Air District fights hazards of cooking red meat


At one Livermore Carl's Junior restaurant, flame-broiled burgers are a staple on the menu. Bay Area air officials check in periodically to see if their charbroiled burgers are polluting the air by creating airborne particulates known as PM10.

"Char broilers themselves account for about 65 percent of PM10 emissions in the Bay Area," says Misha Nishiki.

That particulate matter has been linked to asthma, heart attacks, strokes and even stunts in lung development in children. So, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District restricts the amount of PM10 restaurants release into the air.

"Basically we are requiring the businesses to have a catalytic oxidizer," says Nishiki.

Catalytic oxidizers are similar to the catalytic converters found in cars. They essentially filter out those dangerous particulates. Since the beginning of last year, fast food chains that cook more than 400 pounds of beef a week were required to install them.

"Really, the biggest factor was putting them all, the cost factor," says franchise owner Daljit Hundel. "Installation all together is about $3,500."

Multiply that by his 19 locations and it really adds up. Business owners say some of the costs have been partly offset with energy savings and reduced maintenance.

"We found that we use less energy because the char broiler burns hotter with this device on it, less emissions into the hood, so easier cleaning at night," Hundel says.

Bay Area Air Quality Management District inspectors say there have been few problems with compliance.

The regulation affects about 450 restaurants around the Bay Area. In 2013, it will expand to another 200 restaurants that use under-fire grills. That is not good enough for Berkeley, which is eyeing even tighter restrictions on restaurant smoke.

In 2008, the city passed an ordinance that put in place restrictions on wood-burning fireplaces in homes.

"The wood smoke ordinance that was passed by council did not address restaurants," says Greg Leventis.

So now, Berkeley is turning its attention to wood burning in restaurants.

"The cooking from meat, not so much poultry, but from red meat, can be hazardous to people's health, in particularly if they have respiratory illness," Leventis says.

Leventis is Chair of the Berkeley Community Environmental Advisory Commission. It is now gathering information on the cost and potential health impacts of Berkeley restaurants that burn wood. Local businesses are not smiling about the idea.

"I have two smokers. The one here uses logs and my other one uses sawdust," says Ken Looney who owns Looney's Smoke House on Bancroft. "I think there are people sitting in offices thinking, 'What else can we do? We want to make this a green society. What else can we regulate?' And, they are looking in the wrong places."

Looney argues that cooking his meat over an open-wood flame is natural. He says any regulation to limit the amount of smoke his restaurant puts out will put small businesses out of business.

"It's just going to be another burden that we are going to have to deal with without any net results," he says.

Leventis tells ABC7, "We are certainly not trying to put restaurants out of business, trying to buy abatement equipment. But, we also want to make sure that residents are residents are safe."

Other restaurant owners aren't particularly sympathetic.

"Obviously, if I am required to do it and somebody else is cooking over 400 pounds, then it's a disadvantage to me," says Hundel says. "Why am I putting money out and somebody else is not next door. These particulates are particulates."

The City of Berkeley expects to unveil its plan sometime in 210. By the way, the cost of the catalytic oxidizers with installation can run as high as $35,000.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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