Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Meditation

Ever since my niece was born, half into our family of Minnesota Catholics of European descent and half into the Lakota nation, I have had to reconsider much of the world I take for granted. Some of those things are in the details, in insidious stereotypes perpetuated by sport team mascots and Peter Pan. Others are in the larger context of our cultural mythology, like the institutionalized teaching of the uniquely American Thanksgiving holiday, or even more unique: Columbus Day. It is not a far stretch of empathy to understand that a portion of our nation may not see either of those events as a reason to celebrate, or certainly in the same light that has been shined on them from the European perspective.

Thanksgiving is still one of my favorites, a holiday of gathering with friends, or less often these days, family; a chance to reflect on gratefulness, and an unabashed excuse to bask in self-absorbed guiltless culinary indulgence (hours in the kitchen all to myself!). More considered reading of history has only added depth to its importance. My total immersion this year into the effort to reduce toxic industrial air pollution provides interesting fodder for meditation while chopping onions and herbs. I find myself considering what was lost, as much as gained in that fateful collision of the two worlds represented in the history book as "pilgrims" and "indians."

As a civilization we had a chance then, and in the ensuing years of establishing what would become the United States of America, to reconsider what was "own-able." Ownership and sovereign rights vex civilization to this day. How different the world economy and potentially the environment and climate would be if we didn't assume that the natural world was own-able. It occurs to me now, that since certain classes of people were still deemed own-able, convincing power and money hungry entities that trees, land, water, and air should be universally shared, would be nearly impossible.

The history of corporate America is littered with an undulating path of push and pull regarding sovereign rights. Early 19th century corporate leaders resisted labor organizing, leery of the inherent concept that employees had rights or ownership of any decision making regarding company practices. In the 1990's when I worked for NIKE, the idea of rights filtered down to consumers, as activists insisted that a company that makes so much money from the African American community and culture, should also make sure that they are more inclusive in their hiring practices.

My hope for this century is a reformation of the cost of the environment. We need the external costs to be internalized, to be reflected in the value put on each and every thing we do and we produce. I have faith in the free market, and continue to be inspired by the ingenuity of innovation that characterizes American business practice. So I believe that once external costs of polluting air, of consuming non-renewable resources, and of harm to public health and well-being are calculated, businesses will be able to adapt and continue to do what they do best: determine a way to build wealth and capital. But, the problem I see for the future of sustainable business, is that we haven't stopped subsidizing non-sustainable business. If a company can continue to process non-renewable raw materials spewing hundreds of thousands of persistent bioaccumulative toxins into the air, land and water and can still claim, as ESCO did in the letter to the NW Examiner editor in November 2009: "results assured us that ESCO is not causing harm," then the bike component manufacturer around the corner with a net zero carbon output doesn't have a chance unless we find a "value" to be added beyond market differentiation.

We need a discount, or at least a financial benefit, for the businesses who do no harm, who do not add to the health care costs of the state, or the superfund clean up, or the Department of Environmental Quality's costs to protect humans and the environment. The businesses who, in effect, do not take for granted that impact on the natural environment is free.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

International Climate Action Day

Do you know what the number 350 means? If you do nothing else to mark this year's International Climate Action Day, I suggest you discover the meaning behind this number, and why an organization has devoted itself to educating the world to this cause.

350 parts per million is the magic number of sustainable levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Anything more than that, scientists say, causes Artic ice to melt, widespread drought, and kills forests. The earth is currently at 390 ppm. Yes. We are too high. But, the organizers say: "If we can stop pouring more carbon into the atmosphere, then forests and oceans will slowly suck some of it out of the air and return us to safe levels." is an International movement (click here to see more about this event) to raise citizen awareness and create a collective sense of urgency when our governments meet in December in Copenhagen to agree on a new climate treaty.

To live the creed: Think Global Act Local, Neighbors for Clean Air has launched a letter writing campaign aimed at reducing Portland's local industrial toxic air emissions. Citizens of Portland have already adopted lifestyle changes that reduced our local carbon emissions in 2007 to 1% below 1990 levels. That is outstanding, and shows a commitment by individuals to make the necessary sacrifices to reverse the damage of global climate change. But, that is only part of our air pollution problem in Portland. Industry makes up at least 15% of the total air pollution soup in our tri-county air shed, and as far as we can tell, looking at one industrial polluter, that number is only increasing.

So our 350 action is to send 350 letters (ok, I would rather it be 3500) to the Governor's office to ask for the following specific actions to curtail industrial air pollution in our state:

1. Reduce the Ambient Benchmark Concentration for manganese to the lower 0.09 ug/m3 level recently adopted by California.
2. Monitor to ensure the ambient conditions of fenceline neighborhoods of known industrial lead sources do not exceed the new stricter federal requirement of no more than 0.15µg/m3 per quarter.

Why these two actions?

Before last spring, when I came across the report published in USA Today about industrial air pollution and our schools, I knew little about the air toxic Manganese. But it is this toxin that put fifteen Portland schools, primarily in North and Northwest Portland, in the top 2% of the schools nationwide with the worst air due to industrial air toxics. Manganese, like lead, is a potent neurotoxin. There are no safe levels of exposure to children. While we have had some constructive conversation about the air toxics problem in our city over the last six months, there have been no substantive changes.

