Environmental group sues Port of Oakland, new tenant over air pollutants concern

The facility, approved by the Port of Oakland, would produce concrete to supply Bay Area construction projects
OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Air quality has long been an issue in West Oakland, surrounded by the Port of Oakland and other industries that create a significant amount of air pollutants.

Now a local environmental justice group has filed a lawsuit to stop a new tenant at the port from moving forward out of concern over potential environmental impacts.

Brian Beveridge, co-founder and director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, has been teaching West Oakland residents how to keep tabs on local air quality for decades.

"It's not only the pollution (that's a concern), it's the proximity to pollution. How close are you to the source," said Beveridge.

Residents of West Oakland are extremely close to highly concentrated levels of air pollutants - reducing life expectancy by seven years on average compared to the rest of the county - according to 2016 Alameda County public health data.

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The disproportionately high level of air pollutants is thanks in part to thousands of heavy duty trucks each month snaking through side streets carrying cargo to and from the Port of Oakland just blocks away from where people live, learn, and play.

"We already have a community impact of the ships, the trains, cargo handling equipment and the trucks coming 24/7," said Ms. Margaret Gordon, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project co-founder and director.

"We do a lot of advocacy work based on data and research, citizen science," she said.

Now the WOEIP has filed a lawsuit against the Port of Oakland and Eagle Rock Aggregates to stop this new project from moving forward.

Earlier this year the Port of Oakland approved the 18-acre open-air gravel and sand facility that would be managed by Eagle Rock Aggregates.

That facility that would produce concrete to supply Bay Area construction projects.

The environmental justice group is concerned those raw materials plus wind will equal added air pollution for this already burdened community.

"There shouldn't be an increase of pollution, we should have be having a decrease of pollution," said Gordon.

Our previous reporting on ABC7 News has shown that in West Oakland kids younger than 5 years old are already 1-and-a-half times more likely to be sent to the emergency room with severe asthma than other parts of Alameda county, according to health data.

Laura Beaton of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger law firm, the group representing the WOEIP, argues this new facility would only make matters worse.

"The California Air Resources Board, the Bay Area, Air Quality Management District, and the Attorney General's Office all have also submitted letters telling the port that it needs to improve its analysis to comply with its obligations," said Beaton.

The lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court under California's Environmental Quality Act asks the company and the port to work to decrease environmental impacts of the project by covering the raw material with tarps or placing it in silos, require trucks carrying the materials through West Oakland streets to be covered, and for ships carrying the raw materials to run on cleaner electric power instead of diesel fuel while at port.

ABC7 News reached out to the Port of Oakland and Eagle Rock Aggregates for comment. The port and Eagle Rock Aggregates both declined to comment given pending litigation.

Beveridge is concerned about what those mobile air monitor readings will say if the court doesn't require the port and its new tenant to make changes.

"You can't just outsource pain on a local community because you want to make money," said Beveridge. "It's like 'we're trying to make a living' well, 'we're trying to live.' And they forget that."

An attorney for WOEIP said a settlement meeting is set for Tuesday May 17 between the environmental justice group, the Port of Oakland, and Eagle Rock Aggregates.

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