Pacific Steel Casting in West Berkeley closes after 84 years

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Nicholas Chun/Staff

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After 84 years in business, Berkeley’s Pacific Steel Casting, or PSC — which was once the third-largest steel foundry in the country — has closed.

Located at 1333 Second St. in West Berkeley, the steel manufacturer had originally planned to close in December 2017 but continued business for another 10 months. The foundry employed 500 workers, according to City Councilmember Linda Maio’s website, all of whom are now out of a job.

The manufacturer, founded by Douglas Genger and Ivan Johnson in 1934, faced repeated financial crises during recent years. After filing for bankruptcy in 2014, the company’s founding families sold the plant to Speyside Equity — a private firm that invests in manufacturing businesses, such as steel factories, across the country — for $11.3 million.

“That the plant is closing is a loss in quality jobs and high quality steel products made in the US,” Maio said in an email. “That said, the plant really needed to be reconstituted into a modern facility that was designed from the get-go to handle their emissions.”

PSC produced steel parts for vehicles such as 18-wheeler trucks, but it faced competition with China, which began increasing its steel production over the past several years, according to Berkeleyside. The foundry also produced equipment for oil rigs, but demand for the rigs dropped when oil prices decreased.

During the 2009 economic recession, PSC laid off about half its workers, and the foundry fired 200 undocumented workers after a Department of Homeland Security audit of the company in 2011.

Throughout the company’s history, it faced conflicts with community members over both environmental and working conditions.

The company settled a lawsuit for $5.4 million in 2012 after being sued by a retired employee for alleged mistreatment, which involved elements such as a lack of rest periods, mannerly meal times and rest shelters.

Surrounding Berkeley residents filed complaints about the factory emitting foul odors — which Janice Schroeder, a member of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs, described as a “burning pot handle” smell. According to Maio’s website, the smell was produced by a chemical used during the process of pouring molten metal into sand casts.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District mandated that PSC install carbon adsorption systems, which remove odors and volatile organic compounds, in all three of its plants, according to Schroeder.

An emissions monitoring station, which was set up in Berkeley for a year, tested emissions levels every six days, said Schroeder, who added that the company could have reduced their emissions only on testing days.

The foundry’s site goes up for sale to the public on Sept. 11 and 12, according to Curbed SF.

“Now we have to look to the future of the plants,” Maio said in her email. “My thought is a ‘maker’ installation that can be the home to many small businesses and artisans.”

Contact Alyssa Bernardino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Janice Schroeder’s name.