East Oakland foundry pollution spurs two lawsuits to protect community
on February 25, 2022
The state of California and an Oakland-based environmental group are suing the pipe casting facility AB&I Foundry for reportedly emitting excessive levels of a carcinogenic chemical into East Oakland’s air.
Both lawsuits, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, accuse the foundry of violating California’s Proposition 65 — a law requiring businesses to warn people about significant exposures to harmful chemicals. The state’s lawsuit, filed by Attorney General Rob Bonta on Feb. 15, states that McWane Inc. operating as AB&I Foundry, failed to warn the East Oakland community about hexavalent chromium emissions and the risks associated with exposure. Hexavalent chromium is known to cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm, and when inhaled, is 5,000 times more potent than benzene, another carcinogenic chemical that the foundry emits, the lawsuit says.
AB&I is less than half a mile from a public library and two elementary schools. And Communities for a Better Environment, which sued AB&I on Dec. 16, located an unhoused encampment approximately 200 feet from the facility and noted that the closest house was 800 feet away.
In response to the allegations, foundry spokesperson John Promani stated, “We believe we are, and always have been, operating in full compliance with Proposition 65 and will be cooperating fully with the Attorney General’s office to demonstrate this compliance.”
In court filings, the company said, “adequate environmental exposure warnings have been provided.”
The foundry has a long history of legal trouble, including a similar Proposition 65 lawsuit filed against it by the state in 1993 for emitting excessive levels of lead without proper warning. As a result, the company agreed to adopt measures that would reduce the pollution and to provide warnings as required by law. While community members hope that the current lawsuits will bring justice, they also question the lengthy process it has taken to get here.
”There have been voices in this community that have been trying to bring attention to this for quite some time,” said Jasmine Gonzalez, who lives a mile and a half from the foundry. “Why now?”
In April, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District released a draft Health Risk Assessment of the foundry, which reported that cancer risk for workers at the facility was four times higher than the air district’s standards and two times higher for community members, due to emissions of hexavalent chromium and other chemicals. The assessment, which is expected to be finalized later this year, may require the facility to implement a risk reduction plan to reduce emissions.
In March, the foundry announced that it will move its sand molding operations to Texas, due to what the company said were “ever increasing regulatory standards,” according to the East Bay Times, which reported that about 100 jobs would be lost in Oakland. AB&I started in Oakland in 1906 and today produces cast iron soil pipes and fittings used in plumbing systems.
Dan Sakaguchi, a researcher with Communities for a Better Environment, said that moving molding operations isn’t likely to decrease the cancer risk.
”There still is a huge health impact at the facility even if that casting source has been removed, and that casting source, if it’s brought into a new community, will create health hazards,” Sakaguchi said.
Meanwhile, community members and workers continue to face exposure to hexavalent chromium, benzene and other carcinogens emitted by the facility, in addition to an odor that they say causes headaches, nausea and respiratory issues.
“I literally feel like they control my access to be outside, to have my windows or my doors open whenever I want,” Gonzalez said.
Longtime East Oakland resident and CBE community organizer Esther Goolsby said her children grew up with respiratory issues, headaches and random nosebleeds. While she’s glad the lawsuits are shedding light on the pollutants being emitted, she says it’s up to the community to keep putting pressure on politicians and regulatory agencies to make sure those emissions do not exceed standards.
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