Tag Archives: Air Quality

Air District debates public health vs. Big Oil profits – delays decision on refinery pollution controls

Bay Area air quality board delays vote on anti-pollution rules

San Francisco Chronicle, by Joe Garofoli, June 2, 2021
The Shell refinery on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Martinez, Calif. At Shell refinery in Martinez, “some equipment was temporarily affected by the quake” on Monday, according to a spokesman. Paul Kuroda/Special to The Chronicle

After hearing five and a half hours of public commentary, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District postponed its scheduled vote Wednesday on whether to require refineries to install technology that would greatly reduce the amount of pollution they emit.

Board chair Cindy Chavez asked the board to reschedule its vote so the panel could have a “thoughtful discussion” of the proposals before it. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on June 16.

The issue before the board involves fluid catalytic cracker units, commonly known as “cat crackers,” which are a major source of industrial pollution. The proposal would require refineries to install technology that reduces particulate emissions from the units by 70 percent, according to the air district.

A district analysis predicts that the new standards would have positive health impacts — particularly for low income communities of color that surround the Bay Area’s refineries and have borne the brunt of their environmental impact. In Richmond, the asthma rate is twice the state average.

The district has calculated that exposure to particulate matter from the Chevron refinery in Richmond increases mortality in the region by up to 10 deaths per year, while the PBF Energy refinery in Martinez adds up to six deaths per year.

The proposed changes to the Chevron plant alone could result in up to $27 million in health cost savings to those living nearby, according to an air district analysis, based on fewer days missed from work, fewer respiratory ailments and other health impacts.

Environmentalists pointed out that the technology has been widely used for years across the country, including in oil-friendly states like Texas.

“It’s hard to believe regulators in Texas 15 years ago valued their constituents’ lives more than Bay Area representatives do,” Jed Holtzman, a senior policy analyst with the environmental organization 350 Bay Area, told the board Wednesday. “So this should not be a complicated decision for you.”

Yet the refineries — backed by allies in organized labor who work at the plants — insisted that the cost to install the technology would be prohibitive, making the plants uncompetitive and leading to massive job losses.

The $800 million cost of implementation would “force us to close the Martinez refinery,” Timothy Paul Davis, PBF Energy Western Region president, wrote to the air district in April. That would put 600 full-time employees out of work, plus another 2,000 members of the local building trades union who work on other projects at the plant, said Kevin Slade of the Western States Petroleum Association, an industry group.

The air district found Davis’ estimate to be grossly inflated, estimating that it would cost just $255 million to make the changes at the PBF Martinez refinery and $241 million for the Chevron refinery in Richmond. The district found that the oil companies could pay for the cost of the upgrades by a one or two-cent per gallon fuel increase. Other speakers Wednesday were skeptical that PBF would shutter a refinery that it just bought in 2019 from Shell Oil for $1 billion.

Dozens of local union members and leaders — among the 198 people who addressed the board Wednesday — said they feared losing their jobs if the technology were mandated.

Andrew Scheiber, a Benicia resident who used to work for a refinery, was among the speakers skeptical that plant workers could find a “just transition” to another line of work should the refineries cut jobs.

“This ‘just transition’ everybody loves to talk about doesn’t exist,” Scheiber said. There are few other kinds of jobs that involve similar skill sets “and when they do come up there are hundreds if not literally thousands of applicants.”

A letter to the board signed by the leaders of six Bay Area building trades unions said: “Union members — your constituents — living and working in the Bay Area depend on these refinery jobs to raise their families well, put food on their tables, put their kids through college, and live a successful and fulfilling life.”

An alternative analysis conducted by UCLA’s Lufkin Center for Innovation found that new technology wouldn’t kill jobs, but rather create thousands more.

The UCLA report, conducted in conjunction with Communities for a Better Environment and the environmental research firm Inclusive Economics, found that installing the wet gas scrubbers would yield “thousands of engineering, construction, and other installation jobs, upwards of 4,600 jobs between the two refineries.”

