Hercules/Pinole environmentally safe?

Our family is considering buying a house in Hercules because we like the diversity, low crime, relative affordability, and schools. We have been renting in Oakland for the past 8 years and are looking for a place to settle with our growing family (two girls, 5 years and 18 months). Our main concern with Hercules and the surrounding area is environmental safety (air quality, drinking water/ground water) because of the proximity to refineries, the waste water treatment facility, heavy rail, etc. Are there certain areas that may be more safe than others, are environmental concerns (if any) city/region wide? Any insights from residents or others familiar with the area would be greatly appreciated!

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The environmental risk I think is the main issue in Hercules is one you didn't list, that the town was founded at the site of a dynamite manufacturing plant. I would do raised beds for any edible gardening. Otherwise, I personally wouldn't have much concern about air quality either place. Not sure why you listed wastewater treatment plant as a concern as every community has to treat its wastewater before it goes to the bay, and the presence of the UP line is in itself not an environmental hazard (plus Hercules will be getting a train stop one of these days). Plus, Pinole & Hercules share a wastewater treatment facility and it's in Pinole at the end of Tennant Avenue - relatively out of the way.

We have lived in Pinole for 7 years and have 2 kids, aged 4 and 16 months. I'm an obsessive air-quality checker (bought our own PurpleAir sensor this fall during the fires) and can say with reasonable certainty that the AQI here usually looks very similar to that in other parts of the Bay -- sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse, but if there's winter haze or wildfire smoke in Berkeley or Oakland there's likely to be some here, too. If skies are clear elsewhere, they tend to be clear here.

When there was a fire at the Crockett refinery in fall 2019 we could see a plume of smoke from our home, but were not affected by the related shelter-in-place order and couldn't smell anything. I know people living closer to the Chevron refinery who occasionally get SIP orders due to refinery flares.

Our water comes from the San Pablo Reservoir, and per the annual EBMUD reports we receive seems to be pretty good. We do have quite hard water compared to Oakland, so we filter it for drinking and are looking into a whole-house filter to provide filtering for showers, etc.

I've never tested our soil for lead or other pollutants (which we should probably do as our house was built before 1978) but my understanding is if you're concerned about soil contamination the safest thing to do is to grow food in raised beds, and have your kids wear shoes when they play outside.

Happy to chat more, feel free to contact me!

I grew up in Hercules (moved there in the 80s) and my parents still live there. There's not really any city-wide environmental concerns. I personally prefer the areas east of I-80. If you looked at Hercules, you'll notice the themes of the street names. I grew up in the Rocks/Gems area, which I may be biased towards. I also like the Birds area. The houses are older but they have bigger lots than the newer homes, if you are looking for more yard space. The area by Hanna Ranch Elementary is also nice but I do not like how there's really only one road in and out. 

I believe the dynamite plant was closer to the water, along with the former refinery, hence my preference for areas east of I-80. I personally wouldn't live in the area that was built on the site used to be a refinery. I'm pretty sure the area had to be remediated before they allowed houses to be built in the area, but having not looked in depth at the remediation extent, I would do raised beds for edible gardening as a previous poster said just to be safe if you move to that area. I don't remember any issues with that refinery when it was in existence though. It was small compared to Chevron. The Phillips and Chevron refineries are somewhat nearby, but not close enough to be an immediate concern. 

Drinking water is EBMUD. Source is the same as Oakland so there should be no concerns. No one uses groundwater as a source. 

The older parts of Hercules are seeing a bit more crime than when I was growing up, but definitely nowhere close to crime in Oakland. Package/mail theft is probably the most common issue. 

Rail has never been an issue. I grew up hearing the trains but they always just passed by. The passing vehicles from the freeway probably causes more air issues than the train. Traffic on I-80 during rush hour (in non-COVID times) can be pretty horrible.