It is time to hold industry in this state to the same high standard we hold ourselves, to be part of the solution. This takes incremental rule changes and specific legislation that gets at source specific mitigation. This is how we will all win, and Oregon will truly become the greenest state in America.

Send your letter to the Governor today:

Governor Kulongoski

160 State Capitol

900 Court Street

Salem, Oregon 97301-4047

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Neighbors for Clean Air + STAND for Children

I am excited to announce an important partnership in the effort to clean the air of toxic industrial emissions around our schools and neighborhood. The newly formed West-side chapter of Stand for Children ( has partnered with Neighbors for Clean Air, and will make protecting our children by advocating for Air Toxics reduction one of their top priorities. The cooperation between our organizations will allow us to coordinate efforts and speak with a stronger voice.

Founding members of the West-side Portland Stand for Children chapter are joining the thousands across the state already advocating to protect our children and the services they need to thrive especially in this tough budget climate, where nothing can be taken for granted. If you have not already joined Stand, I encourage you to join now: A modest donation of any amount not only helps pay for the full-time legislative lobbyist that ensures our concerns as parents are heard in Salem, but every due paying membership strengthens the power of our grassroots voice. Whether you become an active chapter member or a financial supporter, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are making children a higher priority, and supporting the effort for clean air in the neighborhood. So have your voice counted today. If you have any more questions about the West-side chapter of Stand, please contact Karen Ritzinger

Sunday, October 4, 2009

ESCO Emissions and Children's Health

At a recent symposium on children's environmental health, Philip J. Landrigan, professor and chairman of preventative medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in NYC, outlined the challenges of protecting our children from the onslaught of diseases caused by the proliferation of toxic chemicals in the environment. Landigran said that there are 3,000 high-volume chemicals used today; for roughly half, there is no basic toxicity information publicly available. (You can read an article about the event here.) "The environment is a powerful determinant of human health, and there's no group more vulnerable or susceptible to adverse influences in the environment than kids," Landrigan said. "Pound-for-pound children experience greater exposure to chemicals than adults." Landrigan also noted that chronic childhood diseases linked to toxic chemical exposure is surging, estimating the costs in the US to be almost $55 billion a year. Any of us who are parents, know that these finite monetary costs don't even come close to describing the toll on families that children's health problems can impose.

What I am discovering as I get deeper into this issue of toxic industrial air pollution in our neighborhoods, is that so much about this is just not known. The federal government has only done exhaustive research on the health risks of the 6 criteria pollutants, leaving another 187 different hazardous air pollutants on their list. Admittedly, there are hundreds, if not thousands more toxic substances, not yet even identified. For example, by the EPA's own admission, some studies have found that cancer risks from diesel particulate matter, which is not even included in the measures above because of uncertainty regarding the appropriate values to use as cancer benchmarks, could exceed those of most other hazardous air pollutants. If the California's benchmark for diesel particulate matter were adopted, 95 percent of children would be considered to live in counties (including Multnomah County) where hazardous air pollutant estimates combined to exceed the 1-in-10,000 cancer risk benchmark.

Recently, Paul Koberstein of Cascadia Times, looked more closely at the emissions data of ESCO, a steel refinery named as the major contributor of toxic air pollution around 5 NW schools that were ranked in the top 2% of schools nationwide with the worst air due to exposure to industrial air pollution. Carter Webb of ESCO continues to insist that the emissions coming from the 3 plants located on the outskirts of the NW neighborhood do no harm. But with such an obvious lack of scientific data that supports that claim, I think it is time for the company to admit that they base their claim on a standard of regulatory compliance not scientific understanding of the synergistic health effects of hazardous air toxics. And, I believe that the company should admit these regulatory benchmarks are increasingly being shown to not adequately protect public health. When it comes to small children, and the impact on critical windows of development, there are no safe levels of inhaled manganese, lead, arsenic, and hexavalent chromium.

The Swigert family has operated ESCO for close to a century, with Hank Swigert being the latest to hold the position of chairman of the ESCO board, and continues as a board member since leaving that post. Much has been learned in the ensuing years; more often than not, whether it is alcohol, tobacco, or the host of pharmaceuticals that pregnant women unknowingly subjected their children to, we have learned that what today has yet to be proven harmful, reasonable doubt might be the precedence for later knowledge of the serious health risks undertaken. We are just beginning to learn about the dangers of toxic chemical exposures and how what we put in our air can harm us. Don't the companies that are using our common air space as the depository for their chemical waste owe it to the public to prove they are doing no harm?

Chrome VI found in ESCO's emissions

Guest Columnist, Paul Koberstein asks:

What do Erin Brockovich, residents of Northwest Portland and some members of the Oregon National Guard serving in Iraq all have in common? The answer is: they all have experience with hexavalent chromium, a dangerous cancer-causing chemical.

Cascadia Times is reporting on its web site ( that ESCO, owner of two steel foundries in the Northwest Portland neighborhood, has been emitting small amounts of hexavalent chomium, also known as chrome 6, since 2005

Cascadia Times is also reporting that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality had documentation of hexavalent chomium emissions at ESCO since 2005, but waited until September 2009 to release the data.

