The agency responsible for regulating air pollution across the nine-county Bay Area is criticizing the decision to open a new elementary and middle school adjacent to a longtime concrete plant in Silicon Valley.
Air District CEO Critical of School's Proximity to Concrete Plant
“I don’t want to sugarcoat this at all – this is not a good land-use decision that was made,” said Jack Broadbent, Bay Area Air Management Quality District CEO, as he addressed the district’s board of directors during a meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday.
“This is not a good situation.”
Broadbent’s comments come in the wake of an NBC Bay Area investigation that revealed a chain of errors allowed Stratford, a private K-8 school, to build alongside the Tri City Rock concrete plant in Fremont. Last month's investigation exposed inaccurate permit applications submitted by the plant, poor communication between government agencies, and other bureaucratic blunders.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Broadbent voiced his dissatisfaction with Stratford and appeared to accuse the company of being uncooperative with the air district’s efforts to further monitor air quality at the school.
“It’s been a little frustrating because I think we want to be able to conduct some [air] monitoring on site,” he said. The school, so far, hasn’t been all that easy in terms of allowing such monitoring,” Broadbent said. “So what we are going to do now is undertake a monitoring study where we do upwind of the school and the site itself and downwind, as well, to fully characterize some of the impacts. That will allow us to tailor make additional mitigation measures.”
Stratford School Criticized for Being Uncooperative
Stratford Founder Sherry Adams did not specifically respond to criticism from the air district, however, in a statement said months of testing, paid for by Stratford, revealed air quality at the school met California standards for a “majority of school days.”
“We remain committed to ongoing communications with members of our school community regarding this matter,” Adams wrote. “We continue to collaborate with our neighbors, the City of Fremont, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).”
Tri City Rock, the family-operated concrete plant, has remained at its Fremont location along Osgood Road for more than 30 years. Stratford School, however, opened its classrooms last August. Now, hundreds of students are regularly next door to the plant.
“Relocating is not an option,” said Stefany Doukas, owner and CEO of Tri City Rock.
“We've got customers and relationships in the city of Fremont that depend and rely on us. This business is everything to me,” Doukas said tearfully while speaking to the Investigative Unit in May.
The process of making concrete can send microscopic chemicals into the air, which can cause respiratory problems and heart disease, according to the federal government. Dozens of parents recently told NBC Bay Area that plumes of dust regularly float from the concrete facility to the Stratford School playground, which is adjacent to the plant.
Concrete Plant Owner 'Surprised' at School's Decision to Build Next Door
“Although, it's surprising that the school would select a site next door to our operation, I don't think there is any validity to the claims of a health risk,” Doukas said.
When she first heard of the school’s intentions to build next door, she said she expressed her own concerns to a top official at Stratford.
“He was very matter of fact and said, 'We know what we’re moving next to," Doukas said. “I was surprised that they would choose this location.”
BAAQMD is now considering whether to approve a request by the concrete plant to increase its annual production limit from 80,000 tons to 120,000 tons. The air district argues that approving the increase could, ironically, lead to lower emission rates at the plant since the new permit would allow regulators to require additional safety measures and tools to lessen air pollution.
The air district is expected to hold a public meeting within the next few weeks to allow members of the community to provide input on the issue before BAAQMD officials make their final decision in the coming months.
“When [my kids] are going to school, they are there to learn, not to be fearful about the environment that they are in,” said Kewei Tang, who spoke at the air district meeting and has two children enrolled at Stratford School.
“We still witness a lot of dust storms [at school] and both of my kids need to run in doors.”