In the San Francisco Bay Area as a strategy to minimize
regional sprawl, reduce the impacts of automobiles, and provide affordable
housing, there has been increasing residential redevelopment within industrial
urban corridors, such as West Oakland and West Berkeley.
Historically, these areas have been home to heavy industries
(steel casting and manufacturing), high tech and clean industry (health foods,
clean energy and computer), recycling (scrap metals, computer, aluminum),
ports, railroads, trucking centers, and shipyards.
As new residences and population density are increasing, the
dual goals of affordable housing and preserving local industry are leading to a
The result is an area of “mixed use” zoning where homes,
childcare centers and schools are next door to large toxic polluters. There is
no breathing space or buffer zone to protect these residents from industrial
emissions. A fundamental question has not been addressed by this new wave of
zoning: due the high toxic burden, should we really be allowing mixed
so, then what kinds of health protections should exist for community members?
further complicate the problem, such areas have little or no air quality
monitoring that would enable assessment of health threats or policies aimed at
In West Oakland,
a predominantly low-income community of color, diesel and other particulate
matter cause or contribute to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Asthma
rates in the area exceed county averages, and statewide rates. From
facilities we have monitored, the most likely impacts are kidney disease,
neurological damage, cancer and asthma. Dioxin (a cancer causing and reproductive
toxin) may come from one facility.
Our work in West Oakland has
grown from an innovative project in a high school class leading to increasing
focus on one of the largest industrial polluters in the area. As a result of
increased air monitoring and regulatory scrutiny and legal action, we are now
in a promising position where the community, the polluter and government are
agreeing on a solution of industrial relocation.
In 2006, GCM (partnering with
the Rose Foundation) introduced McClymonds High School students to
community-driven pollution sleuthing and enforcement and training in
air pollution monitoring devices.
In 2007, students patrolled
around the Custom Alloy Scrap Steels (CASS) scrap metal processing plant
located five blocks from McClymonds and took particulate fallout samples around
the school complex. Lab analysis found dangerous levels of lead and chromium.
In 2008, GCM organized residents who formed West Oakland Air
Monitors (WOAM) to monitor emissions and noise from CASS, organize their
complaints and secure meetings with agencies and their city council person. As
a result, a series of inspections and enforcement actions began, which has
resulted in violation notices being issued to CASS. Evidence of heavy metals in
health threatening concentrations was presented to the Bay Area Air District,
which agreed to increase inspections and monitor emissions from the facility
for an entire year.
Concurrently, WOAM leaders and GCM convinced CASS top
management to meet with neighbors to begin a dialogue aimed at resolving
community concerns through a Good Neighbor dialogue.
In 2010, GCM settled a legal action with CASS over illegal
run off discharges into the San Francisco Bay that resulted a $500,000
investment by CASS to build berms to contain run off, enclose the “battery
dismantling” area, and properly fence off all properties.
community monitoring, advocacy, and open dialogue have now resulted in the
neighbors, CASS and another facility, regulators and local government agreeing
on a solution to relocate the recyclers to the abandoned Oakland Army Base,
creating a model buffer zone between industry and community members.