This disclosure comes on the heels of reports in The Oregonian that the Army and war contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root may have exposed hundreds of soldiers to dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium while they guarded civilian workers at a water treatment plant in Iraq ( Among the troops exposed are at least 292 Oregon Army National Guard soldiers, including 16 who say they were sickened by the contact.

As The Oregonian reported on September 29, “Hexavalent chromium is a corrosion fighter so toxic that an amount the size of a grain of salt in a cubic yard greatly increases the risk of leukemia and lung, stomach, brain, renal, bladder and bone cancers.

Erin Brockovich, is the Southern California legal researcher whose efforts to help residents of a small town who were stricken with chromium 6 exposure was dramatized by the 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts in the title role.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Right to Know

"Every American has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living. Right-to-know laws provide information about possible chemical exposures." EPA website: Protect the Environment: Learn about your right to know.

A recent NW Examiner article documenting the contradictions and discrepencies in the emissions reports from ESCO Corp. reveals a troubling picture of the current state of toxins reporting. First established by the EPA in 1986, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was passed in response to concerns regarding environmental and safety hazards posed by the storage and handling of toxic chemicals. These concerns were triggered by the disaster in Bhopal, India. The Bhopal disaster, or Bhopal gas tragedy, was an industrial disaster that took place at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal, Madhaya Pradesh. At midnight on 3 December 1984, the plant released an estimated 42 tons of toxic methyl isocynates (MIC) gas, exposing more than 500,000 people to MIC and other chemicals. The first official death toll was 2,259. The government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Others estimate 8,000-10,000 died within 72 hours and 25,000 have since died from gas-related diseases.

The Bhopal disaster is frequently cited as the world's worst industrial disaster. To reduce the likelihood of such a disaster in the United States, Congress imposed requirements on both states and regulated facilities, a hallmark of which was the creation, in 1988, of the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), a database which provides information to the public about releases of toxic chemicals from manufacturing facilities into the environment through the air, water and land.
But what Paul Koberstein of The Cascadia Times, the investigative reporter responsible for the September Examiner article, uncovered as he plumbed the depths of the many reports of ESCO emissions is a dizzying array of calculations and varying lists of toxins, one list reported to EPA for TRI, one to DEQ, others that come up on their testing reports, and still others reported nowhere in the previous reports that come up in the fenceline monitoring that was conducted by Cooper Environmental Services. The effect for residents of the NW neighborhood reading this article is confusing and troubling. As one neighbor asked me after reading it, "why do they (ESCO) seem to lie if there is nothing to hide?"

The intent behind TRI and emissions reporting is to inform the public. But the information is anything but clear, often inspiring fear and confusion among citizens trying to assess their own risk of living in proximity to industrial sources of pollution. That's why the study of schools and industrial air pollution, reported in the USA Today report, was so useful. It translated complex industrial emissions information into data the public could understand: health risks. Was it a smoking gun, no? But using highly sophisticated risk drivers, which balanced the proportional toxicity of each chemical, its volume, smokestack heights and prevailing wind patterns that would effect its concentrations, it certainly gave us a blueprint for where to start. Looking at the model, and understanding that this model successfully predicted the high levels of toxins in the Ohio school that was subsequently shut down, it was reasonable in the wake of the publication of this report, for communities to investigate further when the data indicated a high probability of a toxic industrial pollution hot spot.

ESCO's answer to the USA Today report, as stated by Carter Webb at the Aug. 7th House Health Committee Interim Workgroup hearing chaired by Rep. Mitch Greenlick: "We look at the DEQ and the ESCO monitoring data and we see that our operations are not creating a risk to anyone." But, in reality, and in closer scrutiny of this self-reported data, and self-funded monitoring that Mr. Webb is referring to, is not that there is any solid science backing the understanding that the ESCO emissions don't cause physical harm or long term health risks. But that instead, ESCO emissions, which include heavy metals like nickel, lead, manganese and Chromium VI - all known to perpetuate indefinitely in the environment once introduced - fall under current ambient benchmark concentrations by which the company is regulated. In other words, the company is fully compliant with the letter of their permit.

But science has not established that there is any safe levels for lead and manganese, known neurotoxins; or Chromium VI the cancer causing compound made famous in Julia Robert's portrayal of Erin Brochovich. Or the synergistic health effects of the 64+ toxic chemicals listed in the emissions reports from ESCO.

This is industry's dilemma. They are paying significant amounts in fees to be permitted to pollute (money that amounts to 70% of DEQ's budget). And I imagine that they pay equal if not greater amounts to meet their compliance requirements and generally jump through the hoops to provide the reports required of them, not to mention the lobbyists to protect them. All for what? If you are not buying public trust with this investment than really what good is it? The EPA, the Clean Air Act, Citizens Right to Know, and TRI are all efforts by our federal government to provide US citizens with peace of mind. If the state agency's process of administering the regulations is flawed, or certainly its stringency - and the agency's loyalty -suspect, then the money and energy that industry dumps into the regulatory process is a waste. My argument is that industry needs transparency and a strong regulatory process as much as neighboring residents, to bank the public trust they so desperately depend on to continue to operate their facilities, emissions from which trespass on our public airshed in annoying odors and black dust.

