Air Pollution

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Noxious air pollution in Emeryville area

Feb 2012

For the past few months, we've been noticing an extremely intrusive smell in the air -- it smells like burning tires or something like that. We live on the border of Emeryville and Oakland and I was noticing it *really* strongly right next to our local playground (where my 4-year-old was playing)where there's an auto repair shop. I can't say for sure if the noxious fumes are coming from there, but it concerns me a great deal that this smell has been floating around in the air. After being around it today at the play ground for about an hour, I now have a headache. We can smell it in different parts of the area, but I smells it really strongly around the intersection of Stanford (Powell) and San Pablo. What can we do about this? Who do we go to to file a complaint? Does anyone have more information about this situation? It is concerning me a great deal - I worry about how chemicals in our environment create toxins in our bodies. I've got a history of cancer in my family, so I'm wondering what we should do. Is there any complaint action we can take that could possibly lead to a change? Has anyone brought forth a complaint like this and had success?
nauseous in Emeryville

Each and every time you smell the noxious odor, no more than once per day, call Bay Area Air Quality Management and make a report. Before calling, try to take note of the wind direction, weather (hot and hazy? cold and frigid? still? windy?) time of day and anything else you think pertinent, and report it with the complaint. Eyes, ears, mouth and nose

Call Bay Area Air Pollution Control District 24 hour toll- free complaint hotline: 1-800-334-ODOR(6367). Get other parents to call as well. The only way a citation for a public nuisance will be issued is there are mulitple verified by the District complaints. Here is some more information from the District on this issue: Enforcement/Inspections-and-Procedures/Air-Pollution- Complaint.aspx Anonymous

I work in heavy industry and do environmental air pollution work. There is a local air district called BAAQMD. They can help you with odors. Things that will help them is if you can record the time, wind direction (look at a flag, string on a post, etc), and a description of the odor every time you smell it. If this is going on every day I would take notes for a few days w/ all the things I mentioned above. Then pick a day and call them right when it happens. They have some inspectors that can come out right away and in some areas (less industry) they might not have full coverage to immediately arrive. They will most likely contact you and talk to you about your observations. They should be able to look up in their records to find out if there are any permitted sources. You might be able to do that doing a google search for BAAQMD and the name of the business or street name of the place of concern. If it's a permitted business they will likely have more leverage since they could be fined more easily under nuisance laws. If they aren't permitted or regulated it could be a businesses that needs a permit. Either way BAAQMD should help you, especially if this is an on-going issue. Feel free to contact me if you want some more help. jahlskog

Burned rubber smell in Albany

August 2006

a couple of times we have noticed a strange smell in the air in Albany and some people have referred to it as ''burned rubber''smell but noone we asked could explain where it comes seems to be around the Gilman St area....does anyone know what it is,where it comes from or if it might become a problem for our health? thankfull for any answers happy in albany

This comes from the cement factory on Sixth and Gilman. There is a neighborhood group that has been active for many years trying to get them to install more cleaning equipment on the stacks and some progress has been made through a deal with the Air District but many feel that deal is not enough. You can contact the Ecology Center on San Pablo Ave. or Communities for a Better Environment on Telegraph in Oakland for more details - there are pending lawsuits, dueling neighborhood groups, etc.... Health effects are controversial but I am convinced they are not good! clark

Here is an article about Pacific Steel on Second by Gilman and the smell problems. It has been going on for a long time, unfortunately. 05=21060 gh

My husband used to work at the intersection of 6th Street and Gilman and there is definitely a toxic smell to the area. I would investigate with the city of Berkeley to find out if anyone is violating any ordinances. In other words, you're not imagining it and it should be stopped. -Good luck Anonymous

The smell you describe comes from the ''plume'' of emissions from Pacific Steel Castings. This has been an air quality problem for many years. A local group of residents has formed to pressure the company to install better scrubbers and filtering equipment, and to pressure the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to be more responsive to neighbors' complaints and to enforce the law. The group is called West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs. Here's their website: You can also find out more by calling the Ecology Center's info hotline at 548-2220 x233. The emissions are toxic, and the neighborhood group is training to take air samples during those unpredictable times when the smell is strong Amy K.

The smell comes from Pacific Steel Casting, located on the corner of 2nd and Gilman. Complaints from the community have prompted multiple rounds of talks between the city of Berkeley, Bay Area Air Quality Management District and PSC. The smell comes from the forms they use for the steel. It's a nuisance -- not a health hazard. More info can be found at: (Berkeley City Council notes on PSC) another local who smells it

