Air Quality in Berkeley

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Moving to Berkeley, worried about Pacific Steel

Sept 2013

We're planning to move to Berkeley soon, but I recently happened upon the colorful history of Pacific Steel. We are mostly interested in the neighborhoods of Northbrae, North Berkeley, Gourmet Ghetto, and the base of the hills...maybe Elmwood if we luck out on a smaller house. My question is: Does anyone know the status of Pacific Steel's air pollution status and what neighborhoods it directly affects/how far it travels? I've heard that Berkeley's air quality is average at best, but the idea of this foundry's waste being blown right into our kids' faces really disturbs me. I would love your insights into how big of a deal this is, what's being done, and which specific locations need to be most concerned. Thanks so much!! Jeannie

Don't move to the nuisance -- Pacific Steel predates almost all other uses in West Berkeley, so if it bothers you, don't move there. Sometimes, I feel like many people would like to move all the industrial things we depend on to 'someplace else.' That means less skilled jobs for working-class people who already live nearby, and more resources used to transport goods.

I think in terms of pollution in West Berkeley, the Freeway is actually more of a problem.

That said, I live by N.Berkeley BART, and haven't noticed any smoke, etc. from Pacific Steel; and even when we've gone to businesses quite close to there, like Picante, there has rarely been a problem. anon

Air Quality reports at Berkeley schools

Jan 2013

Does anyone know of any more recent air quality or pollution studies done at Berkeley schools since the information that was published in USA Today and cited in the SF Chronicle and Berkeley Daily planet late 2008 (see refs below)?

SF Chronicle:

Berkeley Daily Planet:

Needless to say, with a child about to enter BSUD, these studies concern me. Was anyone around when this was originally reported. What was Berkeley's response to these studies? Did anything improve? Concerned parent in Berkeley

Well, those reports are about the air quality in Berkeley (worse in West Berkeley, but not fantastic throughout), even though they frame it around schools.

This is a result, as I understand it, of congested freeways, a steel factory, giant oil refinery next door, and hills that hold in pollution (as opposed to SF where it all just gets blown away.

Presumably you live in Berkeley, so this is an issue for you regardless of whether your child attends BUSD or not, they have been breathing that air for probably 5 years already. That said, when we were house hunting, my husbands #1 criteria was not to live withing 3 miles of a freeway. And I have friends who would not put down Rosa Parks as an option for that reason. I would think twice about sending my kid to a west berkeley school (though did not have that option in my zone), but the middle and hills schools do not rate fabulously either.

I don't know what Berkeley could have done about it. The industry is still here, and the geography has not changed... dirty old town

Where in Berkeley for good air quality?

June 2012

I have a wonderful 3 year old boy who has unfortunately had pneumonia twice now, once being hospitalized for a severe case. We live literally across the street from the freeway in Burlingame (Peninsula) and finally made a correlation between my son's lung sensitivities and the pollution. We are moving ASAP and wanting to move to Berkeley as I lived there before my son, and our only family in the area is there. Though I am really happy about the idea, i'm also worried as Alameda's air quality gets a pretty low rating. Can anyone help me to know which areas of Berkeley have the least air pollution? Is the hills less polluted (though so expensive we probably can't live there) or is it more as there is less breeze? What areas should we look in or stay away from? What's the overall impression of Berkeley's air quality and kids? Any help is oh so greatly appreciated. Thank you. Young mom who wants to keep her son healthy

Hi Melody, 3 things to consider:

1. pollution from roads - bad everywhere close to areas that have major traffic but normally doesn't carry that far - choose a residential neighborhood away from the freeway

2. pollution from industry - in general Berkeley air quality is actually not so good compared to other areas in the Bay - best air is in SF proper and Marin (basically everything close to the ocean, since most wind comes from the West) - places like Pacifica too. Then all the dirt from the city gets blown over to the East Bay, which also has a lot of heavy industry (West Berkeley, Richmond) that adds to the mix. Unfortunately most of the industry zoning is close to the bay, so all the fumes get blown over residential Berkeley. If you still choose Berkeley, definitely don't move to West Berkeley close to the Pacific Steel Foundry, Berkeley's largest polluter; here is more info about the area affected: A really great resource for you is also from USA today - they calculated expected air quality for all schools in the US (based on industry pollution) - you can check a school in each neighborhood you're interested in Please note that the 2nd worst school in California in terms of air quality is located in Berkeley.

3. indoor air quality can be worse than outside because of all the emissions that are coming from carpets, furniture, building materials...; allergies can also be a factor (dust mites etc)

Don't mean to frighten you, most people deal quite well with this level of contamination, but if your kid already has respiratory problems, I would move as close as possible to the Ocean - Pacifica, SF, Half Moon Bay... the humidity will be good for the airways as well. And I would take a look at interiors and make sure you're using low-VOC carpeting and paint, and furniture without formaldehyde (choose used solid wood furniture over new particle board furniture).

Also note that GW Bush eliminated the clean air act and that Republicans are currently trying to get rid of the little bit of regulation that prevents excessive pollution....good to know for the upcoming election. Hope your little one is feeling better soon! Julia

I highly recommend the hills. We live a couple blocks down from Grizzly Peak in Central/North Berkeley (which runs N-S along the top ridge), and get plenty of fresh breezes every day...I'd stay away from the freeways. There are plenty of hills houses in the 'lower' price range. The ones in our neighborhood are in the $600,000-700,000 range, but the prices go way up to $1,000,000+ depending on which street you're on... Berkeley mom of 3

I suspect the hills have better air quality because they are further from the freeways. The hills are not that expensive. It seems like everyone likes to walk to coffee lately, so the flats are actually more expensive in my experience.

Outdoor air quality is an important health consideration, but indoor quality is even more important. Perfumes, air fresheners, cleaning products, smoke, new carpet, new paint, etc, etc, all affect health. If the indoor air quality is good, outdoor air quality becomes less important. Anon