At this point we can neither afford to go back to unregulated, unfettered toxic industrial emissions, or stay where we are, trapped by confusion, suspicion and fear. Our city and state legislators must provide us with the leadership to forge a new path forward, one that ties regulation firmly to the objective of realizing specific public health outcomes when science exists, and precautionary health safeguards when negative health outcomes can be reasonably anticipated.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


It was disturbing to read The Oregonian article last week about DEQ's effort to assist a major industrial polluter in circumventing Federal emission laws: DEQ to help polluter seek federal break.

This article is not about jobs vs the environment. It is about DEQ's discretionary authority and the transparency of the process the agency uses to set priorities. It demonstrates the worst fear residents have about the alleged science that tells us industry is not a significant part of the air pollution problem in our city. Instead it is very possible to infer this science masks an agency bias, that while employing no economists on staff, the agency still chooses to weigh the financial interests of the industrial facilities that the DEQ is charged with the duty to regulate. This calls into question every aspect of the DEQ's Air Quality Division, including its basic assumptions for the Portland Air Toxics Solution which specifically has said addressing individual point sources of pollution will be excluded from consideration.

I appreciate that our elected officials like city and state representatives and the governor, may at times be faced with these kinds of tough decisions. Decisions that must look at what serves the greater public good: economy or environment. But this type of over arching decision should not be in the hands of the Department of Environmental Quality which has a mission statement to specifically safeguard the environment and public health and well-being.

In the time since I was given the opportunity to testify at the Health Interim Workgroup hearing, I have been trying to consider what legislative/policy steps might be taken to fix this problem. I have also taken part in the first of six meetings of the Portland Air Toxics Solution (PATS) Advisory Committee. And I have researched existing programs that are better addressing the mitigation of industrial pollutants. There are two things that I think could be specifically interesting for Portland and Oregon to consider:

1. Re-framing PATS to model after the Louisville, KY STAR program. This program brought industry to the table and held them to enforceable emissions standards based on a "no greater than 1 in a million risk" of additional cancers for any one source of toxic pollution. With 32 of 37 industrial facilities in compliance within 2 years, the city has seen dramatic drops in toxic air pollution including a 75% drop in 1,3 Butadiene. Compare this to PATS, which has already invested 10 years to just define the problem and is projecting the program, which will ultimately produce voluntary, not mandatory, guidelines, will also take another 10 yrs to realize results. That is almost two generations of children.

2. Consider a state version of "Kids Safe Chemical Act." legislation introduced by Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Representatives Solis (D-CA) and Waxman (D-CA) to protect Americans, especially children from chemicals introduced by industry, by putting the burden on companies to prove they are safe before they can introduce them into the environment.

While most of the provisions of this bill are designed to combat the unfettered use of toxic chemicals in consumer products designed for children, I believe much of this same language could inform the industrial air pollution regulatory process to better safeguard the air quality of the communities where our children live, play and go to school:

Highlights of the Kid Safe Chemicals Act of 2008

Require Basic Data on Industrial Chemicals
Chemical companies must demonstrate the safety of their products, backed up with credible evidence. Chemicals that lack minimum data could not be legally manufactured in or imported into the United States. [Section 505]

Place the Burden on Industry to Demonstrate Safety
EPA must systematically review whether industry has met this burden of proof for all industrial chemicals within 15 years of adoption. [Section 503]

Restrict the Use of Dangerous Chemicals Found in Newborn Babies
Hazardous chemicals detected in human cord blood would be immediately targeted for restrictions on their use. [Section 504]

Use New Scientific Evidence to Protect Health

EPA must consider and is authorized to require additional testing as new science and new testing methods emerge, including for health effects at low doses or during fetal or infant development and for nanomaterials. [Section 503]

Establish National Program to Assess Human Exposure
The federal government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to expand existing analysis of pollutants in people to help identify chemicals that threaten the health of children, workers, or other vulnerable populations. [Section 505]

Expand the Public Right to Know on Toxic Chemicals
New, Internet-accessible public database on chemical hazards and uses will inform companies, communities, and consumers. EPA is to rein in excessive industry claims of confidentiality. [Sections 511 and 512]

Invest in Long-Term Solutions
New funding and incentives are provided for development of safer alternatives and technical assistance in “green chemistry.” [Section 508]

I sincerely believe that the engagement and leadership of our elected officials brings new hope for optimism on this issue of turning back the clock of unfettered industrial emissions. It is time to take the burden off the DEQ to manage the huge conflicted tasks of safeguarding the environment and public health and well being with balancing the interests of the industrial polluters the agency regulates. Specific policy and legislation will provide the clear framework for the regulatory process. I look forward to working with the elected officials, at the city, county, metro and state level, to realize this.

Monday, August 10, 2009

8/7/09 House Health Committee Workgroup Hearing Testimony

"Most of the cases [of pollutants chronicled in Late Lessons] involved costly impacts on both public health and the environment, two fields of science and policy-making that have become specialized and somewhat polarized during the last 100 years. 

 Individuals experience their health and their environment as one, interconnected reality. Science, regulatory appraisal and policy-making need to be similarly integrated."

 -Late Lessons From Early Warnings: The Precautionary Principle 1896-2000


 The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's current regulatory policy does not adequately protect public health from the hazardous emissions of the more than 71 industrial facilities in Portland, including 19 Title V permitted facilities.

