The AB&I Foundry in East Oakland Credit: Amir Aziz

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The California Attorney General’s Office is suing AB&I Foundry, accusing the cast iron pipe manufacturer of illegally spewing a toxic chemical into the air breathed by the foundry’s East Oakland neighbors, including several schools. 

Attorney General Rob Bonta alleges AB&I and its operator, Alabama-based McWane Inc., violated state law by not warning nearby communities that the facility is emitting hexavalent chromium, a chemical which can cause lung and other forms of cancer. 

Proposition 95 requires companies to provide warnings about significant exposures to such cancer-causing chemicals. Bonta’s office filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court. The foundry could face civil penalties for health and safety code violations.

It follows a similar suit filed in December by Richmond-based Communities for a Better Environment, also arguing the foundry failed to warn residents and has not committed to a plan to reduce emissions.

AB&I was the subject of a story The Oaklandside published in July about new data suggesting East Oakland’s air quality was worse than regulators had previously disclosed. Staff at Acorn Woodland Elementary, the closest of the 10 schools located within a mile of the foundry, have long suspected that health problems among the school community are linked to air pollution from the smokestacks caused by the foundry’s melting of scrap metal as well as other industrial companies near the Oakland Coliseum. 

Besides schools and their outdoor playgrounds, the foundry on San Leandro Street at 81st Avenue is near densely populated neighborhoods with a majority of low-income residents and higher rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease, and other respiratory conditions linked to poor air quality. Bonta’s lawsuit said 85% of nearby households live under the poverty line, with a population that is 66% Latino and 21% Black residents. 

The neighborhood near the foundry “is adversely affected by pollution to a greater extent than 91% of the state,” according to the lawsuit. “Indeed, the community has more asthma-related emergency department visits than any other census tract in the state.” 

A spokesperson for AB&I Foundry denied Bonta’s allegations and said the foundry “operates in compliance with environmental regulations, standards and voluntary commitments as a basic prerequisite of its manufacturing processes.” 

“We believe we are, and always have been, operating in full compliance with Proposition 65 and will be cooperating fully with the Attorney General’s office to demonstrate this compliance,” the company’s statement said.

In March 2021, AB&I announced it would reduce emissions by shifting half of its 200 positions to Texas in 2022, according to the East Bay Times. The company said that it may not be able to continue operating in California and complained of “ever increasing regulatory standards.” 

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District in April 2021 recognized for the first time the health risks East Oakland residents are facing. A report released by the air quality district showed that AB&I was emitting higher levels of toxic emissions into nearby neighborhoods than previously acknowledged by the company and environmental regulators. The same report found the cancer risk for people living near the foundry was twice as high, and worse for workers at the foundry. 

Bonta said the lawsuit was filed to ensure AB&I begins to eliminate emissions of toxic chemicals. 

“Everyone has a right to clean air where they live and where they work. It’s that simple,” Bonta said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that’s not the reality for too many communities across our state, communities who all too often live at the intersection of poverty and pollution. It’s time for a change.”

David DeBolt reports on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.