2017 Multimedia Finalist

Casey Toth

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
$1,500 Scholarship and Hearst Medallion

The Vallejo city council voted against a proposed ‘green’ cement plant 6-1 in March
of 2017. Three months later, the community finds itself once again embroiled in controversy as
the council addresses the developer’s appeal, specifically to complete a new environmental
impact report for which the company has funded. “To me that seems a lot like the fox watching
the hen house,” said Peter Brooks, leader of a local group called Fresh Air Vallejo. He and other
residents are watching the council closely, weary of backdoor meetings with the developers. For
about a year, beginning in April 2014, three council members participated in weekly meetings
with the developers to discuss the project. These closed-door meetings angered residents and
narrowly skirted a state law which qualifies four council members as an illegal quorum. With one
other council member already voting in favor of the project, a 4-3 vote is again on the table.

Some believe strongly this project will revitalize their recently-bankrupt city, investing a ‘green’
industry currently in high demand, and some strongly believe the health and environmental
costs will be too high.

This ‘green’ cement is known as slag cement. It is sought by environmentally-conscious builders
because it has a smaller carbon footprint. Slag is a byproduct of steel production and requires
less heat to refine into cement than traditional limestone. However, there are concerns about the
carcinogenic chromium-6 content of slag which closed a similar plant in Davenport, CA, in 2008.

The neighborhood containing the desirable location, currently an abandoned flour mill, South
Vallejo, already has high rates of cancer and respiratory issues from industrial productions
upwind in Richmond, CA. South Vallejo is also community of color. An estimated 600 trucks per
day will be traveling their residential streets. Potential collisions, diesel fumes, noise pollution,
light pollution and dust from the slag will all be new hazards for them.