*   34 Portland City Schools ranked in the top 5% of schools across the nation with the worst air due to toxic industrial emissions.[i]

*   15 Portland Schools ranked in the top 2%, making them nearly equivalent to the modeled conditions of a school in Marietta OH that was closed down, because the ambient conditions matched the modeled profile.

*   In July 2009, the EPA released its National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) report based on 2002 data, showing Multnomah County to be in the top 2% of counties in the country with the largest populations at increased risk of developing cancer due to toxic air pollution (exceeding 100 cases per million).[ii]

1.    DEQ has failed Oregon communities by allowing air toxics standards to be voluntary benchmarks, not legally mandated restrictions.  This makes our air toxic standards among the weakest in the country.

  CA, WA, MD, NY, VA, KY and other states have led the way to use the discretion afforded states by the Clean Air Act to set stricter ambient air quality standards
.  Oregon has not.
levels in gasoline are nearly 3x greater in this region than anywhere else in the country.
  586 gasoline storage tanks are located along the Willamette River in NW Portland operated by 7 different companies (Some nearly 100 years old). Together, these tanks in NW Portland, which hold about 200 million gallons, annually emit ~1,394 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
, including the known carcinogen benzene.[iii] 

·      Oregon law allows leakage rates at these tanks of up to 10,000 parts per million (ppm). 

·      In San Francisco, CA the law allows only up to 100 ppm 

2.    For Title V permit holders, those polluters who meet the standards of highest volume of toxic emissions, Oregon relies on Plant-Site Emissions Limits (PSEL) that are specifically unenforceable as there are no coinciding operating limits in place. 

  For example, ESCO Corp. operates two steel foundry/metals casting facilities in NW Portland within 1000 ft of several schools. DEQ describes the plants as such: "The ESCO plants emit particulate matter and fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lead and sulfur dioxide. The ESCO plants are considered a major source of VOCs some of which are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous air pollutants." 

Without enforceable operating limits
in place, the two plants ESCO operates have been able to increase their reported toxic air emissions (Toxic Release Inventory TRI) by over 4800 % from 2003-2007, including nearly doubling the release of heavy metals (from 425 lbs to over 1000) and increasing the release of Glycol Ether to nearly 20,000lbs.[iv] ESCO, as I am sure their representative will tell you when he has the floor, can still maintain that they are fully compliant with their Oregon DEQ-issued air permit.

3.    Oregonians must rely on modeled data, not actual monitored ambient conditions information, because the DEQ does not allocate funding for monitoring in industrial neighborhoods.

• USA Today published a risk assessment report developed by researchers and scientists at the U. Mass-Amherst, Johns Hopkins, and the U. of Maryland to analyze exposure to industrial pollution at schools across the nation.

•A recent EPA report (NATA), further concluded that toxic air pollution puts residents of Multnomah County among those most at risk of developing cancer in the US.

4.    DEQ has significant data sources (e.g. Cooper Environmental Services and a history of neighborhood monitoring) raising cause for specific concern; yet, the agency appears to want to dismiss all the data sources and ignore potential community health threats.

•"Total Airshed"- the model that still informs the DEQ Air Quality regulatory process was developed to confront the six original smog causing pollutants (carbon, lead, nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter, and sulfer dioxide).  Unfortunately, a focus on a total air shed
, in our case a tri-county area, has created sacrificial zones of toxic industrial pollutant hotspots across the city. This is because industry is seen to be only 10% of the problem statewide. This belies the experience of many neighborhoods in Portland which are in very close proximity to industrial point sources like the Northwest.


  1. Mandatory restrictions/reductions of toxic air emissions by industrial sources in aggregate.
    •DEQ should revisit a study that set a total cap on industrial emissions in Portland and determined individual appropriations to facilities. In turn, enforceable total limits need to be assigned to Title V industrial facilities.

  2. Mandatory Pollution Prevention (P2) program of independent audits every 5 years that aims at the reduction of overall emissions.

  3. Fund adequate ambient air quality monitoring in order to protect concerned citizens' right to know what is in the air they breathe.
  4. Adoption of the "Precautionary Principle" by DEQ.
    • The Precautionary Principle would inform the regulatory process in a way that better safeguards public health by immediately reducing benchmarks to their lowest known safe levels, and then proceeding with caution in incremental increases that prove there is no harm to public health.

    E.g. Manganese: The current available knowledge says, that like nickel and lead, there are no known safe levels of exposure to children.  And with recent court cases being won, proving the connection of exposure of manganese in workers causing Parkinsons-like neurological damage, it would be prudent to limit manganese emissions until we can assess the safety of the cumulative loads.

  5. Adoption of Polluter Pays Health Tax
      It is widely known that industrial pollution increases the costs of health care[v].  This was documented in Portland as early as 1974 by a specific study conducted by researchers at OSU.[vi]

    It, therefore makes sense, that if DEQ receives nearly 70% of their budget from the process of allowing polluters
    the regulatory process that allows them to emit dangerous and hazardous emissions into our public air shed, that we should make the polluters assume some of the health care costs that are born from their pollution.

    This would be a logical way to fund universal health care coverage through fees, based on emissions volume, taken from the industries allowed to pollute the air.

