Sherwin Williams asks for extended work hours (evenings, Saturdays), while refusing repeated requests for testing
Sherwin Williams has spent the past 45 days cleaning up the mess it made during its heyday dacades ago, when it was busy “covering the world.” And it’s quite a mess. More than 8 acres of land at the corner of Sherwin and Horton streets in Emeryville is contaminated with arsenic, lead, and solvents like benzene.
While the clean-up –- reportedly just one-third of the way done –- is good news, the bad news is the clean-up is generating dust – a dust that residents say is sticking to their cars, blowing into their open apartment windows, and leaving a layer of grit on their morning newspapers.
“It’s a change I’ve noticed since the clean up started,” said nearby resident Archana Horsting, referring to the dust on her newspaper. “I feel like I need to wash my hands because I don’t know what it is.”
Horsting, a long-time resident of the Emeryville Artists’ Cooperative (EAC) and Executive Director of the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, spoke at a recent meeting between EAC residents, and representatives of Sherwin-Williams (S-W) and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which is charged with monitoring clean-up safety. Sherwin Williams requested the meeting to notify residents it will be asking the City Council for a permit to extend clean-up hours to include Saturdays, and weekday nights until 9 pm. As it is, work starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 6 pm. S-W says it’s behind schedule and wants to finish before the November rains, which will make the operation more difficult, and more expensive.
Sherwin Williams will make its request at the City Council’s Sept. 6 meeting.
Initially blaming other possible sources, like street cleaning, S-W representatives at the meeting finally conceded that the site might be the source of the dust, but it was from a non-toxic, dirt-like material added to the toxic sludge so they can load and transport it more easily. But many EAC residents attending the meeting asked how Sherwin Williams can be sure if it won’t test.
“Can you test it (the dust), just to put our minds at ease?,” asked EAC Board Member Robin Bernstein.
When pressed, Mara Feeney, a public relations person hired by Sherwin Williams to deal with community concerns, finally agreed to query the company further about the possibility. However, several days later, she said, “They (S-W) have issues with it, since the dust testing that was done years ago was inconclusive and there is no ‘baseline’ data to use for scientific comparison.”
With regard to other EAC residents’ concerns over the extended work hours, like noise, she said engineers will “try their best” to work around EAC members’ schedules.
Meanwhile, S-W and DTSC representatives at the meeting said there are plenty of safeguards in place, including mist machines designed to keep down the dust, and air monitors around the perimeter of the site to measure it’s toxicity. The private company (subcontracted by Sherwin Williams) to ensure the safety of the clean-up was apparently doing some sampling, but stopped after the first few samples were deemed to be within required limits.
Previous requests for testing had been made (by this reporter, who lives at the EAC) both to the DTSC (whose expenses are paid by Sherwin Williams), and Bay Area Air Quality Management (BAAQM). Both have refused, explaining that it appears Sherwin Williams is doing what it should, including taking air monitor readings around the site perimeter, so testing is unnecessary. BAAQM said that, under the circumstances, it “could not justify the expense.”
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