How healthy are tots living near CASS in West Oakland?

Terranisha Nathaniel, Stephen Vance and Pamela Tapia received EPA awards in February 2011 for work done in identifying and fighting pollution in West Oakland.

By Stephen Vance 

with reporting from San Jose Mercury-News

How bad is the air near the smelter just five blocks from McClymonds?

Just ask a mother.

A  new pilot study sponsored by the nonprofit Global Community Monitor will test the blood of tots (children 1 through 5) who live within a mile of Custom Alloy Scrap Sales, or CASS, targeted by environmental groups for pollution issues.

“We’re just starting to recruit families in West Oakland,” says Ruth Breech, program director of Global Community Monitor.

A four-year project by students in the Law Academy at McClymonds found that metal particles were present in the air surrounding the school community.  They took their findings to local media and eventually, they got the attention of Nancy Nadel, West Oakland’s City Council Representative.  With her support, a number of city agencies, including Police, Fire, Code Enforcement and City Attorney came together and conducted investigations regarding CASS’ compliance with environmental regulations.   Their findings determined that CASS was in violation of a number of regulations.  Although CASS has taken steps to correct a number of the violations, they are actively seeking to move their location away from the residential neighborhood where they have conducted business for more than 25 years.

After pressure by local groups, CASS is trying to relocate to vacant industrial land next to the former Oakland Army Base.

Breech said a total of 70 children — 35 children from each West Oakland and 35 from West Berkeley who live near Pacific Steel Casting– will be tested for heavy metals that have been previously detected in air quality samples.

“This was prompted by the community,” Breech said. “They said, ‘OK, it’s in the air, so what is in our bodies?’ ”

Children who live near  CASS  will be tested for lead and cadmium. Children who live near Pacific Steel Casting in West Berkeley will be tested for manganese.

The study will compare the levels of metal found in children who live very close to the plants with the test results of children living on the edge of the study area. The results will also be compared with “normal” levels of exposure to those metals detected from other studies.

“We have residential neighbors really living next to heavy industry, so our question is what is too close? How do we coexist?” Breech said.

The study is a collaboration with the UC San Francisco pediatric environmental health specialty unit and Children’s Hospital Oakland. Children who are selected for the study will have their blood drawn at Children’s Hospital.

The family must also make their home available for a one-time dust wipe sample that will be studied for the presence of metals.

Air samples will also be taken during the study.

Participating families will be given the blood test and dust wipe results compared to national averages. Families will also be referred to health agencies to help them interpret the results and find ways to reduce their families’ exposure, Breech said. The study will be completed by the end of this summer.

For more information about the study and how to join, call 510-233-1870 or email

One response to “How healthy are tots living near CASS in West Oakland?

  1. I Truly like your website. So full of beneficial details! Will bookmark this for future use.

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