Reference Notes

[i] USA Today: The Smokestack Effect, Toxic Air and America's Schools

[ii] 2002 National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment:

[iii] Koberstein, P. Portland's Toxic Cloud  Cascadia Times, 2009

[iv] Koberstein, P. Portland's Toxic Cloud  Cascadia Times, 2009

[v] Ostro, B and Chestnut, L. Assessing the Health Benefits of Reducing Particulate Matter Air Pollution in the United States. Environmental Research 76:94-106, 1998. 

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Report to Congress: The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act, 1990 to 2010. EPA-410-R-99-001, November 1999.

[vi] Jaksch, J and Stoeveneur, H. Outpatient Medical Costs Related to Air Pollution in the Portland, Oregon Area. Department of Agricultural Economics, Oregon State University July 1974

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Contemplating the role of sincerity in institutional change

OK, I know that sounds more like a Tweet or a Facebook status update (which it was) than a title for an essay. I have been asked by many of you to communicate the outcome of the July 29th meeting with Dick Pedersen, Director of the Department of Environmental Quality.  The general impetus for the meeting was the dissatisfaction of neighbors with regards to DEQ's response in the wake of the USA Today Report, and a growing crisis of faith in the community of his agency to work honestly on behalf of citizens to protect us from unfettered industrial pollution. The purpose of the meeting, was a little more specific.  Mainly we want to see them do a better job of oversight at the ESCO facility, and industrial pollution sources in general; and, because of the afore-mentioned crisis of faith issue, we had some specific actions that we expect DEQ to take to achieve the desired outcome.

 To be expected, we have no clear answers on the specific requests we made, the first of which, was to ask Mr. Pedersen to view a 20 minute video that was taken at the Town Hall Meeting on May 21.  In this meeting he can see the frustrations of neighbors as they continue to ask reasonable specific questions, and get answers from his staff about process. Most of the other neighborhood requests are around obtaining a clearer picture about what ESCO does and how they might do it better (or in the case of the toxic industrial pollution: do LESS of it).  We are left once again in the position to wait and see how DEQ responds.  Clearly their's is not a track record that inspires optimism on this issue with this neighborhood.

So what is the difference?  Why the optimism today? First and foremost because I think as a neighborhood we have done an excellent job applying the pressure that is needed to enact change.  Have I reminded you lately how amazing it was to collect over 1200 signatures on the petition we circulated in little over a month? (Signatures are still coming in and keep them coming.) That when over 100 concerned citizens show up at a Town Hall Mtg ("I have been doing this for twenty years and this is the most people I have ever seen at a meeting" -Greg Lande, DEQ) it makes a difference. Do I need to tell you again that when one representative gets over 150 emails/letters about the same issue (Mitch Greenlick after the Town Hall Mtg) that he will feel compelled to do something? Clearly the difference, and the sense of optimism comes from you and your willingness to do the work we need to send the message that this is important to us.

That brings me to the meditation on sincerity. There was another dynamic at play in the meeting room yesterday. (Possibly inspired in great part by the presence, on the neighbors' behalf, of Mark Riskedahl, who, as executive director of the NEDC, has been the most effective thorn in the side of industrial polluters in this state, and whose engagement on this particular issue must inspire a vigorous accountability -if not more than a bit of fear- on the part of the DEQ staffers involved.)  But in many ways the meeting boiled down to one man: Dick Pedersen, and his sincerity to bring change to the Department of Environmental Quality that inspires public trust. 

So, while Mr. Pedersen needs to recognize that there is not a great reserve of patience for waiting and seeing how DEQ process might resolve this,  I think as a neighborhood we should extend the benefit of the doubt that his desire to be an agent of change is real, and we will take it on face value to believe him, until he proves otherwise.  The clock is ticking.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Necessary Caution

Nicholas Kristoff wrote in a recent op-ed in the NY Times: "One of the conundrums for scientists and journalists alike is how to call prudent attention to murky and uncertain risks, without sensationalizing dangers that may not exist? Increasingly, endocrinologists are concluding that the mounting evidence is enough to raise alarms." He wrote this about phthalates, noting their ubiquitous presence in modern life.  

 A related story was published the next day in The Washington Post, titled: Kids' lower IQ scores linked to prenatal pollution.  And earlier this month, I shared a story about the latest EPA Nata report that shows people living in Oregon, Multnomah County in particular, to have an increased risk of cancer due to exposure to air pollution.

 In researching this issue of industrial air pollution as I prepare testimony for the House Health Committee Workgroup on August 7th,  I came across a guiding principle of the European Union Environmental Legislation.  It's called the "Precautionary Principle." It was adopted by the EU Environmental Agency formally in 2000.  The National Institute of Environmental Health's 1998 consensus statement characterized the precautionary principle this way: "when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically". The statement went on to list four central components of the principle:

  1. taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty;
  2. shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity;
  3. exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions;
  4. and increasing public participation in decision making.

 As the European Environmental Agency said in adopting the principle: "the precautionary principle is seen principally as a way to deal with a lack of scientific certainty." In an absolutely amazing document (please pardon these banal descriptives, but, really, I think everyone should read it) entitled "Late Lessons from Early Warnings: the Precautionary Principle 1896-2000," the authors spell out how important the basic understanding of certainty, or uncertainty, is. And how that plays out in risk assessment and the regulatory and policy-making process. Twelve case studies reviewing the early warnings of such ubiquitously used, but now widely accepted known contaminants as PCBs, asbestos, benzene, and radiation, documented the at times near 100 years from the first sign of human/environmental threats to the establishment of policy to stop their use. 

