Sales (CASS). The group conducts environmental monitoring of CASS and is working with the City of Oakland, other agencies and CASS management to move scrap operations to the Oakland Army Base and eliminate unnecessary pollution. (http://www.gcmonitor.org/article.php?list=type&type=99)
Global Community Monitor (GCM) is an international human rights and environmental justice organization that empowers communities to monitor their environment and take action to transform it into a truly sustainable way of life. GCM has trained communities in 21 countries and dozens of states in the U.S. (www.gcmonitor.org)
McClymonds EXCEL Law Academy is part of the EXCEL (Experience, eXcellence, Community, Empowerment and Leadership) High School is focused on preparing its students for postsecondary education. Through its SMArt (Storytelling, Media, and Art) Academy, EXCEL offers video production, and has a Law and Government Academy. EXCEL's Law and Government Academy has competed in Mock Trial with other high schools.
Rose Foundation’s New Voices are Rising Project, a program that introduces high school students to community advocacy and active citizenship. In addition to EXCEL/McClymonds students, New Voices Are Rising has worked with over 700 students from eight East Bay high schools during the past year. For more information about the Rose Foundation or New Voices Are Rising, visit www.rosefdn.org.