New web tool helps public track pollution violations in East Bay
on September 22, 2023
The public can now easily look up notices of pollution violations through the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s new web tool. However, environmental groups say the tool falls short of their expectations.
This tool allows users to look up notices of violations in the past five years, filtered by date, county, city and keywords. Each violation entry lists location, facility name, enforcement status, and penalty amount. The information is updated daily. When a penalty is over $100,000, the agency will notify the public with a press release and email notifications.
Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who also serves on the BAAQMD board, says the tool is part of the agency’s effort to be more transparent. Gioia said violation information has been available on the BAAQMD board agendas, but he noted that most people don’t look at those agendas.
Isa Flores-Jones, communications coordinator for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, said APEN and other organizations have been asking for this kind of transparency for years. However, Flores-Jones thinks the tool should provide more information and should be in other languages in addition to English.
To fully understand what is in the portal, you have to “work it backwards,” she said, because there is no description of what exactly was violated. To figure out what the violation refers to, you have to page through documents and cross reference with the web tool.
For example, Flores-Jones pointed out that if you search February to April 2021, when the Chevron Refinery spilled 750 gallons of diesel into San Francisco Bay, you would not see the description of what happened.
“You wouldn’t know that from the materials they have written up there. Unless you’re a researcher and are really attuned to working backwards from the details, you’d still be in the dark,” Flores-Jones said.
Paul Hibser, supervisor in BAAQMD’s Compliance and Enforcement Division, said the public would have to file a public record request to get more details about violations.
Flores-Jones would like to see the tool provide such information as which chemicals are causing respiratory problems and where residents are at greater risk.
Still, she said, the tool is useful for residents who can check the dashboard if they see something unusual such as a big flare. Using the tool, the public can check the number of violations at Chevron, for example, rather than relying on information the company puts out.
The database shows that Chevron has received close to 700 notices of violations in the past five years.
“It’s proof that everything is not running as smoothly as the refinery would like us to have us believe,” Flores-Jones said. “It’s great to have that public information.”
The web tool is only in English, but Hibser said BAAQMD is working to offer it in Spanish, Mandarin, Tagalog and Vietnamese by the end of the year.
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