 In reading this document, and its call for more weight to public participation, and a recognition of the hazards of "scientific uncertainty" being used to describe actual ignorance, I can't help but draw relevant connections between this paradigm and our neighborhood concerns at the moment.  I have been able to watch a video tape of the Town Hall Meeting we held back in May, many thanks to a concerned neighbor with a camera.  The tape demonstrates the near impossible task of our current system.  Concerned citizens gather with reasonable and specific questions about industrial pollution to address to the regulatory agency responsible for the oversight and permitting of industrial facilities.  The result is near comic, if it weren't my neighborhood, my concerns, my children.  One after another speakers ask:  Are we safe? Is there a compelling reason not to monitor? Does DEQ know what comes out of ESCO? Can we have the confidence that DEQ is protecting our health? We are looking for information. We have confirmed ESCO as the source of manganese and chromium and probably lead in the neighborhood.  Independent monitoring was able to determine that there are spikes that at times exceed benchmarks 100x the acceptable level, these spikes could be dangerous, but they would not show up on annualized averages. What is DEQ going to do?

 The answers (as quoted directly from the transcript of the Town Hall on 21 May 2009):  Compelling is an interesting word. DEQ doesn't test at the facility, ESCO contracts a third party to conduct tests.  There is hexavalent Chromium (Chrome VI-think Erin Brockovich) in the neighborhood, but we can't tell you if it is coming from ESCO or the machine shop next door. We have a lot of monitoring data calculating annualized averages of chemical toxicity-we have yet to find any concentrations to cause concern. We will have meetings. 

 This dance, which has been repeated in the neighborhood for over 10 years illustrates the imbalance in current environmental regulation and, as the authors of Late Lessons point out in their conclusion: "the urgent need for a more complete and systematic basis for thinking about the different ways in which scientific uncertainty may pervade regulatory appraisal." They go on to discuss the subjective assumptions of traditional risk assessment, and if uncertainty is allowed to mask what is truly ignorance, the effects in environmental policy can have devastating and irreversible consequences. The study provides many examples where the scope of hazard appraisal was too narrow, and the voices too few who could impact decision making.  And finally concludes: "If more account, scientifically, politically and economically, is taken of a richer body of information from more diverse sources, then society may do substantially better in the future at achieving a better balance between innovations and their hazards."

 There are many things "uncertain":  What is in the air? Where is that odor coming from? There are no safe levels for children on many of the criteria pollutants that ESCO is considered a major source of.  How much do ESCO's emissions add to our risk factor of living in the neighborhood, and the known increased risk of cancer? Of other health issues, related to neurological development, not necessarily morbidity, what are the cumulative affects of the levels of known neurotoxins such as manganese and lead on our children and ourselves?  As the conclusion of Late Lessons states: Most of the cases in the book involved costly impacts on both public health and the environment, two fields of science and policy making that have become specialized and somewhat polarized during the last 100 years.  Individuals experience their health and their environment as one, interconnected reality: science, regulatory appraisal and policy-making need to be similarly integrated.

DEQ may not in the end be the source for action we need.  But they need to quit masking ignorance as "scientific uncertainty." And they need to quit addressing reasonable public concern with arrogance and dismissive "science"- and a tactic of paralysis through analysis- that does not answer legitimate questions.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Environmental Justice and Industrial Pollution

I went to two environmental Town Hall Meetings this week.  The first, on the joint city/county Climate Action Plan in North Portland sponsored by the Urban League; and the second, sponsored by the Attorney General John Kroger to discuss his newly funded environmental crime division, along the banks of the Tualatin River in the town that bears its name.  One thing that stood out for certain is:  the environment is not an issue that attracts a diverse racial population to its meetings in this area.  As Marcus Mundy, President and CEO of the Urban League, quipped in his opening remarks and introduction of Mayor Sam Adams, he supposed by asking the Urban League to sponsor the event, the city expected a high black turn-out. Mundy went on to add that it was a good thing his family came.

But, not surprisingly, the burdens of climate change and industrial pollution fall disproportionately on the shoulders of African Americans.  According to  J. Andrew Hoerner and Nia Robinson who co-wrote the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, African Americans are thirteen percent of the U.S. population and on average emit nearly twenty percent less greenhouse gases than non-Hispanic whites per capita.  "Though far less responsible for climate change, African Americans are significantly more vulnerable to its effects. Health, housing, economic well-being, culture and social stability are harmed from such manifestations of climate change as storms, floods, and climate variability. African Americans are also more vulnerable to higher energy bills, unemployment, recessions caused by global energy price shocks, and a greater economic burden from military operations designed to protect the flow of oil to the U.S.

Like-wise, the Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts Amherst published a report Justice In The Air, that determined "Air pollution from industrial facilities is unevenly distributed...A growing body of research has demonstrated that people of color and low-income communities often face the greatest environmental hazards. Toxic air pollution from industrial facilities is a case in point. Using the RSEI data, EPA researchers have found that nationwide, the most polluted locations have significantly higher-than-average percentages of blacks, Latinos, and Asian-American residents (Bouwes et al. 2003)."

