Raymond Tompkins thinks the high efficiency air filters in his old, gold Mercedes are among the car’s best features. They trap dust and tiny pollution particles, and they’re fitted with activated charcoal to help remove odors—an invaluable function for a longtime resident of San Francisco’s most polluted neighborhood.
“You know, I’m supposed to be dead,” Tompkins, 72, said. “Most Black men don’t live this long, here in Bayview. I’ve been going to a funeral every month.”
Bayview-Hunters Point is a predominantly low-income, minority neighborhood in the southeastern corner of the city. It means that you have to ignore the dust from the hills of asphalt and sand piled up in industrial yards.
For decades, a confluence of polluting factors has dominated the four-square-mile neighborhood. A state environmental analysis found that the Bayview area had the highest cumulative pollution burden in the entire city.
Local advocates suggested that state and local agencies should actively work to reduce pollution in Bayview. Instead, they have allowed polluting facilities to continue to operate in Bayview without final pollution permits.
On Bayview’s Piers 92 and 94, which border San Francisco Bay, a concrete plant and two sand offloading facilities have operated for years without final pollution permits from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, according to reports released in 2017 and 2020 by the Environmental Justice Law Clinic at Golden Gate University’s School of Law. CEMEX Construction Materials owns the concrete plant, while Hanson Aggregates Mid Pacific sold the sand facilities to Martin Materials in November.
The violations were first reported to the air district in 2017. However, enforcement actions have been delayed and most plants are allowed to continue operating. They claim that they have been working with facilities on draft permits.
These permits were issued to the facility in draft form four years ago, after which they continue to be used.
“Under the Clean Air Act, if you don’t have a permit, you can’t pollute,” said Lucas Williams, an associate law professor at Golden Gate University and a staff attorney at the law clinic. The Clean Air Act is the primary federal law that regulates air quality. It was established in 1963. To be able to pollute, polluting facilities must obtain permits from local agencies.
The air district requires polluting facilities to submit completed permit applications within 90 days of being notified by the air district of a violation, or else they will be prevented from operating—a rule that the air district fails to enforce, the report said.
Instead, the district allows for “an extended period of back-and-forth” with the permit applicant when it fails to submit sufficient information, the report said. This long-standing practice leads to permits that remain pending for years while polluting facilities continue to operate.
Ralph Borrmann, the air district’s public information officer, said in an email that the agency has delayed moving the permits forward because “additional information is still needed to better understand the impacts to the neighborhood.” The air district will conduct an environmental review of the facilities to learn more, as required by the 1970 California Environmental Quality Act, he said.
“These projects have taken the Air District more time to assess than we would have liked,” Borrman said. “As the Air District has gone through this process, rules, policies and priorities have changed, which led to some delay.”
He added that the air district “attempts to collect penalties in amounts that deter future violations.”
The air district filed a complaint against another concrete plant for violating its permit. They sought a $75,000 penalty from Central Concrete Supply. Central Concrete settled the case for $9,000. Recology, a recycling company that was operating a concrete crushing operation while it waited for a permit in 2016, closed the division after receiving a violation notice in 2021.
The Bay Area Air District regulates stationary sources for air pollution in the nine Bay Area County counties. The air district issues permits to limit the amount of concrete or sand that can be processed in a certain time frame. The air district also regulates the moisture content of processed material—material that exceeds 5 percent moisture content is exempt from permitting requirements.
However, the CEMEX concrete plant “regularly” exceeded the amount of throughput without authorization from the air district, processing as much as five times more than its permit limit of 60,000 tons, according to the law clinic reports.
Since 2001, Hanson Sand and Material Handling Facilities on Piers 9 and 94 have been in operation without permits. Pier 94 was originally exempted, but the exemption was revoked when the district discovered that its stockpiles had a moisture level below 5 percent.
Martin Marietta and CEMEX didn’t immediately respond to our requests for comment.
Residents are concerned about the health effects of these facilities operating so close to their homes and within a few thousand feet of an emergency Covid-19 shelter.
Concrete batch plants, such as those on Piers 92 or 94, emit fine particulate matters known as PM2.5 or PM10. These are particles that measure 2.5 to 10 microns in diameter. These particulates can stay in the atmosphere for several weeks and reduce visibility. They can also be easily inhaled, which can cause lung damage, including asthma, heart attack, and premature death.
According to a 2016 study by the San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership, Bayview has the highest rates of asthma-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits in the city.
Williams, the staff attorney at the law clinic, stated that facilities without valid permits should be closed down in the interim rather than being fined. Lax enforcement on the part of the air district is indicative of a more widespread pattern and practice of not protecting the Bay Area’s disadvantaged communities, he said.
“The bottom line is that the district should not be putting more polluting facilities where there are already a ton of polluting facilities,” Williams said.
The air district is not able to close these facilities. They would need to get a court order or approval from a hearing board, Simrun Dhoot, a senior engineer in air quality at the district, told Inside Climate News.
It’s within the air district’s discretion whether or not to bring an enforcement action against a violator, said Dave Owen, an environmental law professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. In this instance, the air district decided that working with the facility on a permit was a better option than closing down the facility.
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But while the air district can’t unilaterally make a decision to shut down operations, it could “at least initiate enforcement action, and the threat of a shutdown order would probably lead the facilities to take permitting and pollution control more seriously,” Owen said.
“I think it’s an issue,” he added. “For industrial-scale emitters to operate for years under draft permits and in an overburdened community isn’t how things are supposed to work.”
Source: Inside Climate News