“Our lungs can’t any longer,” said Zolboo Namkhaidorj, Richmond Youth Organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, after the meeting, urging the air district to approve the cat cracker rule.

“Refineries have mounted a massive misinformation campaign to sink this rule, threatening our communities with false doomsday scenarios,” Namkhaidorj said. “Shame on them, after decades of spewing pollution that has cost local Black, indigenous, and people of color families their health and livelihoods.”

Bonnie Lockhart of Oakland was one of several speakers Wednesday who questioned seeing the issue as one of workers versus greens.

“Why are we framing this decision as jobs versus the environment, when it’s really health versus corporate profits?” Lockhart asked.

Instead of suggesting that the only way to pay for the cost of the upgrades would be through layoffs or higher gas prices, Lockhart questioned why the discussion wasn’t focused on “the obscene profits” of the fossil fuel companies and the high salaries of its CEOs.

Her suggestion to the oil companies and their top executives: “Don’t buy a yacht this year.”


Joe Garofoli is The San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political writer.

Air Quality District to host Benicia meeting on long-awaited new Air Monitoring Station

[BenIndy editor: Residents of Benicia have for years expressed serious concern about the lack of adequate air monitoring in our “refinery town.”  For an excellent background on the lead-up to this important meeting, see Marilyn Bardet’s “Letter to BAAQMD: Must Enforce Refinery Air Monitor Requirements”.  Mark your calendar & plan to attend on June 30.  – R.S.]

Virtual Meeting on Benicia Community Air Monitoring Site Selection

Invitation to public, sent via email on May 27, 2021

Dear Benicia Community and Stakeholders,

You are invited to attend a virtual community meeting to learn about air quality monitoring and help shape the future of community air monitoring in the Benicia area.

In a joint effort with the City of Benicia, the Air District identified candidate locations in Benicia for a new community air monitoring station. At this meeting, Air District staff will share the sites under consideration and information about how the sites were selected. Community members and stakeholders will have the opportunity to inform final site selection.

When:

The workshop will be held using Zoom and will take place on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.
Login information to follow in a subsequent notice.

Why:

The Air District monitors air quality as part of ongoing efforts to inform and protect public health. One of the ways the Air District does this is by collecting fees to install, operate, and maintain air monitoring stations in communities near refineries. These air monitoring stations will provide additional information about the levels of pollution experienced by these communities.

The Air District invites you to participate in this community meeting to discuss and review the site selection process and provide feedback on a community air monitoring station within the Benicia community.

Air District staff want to ensure a fair and equitable virtual workshop experience and provide opportunities for all interested parties to participate. Workshop materials will be available on the Air District’s Special Air Monitoring Projects web page beginning June 7, 2021.

Simultaneous language interpretation can be provided upon request at least 72 hours before the event. Contact Brian Butler at bbutler@baaqmd.gov or 415-603-7721 to request interpretation.

Questions may be sent by e-mail to iperkins@baaqmd.gov.
Para información en español, llame al 415-749-4609
中文聯絡電話 415-749-4609
Nói Tiếng Việt xin gọi 415-749-4609

Working to protect public health, air quality, and the global climate,
Your Air District

Benicia School District responds to tough questions about clean air controls during the pandemic

How good are the Benicia Schools’ HVAC Systems?

By Roger Straw, March 16, 2021

On February 26, a Benicia resident asked an intriguing question on Nextdoor:

How good are the Benicia Schools HVAC systems? Before we expel school board members and chop up the teachers union, how up – to date & how well maintained our our school’s hvac systems?  If it costs approx $300,000 to recall a board member can we put that money into upgrading the schools’ hvac systems and hiring more janitors instead?

The Nextdoor question had obvious political implications, with which, incidentally, I agree wholeheartedly.  Our school infrastructure, supplies and services for teachers and students are so important.  The recent effort to attack and unseat two BUSD trustees is ridiculously expensive ($300,000!) and the recall is also misguided in intent, targeting two fine Trustees, including the School Board President.  EVERYONE please DO NOT SIGN THE RECALL PETITION!

