City accuses company of deliberately blowing dangerous dust into West Oakland

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The city of Oakland has filed an environmental justice lawsuit against a debris-hauling company alleging that it deliberately blew dust into the nearby West Oakland neighborhood in violation of the city's zoning laws, claims that are "all lies," the owner told KTVU.

The city alleges in the suit it filed on Jan. 18 that Santos Engineering, which previously operated in Richmond, moved into a warehouse at 2850 Poplar St. last year that's near homes, a playground and a farm.

The lawsuit charges that the company intentionally blows dust from construction debris into the neighborhood, allowing contaminated water to flow into the city's storm water system.

 "This lawsuit is about environmental justice for West Oakland," Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said on Thursday.

According to the suit, Santos hauls construction debris from job sites around the Bay Area, such as drywall, old steel and fiberglass, to the warehouse, where it then stores, sorts and breaks down large amounts of materials, potentially including materials that are known sources of asbestos.

The city says handling and breaking down construction debris creates huge amounts of dust, but instead of mitigating the harm from those activities, Santos knocked out parts of the warehouse ceiling and installed a fan to blow dust directly outside of the property and into the surrounding 

 In addition, the suit alleges that Santos illegally tapped into an East Bay Municipal Utility District fire hydrant and allowed contaminated water to run into the city's storm water system and that it routes its trucks down residential streets where commercial trucks are prohibited under city 

 The owner, Moacir Santos, told KTVU on Thursday he was shocked by the lawsuit..

 "They come here and see what we do first before they start pointing fingers because the lawsuit, it's all lies. It's not true what they say in the lawsuit," said Santos.

Inside we saw workers wearing masks. Santos says his business is not to blame for increased dust and says his trucks do not haul hazardous materials.  

 "The last time the fire department came here for that. They didn't find nothing," said Santos. When asked about whether his company handles asbestos, he answered: "No we don't."

City records show Santos was not compliant with fire regulations. He says he corrected them and installed more fire extinguishers. Santos also said he tried to address neighbors' complaints by working more daylight hours instead of overnight. And he said he had used a fire hydrant one time, only when he found needles outside his business. 

"A bunch of homeless left a bunch of stuff there, needles and a bunch of contaminated stuff. And I hook up the hydrant and washed it out because my water is not enough," said Santos.

The city says the company only applied for a permit two months after the city issued a citation for the violation and continues to operate illegally at the property.

The city says that since Santos moved into West Oakland, residents in the surrounding neighborhood have complained about layers of dust caked on cars and homes.

 Members of a family who live across the street from Santos have been forced to keep all their windows and doors closed and have suffered persistent coughing, eye and throat irritation and lightheadedness, which they attribute to the dust projected from the warehouse, the suit alleges.

 Parker said, "Given the environmental threats in the neighborhood, it is unconscionable for anyone to deliberately add to this danger and potentially harm the health of children who live nearby."

 She said West Oakland neighborhoods already have suffered disproportionately from pollution in the air, soil and ground water, and that has taken a toll on the health of people who live there.

Parker said, "Children living near freeways in Oakland are hospitalized for asthma at 12 times the rate of children in Lafayette, and West Oakland residents suffer a 2.5 times greater lifetime risk of cancer compared to the Bay Area as a whole."

The suit asks the court to declare the company's operations at the property to be a public nuisance and issue an injunction to immediately stop the alleged nuisance activity. It also asks for punitive damages of $500 to $1,000 per day and other penalties, fees and costs.