Burned rubber smell - what a loaded issue that is for residents around Gilman Sreet - probably the most toxic area in Berkeley. The culprit for the past 30+ years: Pacific Steel Casting! is a growing number of like-minded individuals from Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito who are fed up with having to breathe Pacific Steel Casting's (PSC) toxic fumes. There are two organizations that are working together to arrange a class action small claims law suit for anyone who has been bothered by the nuisance created by Pacific Steel's emissions. They are hoping to consolidate dozens of complaints to force Pacific Steel to clean up or shut down. More info about the organizations can be found at or you can e-mail them at: info [at] You can also call the West Berkeley Alliance at 510-558-8757. Pacific Steel has been well protected by Berkeley City officials and air control management is rather slowly responding after all these years. But is it a coincidence that I know of two stay-at-home moms die of cancer in this area over the past 4 years and another neighbor fighting cancer? Don't know. What you brought up is a very hot issue - I've heard but obviously can't verify that Pacific Steel Casting works on government contracts, so please count on friendly resistance from officials. My sincere dream is to see the plant close down for good. The way things are going, the only improvement will be the installment of filters this fall to improve the smell but not a reduction in emissions of the most dangerous toxins. Can we solve this before the next big earthquake will? If you have ideas, resources, legal advice to offer, please contact the coalition. anonymous

I just witnessed that smell recently while a block from Gilman on 6th St. (in Berkeley, at the restaurant Picante). I complained that it smelled like bad brakes, and a couple next to me informed me that it is from a factory in the neighborhood (they pointed in direction of freeway) and that it smells like that frequently. It sure doesn't smell pleasant or healthy. jess

My colleagues at work have told me that the smell is emanating from Pacific Steel.

Many years ago my daughter went to pre-school at Duck's Nest down on 4th St. I was concerned about the air quality in that area since at times there was a nasty smell in the air. I contacted the Bay Area Air Quality Management District ( and was told that though the air might smell bad, it isn't necessarily 'toxic'. But this was about ten years ago, so I would recommend that you contact the BAAQMD and ask whether they have any monitoring stations in that area, what they monitor for, and whether any companies in that area have been fined for toxic air emissions anonymous

re: burnt rubber smell. You are right, it is from the Gilman Street area and the problem is coming from Pacific Steel. Please contact GreenAction ( should be the email) and let them know you have noticed the smell Another concerned parent

re: burnt rubber smell. You are right, it is from the Gilman Street area and the problem is coming from Pacific Steel. Please contact GreenAction ( should be the email) and let them know you have noticed the smell Another concerned parent

I lived and worked in Albany years ago. I was working at the Albany Children's Center and that same smell was there then, 1970. It comes from one of the factories in that area. It really is obnoxious. Try and call Bay Area Pollution Control. Mostly they respond to car pollution but they may have some information Megan

the burning rubber/tar smell in albany lately is due to the re-roofing of ocean view school. we live nearby and the work has been going on for about 3 weeks, but it's much needed as some of the classrooms there have rainwater that leaks into classrooms! not sure how long it will last, but assuming it will be done by the end of the month as school will start! erin

Thanks for asking about that horrible chemical smell! I have brought this up so many times to my husband (who says it is just a truck that went by, even though no trucks did!) and to my neigbors, none of whom seem to have noticed it. But it is real! I know it is!! I typically have noticed the smell early in the morning, especially on hot, still days. I have smelled it in North Berkeley, Albany, West Berkeley, Kensignton, and South El Cerrito. I have often wondered if it was from the smokestack near Gilman, which you can easily see from the freeway. The worst time I smelled it was at Picante restaurant, out on the patio -- a location very near to the smokestack. It made me gag so much I couldn't eat my food. I'm asthmatic and have very sensitive lungs -- a lot of things bother me that other people don't notice. It makes me feel a bit like a canary in a coal mine -- what awful stuff are we all breathing that so few of us even notice? another smeller

Have you noticed this smell for a long time or just recently? I know they began roofing the school on the corner of Jackson and Buchanan in June and it stinks like burning rubber. P-U! Elizabeth

The smell is the foundry down at the corner of Gilman and East shore, next to the freeway. Chuck

The smell is probably from Pacific Steel Castings. You can learn about the current situation by going through recent editions of the Berkeley Daily Planet online. There is a complaint hotline you can call when it is bad. Here's the info. 1-800-334-ODOR(6367). It's a 24 hour hotline. It stinks and it's probably toxic, so I encourage you to call and register a complaint good luck

You can contact Bay Area Air Quality Management District. See weblink for more details They are the agency that regulations non-vehicle emissions. When you smell an odor you should record the time & the wind direction as best as you can. BAAQMD inspectors may visit you and help to track down the odor source. I work for an industry that is regulated by BAAQMD. The inspectors are very professional and typically are very good at locating sources of odors. jahls