But… what stood out to me was the opening question, “How good are the Benicia Schools HVAC systems?”

I wondered if anyone has a good answer to that question.  A little research uncovered that Benicia’s 2014 Ballot Measure S included significant provisions for upgrading the District’s HVAC systems.

So I dug around and found that I could write to Roxanne Egan, the Bond Director for Benicia Unified School District.

I emailed Ms. Egan some tough questions, and got a thorough response.  Here is my opening contextual statement and my four questions:

Given the pandemic guidelines’ strong call for good ventilation and heating/AC in schools before returning to in-person learning, I would like to know some details:

      1. What has been done to improve BUSD HVAC systems since passage of Measure S in 2014?
      2. What improvements have been made to BUSD HVAC systems in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
      3. Has the BUSD received specific federal and state guidance on HVAC recommendations and requirements in order to provide safe space as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and if so, what are those recommendations and requirements?
      4. In what particulars are BUSD schools up to HVAC standards proposed by the CDC and the CA Department of Health, and in what particulars are we still deficient?

Ms. Egan and directors of several other BUSD departments were thorough in gathering information that would address my questions.  I received a two-page letter from Ms. Egan and Alfredo Romero, Director of Maintenance and Operations on March 11.  After the opening thank you, Egan and Romero answered each question, beginning with the first:

What has been done to improve BUSD HVAC systems since passage of Measure S in 2014?

      • Measure S has funded HVAC improvements including the replacement of over 28 HVAC units, service and repairs to existing HVAC units, upgrades to HVAC economizers, which are the mechanical assembly that responds to the thermostat “demand” to allow fresh air intake. In addition to Measure S funding, BUSD received State Proposition 39 funding through the California Energy Commission for qualified energy improvements which included thermostat upgrades at all schools. The upgraded thermostats provide the ability to remotely access the thermostats including the ability to monitor fresh air intake and allow maintenance operators to increase and decrease the fresh air minimums based on ambient conditions. The minimums for fresh air intake are consistent with state building codes and during the COVID-19 pandemic, these minimums may be exceeded to introduce a larger amount of fresh air.
BUSD letter on HVAC improvements, March 11, 2021

The letter goes on like this.  I find it on the one hand reassuring, but on the other, rather general and couched in technical language that leaves me wondering.  I’m guessing the public might still have questions.  Please read the whole letter, and see if you agree.

READ THE LETTER from Roxanne Egan, Bond Director, and Alfredo Romero, Director of Maintenance and Operations, March 11, 2021.

Questions?

If not for the pandemic, parents and grandparents like me could all gather in a school auditorium and ask questions, or maybe even get a guided tour with HVAC examples.  I wonder if the District could convene a ZOOM meeting and interact with us on these and other in-person learning issues that concern us.

Wildfire smoke is up to 10 times more harmful to breathe than other air pollution

New study finds wildfire smoke impacts respiratory health more than fine particles from other sources

REDWOOD CITY, CA – SEPTEMBER 09: Smoke from wildfires burning in Northern California filter the sun light in Redwood City, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2020. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
REDWOOD CITY, CA – SEPTEMBER 09: Smoke from wildfires burning in Northern California filter the sun light in Redwood City, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2020. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
Vallejo Times-Herald, by Paul Rogers, March 6, 2021

Choking smoke from record wildfires blanketed Northern California last summer and fall. It turned Bay Area skies an otherworldly orange, raising health concerns over a hazard that is increasing as temperatures continue to climb and poorly managed forests burn out of control each year across the West.

With this winter being extraordinarily dry, the chances of another big wildfire year are high. But the flames may not pose the biggest danger to the most people: A new study published Friday found that tiny particles of soot from wildfires, which millions of Californians are breathing in, are up to 10 times as harmful to human respiratory health as particulate pollution from other sources, such as car exhaust, factories or power plants.

