Environmental group sues East Bay foundry, air regulators over cancer-causing emissions

Environmental group sues East Bay foundry, air regulators over cancer-causing emissions

Environmentalists who accused an East Oakland iron pipe company in December of spewing cancer-causing chemicals into the air in surrounding neighborhoods filed a new lawsuit Tuesday accusing regulators of ignoring the problem and failing to consult members of the public.

In the suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, Communities for a Better Environment again accused AB&I Foundry of polluting the low-income neighborhood near the Oakland Coliseum with carcinogenic emissions that cause headaches, dizziness and nausea.

They also alleged that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District had worsened conditions by giving the foundry six more years to comply with clean-air standards it was originally supposed to meet by the end of this year, and by failing to request or accept comments from the public.

AB&I, formerly called American Brass & Iron, was also sued in February by Attorney General Rob Bonta, who said the foundry was exceeding legal standards for emissions of hexavalent chromium, a chemical that targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes and can cause lung cancer when inhaled. Bonta’s office said residents of the neighborhood have high rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease and other health conditions caused by air pollution.

“We complain to them (the Air Quality Management District) daily and they ignore the community,” said Esther Goolsby, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1992, when she was 16, and is co-director of Communities for a Better Environment’s Northern California program. She said she has asthma and COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which causes breathing difficulties, her children had asthma, nosebleeds and frequent headaches while growing up, and some of her neighbors have died of cancer.

More than 52,000 people live within a mile of the plant, which is also within a mile of 15 schools and less than one-third of a mile from the Coliseum, the suit said. Because it also emits intense, noxious odors, smelling like burnt rubber, the suit said, neighbors often “forgo outdoor activities such as gardening or going for a walk. Community members often must keep doors and windows closed during AB&I’s operating hours.”

The air district issued 35 notices of violations to AB&I between 2003 and June 2021, 16 of them since 2012, but did not require the foundry to install pollution controls until last year, the suit said. In last year’s notice, it said, the district reported that the risk of cancer was twice as high as normal safety levels for nearby residents, and four times as high for those who worked in or near the plant.

The foundry is scheduled to close at the end of December and move its operations to Texas. Kristine Roselius, a spokesperson for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, credited pressure from the district, other government agencies and Communities for a Better Environment for the planned shutdown, which was announced in March. She said the company made the decision after BAAQMD concluded last year that the emissions posed a public health risk, and after the district co-hosted a public workshop with the environmental group.

“As a result, health risk reductions will be achieved within a much shorter time frame and with far greater emissions reductions,” Roselius said. “The air district is overseeing the shutdown and site cleanup process to ensure all air quality regulations are followed as the facility closes.”

She also said the district “followed all notification requirements” and “solicited extended public comment “ on its assessment of the foundry’s health impacts.

But the lawsuit said the district, which in 2017 ordered the foundry to comply with emissions standards by the end of 2022, extended the deadline by three years in 2018, and by another three years in 2020, without public notice.

Meanwhile, the suit said, “Bay Area residents continue to breathe toxic air putting their health at risk.”

After AB&I closes, the environmental group’s lawyers said, there will still be about 40 industrial facilities in the area with dangerous levels of emissions that have not been halted by the air district.

AB&I’s parent company, McWane Inc., did not respond to a request for comment on the suit.

The environmental group’s December lawsuit and Bonta’s suit, which are still pending, accused the foundry of violating Proposition 65, a 1986 state ballot measure that requires businesses to notify their customers and the public if their products can cause birth defects, reproductive harm or cancer. Monday’s suit contends the emissions created a “public nuisance,” private actions that harm the livability of an entire neighborhood and can lead to criminal prosecutions as well as civil damages.

The suit does not seek damages, only court orders that require AB&I and the air district to follow the law and to close the plant immediately unless it complies with emissions standards.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @BobEgelko