The event below already passed, but I think the following will more than answer your question. This is a very political issue. You could probably google this (or may I suggest goodsearch this) find more info. We were bummed to have the smell after buying in the No. Bkly area and I was especially concerned b/c I was pregnant at the time. The baby is now 2 and going very strong... COMMUNITIES ANNOUNCE HUNT FOR PACIFIC STEEL TOXICS WBA will train community to independently test for foundry's pollution The West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs (WBA), a grassroots community organization pressuring Pacific Steel Casting Company (PSC) to protect jobs and stop polluting the air, will host a particulate swipe training. At this free training community members will learn how to conduct independent swipe tests for dangerous particulates from PSC. Everyone affected by particulate fallout in the area is welcome to attend. Exact levels of fugitive particulates escaping PSC are not known. Small particulate pollution has been closely linked to aggravation of existing heart and lung conditions, as well as increased death rates in populations experiencing prolonged exposure. Children and elders are most vulnerable. PSC has repeatedly delayed release of an updated emissions inventory report that was mandated by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District as part of a Health Risk Assessment. Community residents and organizers seek facts about Pacific Steel's pollution. After training, community members will be able to determine pollution facts via independent testing. International environmental testing expert Global Community Monitor supports WBA in the training. Tuesday, August 1, 2006 Time: 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm Location: Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Ave, near Dwight Way, Berkeley. Info: 510-548-2220 x233 anon

I know the smell you're talking about, because I smelled it too, when I was at Toot Sweets on Gilman last week. We live in El Cerrito, and my husband and I noticed a similar smell in our neighborhood a couple days before PG's power transformer blew and we all lost our power. I think the smell might be the sheathing on the power lines burning. They've got a lot of wires to replace, and I have no idea when all this will take place. I've been meaning to call and ask them about the smell and whether there are any health implications. kubes

I was amazed to see the number of postings addressing the burned rubber smells in the Albany area. We moved here a bit over a year ago and I have had ongoing problems with sore and raw throat and cough and my asthma has been hugely worse requiring daily inhalors and other medications = neither needed before. My daughter has complained about sore throats since we moved as well. I've asked a few folks and no one else seems to notice this smell (thank goodness for all of you!) so I haven't known quite what to do but, as the other woman with asthma who posted, I too am acutely aware of irritants and toxins. My point is that my rather over-developed awarenesses make me quite certain of the damage and toxicity of this pollutant. I am hopeful that all those who read these messages and posted will get actively involved in trying to stop this hazard. It has been especially bad the past month Jolie

The ''burned rubber'' smell you've noted in Albany is probably coming from West Berkeley. The Pacific Steel Casting Company at 2nd and Gilman is a known and notorious violator of air quality standards. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has been trying to get Pacific Steel to abate its emissions problems for years, and things have actually gotten worse. (I understand that they're working overtime on the Bay Bridge project these days, so the situation may not get better soon.) The District just filed another lawsuit last month and I hope they're successful with it. In the meantime, there is something you can do! Every time you notice that noxious smell, you can file a complaint with the Air Quality Management District at 1-800-334-ODOR. A December 2005 settlement agreement required PSC to pay an immediate penalty of $3,000 for any day that the Air District confirmed five odor complaints, to encourage swift installation of the odor abatement equipment. To date, the Air District has issued seven Notices of Violation, and PSC has paid those fines

I've called several times in the last few weeks to report the awful smell coming from Pacific Steel. The folks at Air Quality Management were really informative, explaining that they have filed public nuisance reports, sanctions, and now a lawsuit against the company and were trying to get them to both submit a toxicity report and put in an abatement system -- neither of which Pacific Steel had so far been willing to do. HOWEVER, when I called today (it was super stinky this morning) they happily told me that Pacific Steel had purchased a very expensive carbon abatement unit and was installing it *now* (should be done sometime in October), and that they were also allowing for samples to be taken directly from the stack, all great news. The results of the toxicology report will eventually be available at and probably on the City of Berkeley's website as well. And hopefully no more smell once they finish installing! isabel (in Albany)

Loud noises and skunk-like smell in N. Berkeley

Sept 2003

We have been curious about a couple of phenomena we experience from our North Berkeley home. (1) What are those booming noises we sometimes hear in the evenings? They come in a lengthy series of distant loud booms, usually on still evenings (or so my husband observes), and (2) We sometimes smell strong skunklike smells in the night (but not skunk, more sulphuric). I get all worked up and think it is evil chemical run-off from some factory. Anybody have insight about either of these?

Don't know about the noises, but don't be so sure the smell ain't skunk. There are a fair number around (haven'tyou ever been eating at Rivoli on Solano when the big one walks up to eat some of the cat food in the patio?), and I've seen them from Peralta near the high school to way up on Spruce. Norm

The boom, boom, booms are indeed fireworks and the skunk-like smell is, indeed, skunk. There is plenty of wildlife in Berkeley, not just racoons. We once even saw a deer on our street and we're not even particularly close to the hills. Skunks are nocturnal animals, although I have seen them at sunset from time to time. Dianna

I smell skunk all the time at my house, and I live on a busy through street in Berkeley, far from the woods. It's skunk alright. You can see them in Tilden, they wander downhill too.

That smell is not from a Skunk. A Skunk smell is very localized. The smell is from industrial pollution. I think its coming from the foundry near Second and Gillmam Street in Berkeley. I have friends who live in the area and both have developed lung problems. It smells like time for a petition to have the polluter shut down. bruce