“We’ve been really successful in reducing air pollution across the country by improving standards for automobiles, trucks and power plants,” said Tom Corringham, a research economist who studies climate and atmospheric science at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC-San Diego. “The trend has been a decrease in air pollution. But these wildfires are getting worse.”

Corringham and his fellow researchers studied the number of people admitted to hospitals with respiratory problems daily from 1999 to 2012 in Southern California. They compared it to data from fires, Santa Ana winds and smoke plumes from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

They found that when air pollution of tiny particles called PM 2.5 — for particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller, so small that 30 of them can line up along the width of a human hair — increased modestly, the number of people admitted to hospitals for respiratory ailments such as asthma increased by 1% on average. But when PM 2.5 levels from wildfire smoke went up by the same amount, or 10 micrograms per cubic meter, there was a 10% increase in those hospital admissions.

The tiny particles can penetrate deep into people’s lungs, enter the bloodstream and increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other serious health issues.

Last year, 4.2 million acres — an area 13 times the size of the city of Los Angeles — burned in California, the most in modern times. Fires from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Southern Sierra sent enormous plumes of smoke over the state’s largest cities and as far away as the East Coast. On Sept. 9, smoke mixed with the marine layer, turning Bay Area skies an apocalyptic orange.

OAKLAND, CA – SEPTEMBER 09: Orange sky glows above the Fox Theater on Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The unusual orange and red-hued skies were a result of smoke from the Northern California wildfires. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District called 30 “Spare the Air” days in a row from August 18 to September 16. Soot levels nearly as bad blanketed the Bay Area during the Camp Fire in 2018 and Wine Country fires in 2017. In the Sierra, the Sacramento Valley and parts of Southern California, air quality was even worse last year, reaching 10 to 15 times the federal health standard.

A study by Stanford researchers concluded that the fires last fall caused 1,200 excess deaths and 4,800 extra emergency room visits in California, mostly among people 65 and older with pre-existing conditions such as respiratory problems, diabetes and heart disease.

More is on the way. Wildfire risk is expected to be high this summer due to the unusually dry winter. Last fall, state and federal officials signed an agreement to double the rate of thinning forests that have grown unnaturally thick due to generations of fire suppression. Gov. Gavin Newsom added $1 billion to California’s state budget this year for increased forest management, fuel breaks, fire inspections and fire crews.

But Corringham said that as the climate continues to warm and wildfires increase, government agencies must directly address the health risks of smoke, particularly to the elderly and low-income people. More “clean room” cooling centers, rebates for home air purifiers and better public education campaigns are key, he said.

Other health officials generally agreed.

Dr. John Balmes, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco and a member of the California Air Resources Board, said some types of particle pollution, such as diesel soot, can be more dangerous than wildfire smoke. But overall, he agreed with the Scripps researchers’ conclusions that wildfire smoke poses a growing threat to the state’s residents as the climate warms.

“There’s no question it’s a huge air quality problem that has major health impacts,” Balmes said.

“There was a ring of fire last year around the Bay Area,” he added. “We are going to have to spend billions of dollars to maintain our forests better. It is going to take years. It can’t be done overnight.”

Scientists don’t know precisely why wildfire smoke is more harmful than most other particulate pollution. One theory is that when buildings burn, everything toxic in them, from heavy metals to plastics to pesticides, is sent airborne in smoke. Another theory is that the carbon nature of the particles causes more inflammation and stress on the lungs than other types of pollution.

“They are saying that wildfire smoke is more toxic. And that’s probably true,” said Dr. Mary Prunicki, director of air pollution and health research at Stanford University’s Sean Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research. “Usually direct deaths from wildfires are smaller than the effects from the smoke.”

BONNY DOON, CA – AUGUST 20: As the CZU August Lightning Complex fire burns houses near by, a Santa Cruz County Central Fire Protection District firefighter works in a residential neighborhood near Empire Grade to protect the remaining homes in Bonny Doon, Calif., in the early morning of Aug. 20, 2020. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

For safe and healthy communities…