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‘Power of community’: Berkeley Environmental Law Clinic represents environmental justice group in suit

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HUGO KWOK | STAFF

In a suit against AB&I Foundry and Bay Area Air Quality Management, UC Berkeley Law’s Environmental Law Clinic is representing environmental justice group Communities for a Better Environment.

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OCTOBER 31, 2022

UC Berkeley Law’s Environmental Law Clinic is representing Communities for a Better Environment, or CBE, in a suit against the AB&I Foundry in East Oakland and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, or BAAQMD.

The suit alleges that AB&I’s air pollution combined with BAAQMD’s failure to regulate has resulted in a risk of cancer and other health conditions for East Oakland residents.

“What provokes the cases is long-standing community dissatisfaction with BAAQMD which has not listened to the community,” said Steve Castleman, a clinical supervising attorney for Berkeley’s Environmental Law Clinic. “This is a long-standing problem with especially low-income and minority communities like those around AB&I in East Oakland.”

Castleman noted that the Environmental Law Clinic is pro-bono, or free of charge, working almost exclusively on environmental justice cases like this one.

According to the litigation, toxic odors have substantially impacted the surrounding community of over 50,000 people living within a one mile radius of AB&I as well as thousands more who live outside of the radius.

Castleman noted that the community surrounding AB&I includes many small children, and having to breathe polluted air for another six years will affect their health along with the rest of the community.

“I am so sick of AB&I getting away with polluting the community and causing a nuisance with the toxic odors they emit,” said East Oakland resident Jasmine Gonzalez in an Oct. 25 press release by the Law Clinic and CBE.

According to a statement on behalf of the AB&I Foundry, they have ceased manufacturing operations at the East Oakland plant and expect to leave the property by the end of January 2023.

Kristina Chu, a communications manager at BAAQMD, noted that pressure from the Air District, other government agencies and CBE led to the AB&I facility shutdown. She added that the air district co-hosted a public workshop with CBE in an extensive outreach process.

“Air District is overseeing the shut down and site cleanup process to ensure all air quality regulations are followed as the facility closes,” Chu said in an email.

Despite the closure, the litigation is expected to move forward, Castleman said.

According to Tyler Earl, a staff attorney for CBE, BAAQMD failed to consult the public and extended the timeline by six years for AB&I and other polluters to comply with Rule 11-18.

This rule, Earl noted, was adopted by BAAQMD and aims to reduce public health risks from industrial polluters in the region. According to the litigation, the rule sets regulatory thresholds for health risks called “Risk Action Levels.”

Earl added that they hope the lawsuit will enforce the implementation of this rule that incorporates required resident input and protects communities from toxic pollution.

“This case is significant because it represents the culmination of over a decade of community organizing and action for environmental justice against AB&I’s pollution and against BAAQMD’s reluctance to act,” Earl said in an email. “It demonstrates the power of community to stand up and fight back when the regulators responsible for protecting their health are instead protecting polluters’ pocketbooks.”

Contact Isabelle Nunes at 

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OCTOBER 31, 2022