And this seems to be true in Portland as well.  In the USA Today special report, The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America's Schools, the worst schools in Portland are all located in North Portland at the Roosevelt Campus.  

I don't have all the answers, to be sure, but a city that wants to be the "greenest in the world" should start by cleaning up its dirtiest spots. And I believe also find a way to better engage a wider portion of the population in the conversation.  This may entail facing some hard facts of the burden of responsibility for clean up in certain neighborhoods. It might also entail considering it an environmental crime to allow legal, permitted, emissions that in effect have created sacrificial zones of toxic industrial air pollution hot spots in the city.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Many of you hit on the issue of the high levels of benzene (a class A carcinogen) in our gasoline as a probable cause for Oregon's high ranking in the latest EPA report.  As was widely reported last week (well, except for in the Oregonian, but you can read about it in the USA Today) Oregon and Multnomah County specifically rank in the top geographic areas for population at risk due to toxic air pollution based on 2002 emissions data.

Oregon has nearly twice the ratio of benzene in our gasoline as the rest of the nation.  This is due to both where the fuel originates (Oregon crude oil comes from Alaska which is naturally high in benzene.  Drill, baby, drill!); and most Northwest refineries do not have the equipment to remove benzene when producing gasoline.  To remedy this situation, Senator Wyden pushed the EPA to establish a benzene cap on each refinery in the nation.  Unfortunately refiners have until 2012 to comply.  So just hold your breath for a couple more years...

For more information on this issue, read the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's fact sheet on benzene.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Portland's Climate Action Plan

Riding the 15 bus downtown with my girls last Saturday, a sign caught my eye as we turned the corner at SW Salmon.  It was a standard lawn sign, like those used for political campaigns, and it was stuck in the ground outside the Lincoln HS track fence.  It read: Climate Change Town Hall, June 29th 6.30pm Lincoln HS. I made a quick note to myself on my calendar.

And that's how I found myself in the Lincoln HS cafeteria last night listening to Sam Adams' vision of Portland in 2050, at the heart of which is the reduction of local carbon emissions by 80%.

The plan is ambitious and doable, when you consider the impact individuals have on our city's carbon footprint, which the city and county estimate to be 50% of all local carbon emissions due to residents driving, and the heating, cooling and powering of our homes.  Our track record is impressive in the 15 years the City and Multnomah County have been working together to reduce carbon emissions. In 2007, the carbon emissions were 1% below 1990 levels, despite the rapid population growth and economic expansion in the region. In the US as a whole, by contrast, emissions increased 17%. source: Multnomah County and City of Portland Climate Action Plan 2009 Draft We already recycle at rates far above the national average (64% of all Portland's waste is recycled-the nat'l rate hovers in the 30's); we are one of the bike friendliest towns in the country with nearly 300 miles of bike lanes and a bike commuter rate of 9% in some neighborhoods; and of course there is our near legendary network of streetcar and light rail public transportation. This is the Portland we all love and evoke fondly when we regal far-flung family and friends with the magical spot we call home. 

But, as I told the mayor in the few minutes after the meeting concluded, when we were both grabbing our bike helmets and heading out the door, the 800lb gorilla in the room (or more accurately NOT in the room) was the contribution of our industrial neighbors to this master plan.  I wondered aloud what changing my light bulbs and bringing my own bags to the supermarket would compare to the emissions emanating from the industrial smokestacks 1000ft from my front porch.  With yet another EPA report underscoring the high load of industrial pollution that Portlander's carry, with Multnomah County yet again ranking in the top 10 counties in the nation with increased risk of cancer due to industrial air pollution, I wondered where was industry in this Climate Action Plan conversation, or for that matter the DEQ?

And again the answers: City and County have no jurisdiction over industrial pollutants and the funding at the DEQ (the agency that DOES have direct jurisdication over industry in the state) has been slashed so much that they have no teeth.  What's a citizen to do?  I have a couple ideas for you :)

1) Let the City of Portland and Multnomah County know that you are concerned by the lack of attention and accountability regarding industrial specific emissions in the Climate Action Plan.  You can read the plan here. Send emails to  You might also email Mayor Adams ( and Jeff Cogen, the Multnomah County Commissioner atop the Sustainability Program: While they say the county and city has no jurisdiction, they sure do have a strong record of innovation and results.  

2) Show up to the next Climate Action Town Hall and plan on attending the City Council hearings on the topic.  There is one more Town Hall Mtg in this 1st round: Tuesday, July 7th, 6.30pm University Park Community Center. Mayor Adams mentioned that it is important to show up to be heard (and seen) that this issue is a priority.  I strongly believe that our citizen support on this issue can also be parlayed into leverage on increasing pressure on our industrial neighbors to meet this challenge of innovation and nation-leading mitigation of industrial emissions that threaten our health and well-being.

3) And of course, change your light bulbs, bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store, buy local, and ride your bike, walk and use public transportation instead of your car.  For a more thorough calculation of your personal carbon footprint and ideas of how to reduce it, click here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How Green is Oregon?

Hello Friends,

The warm sunny weather makes it difficult to face reality sometimes. And it is a beautiful morning, and I will head out in a few minutes to enjoy the best our city has to offer with a run up on the Wildwood Trail.  

But, first, I am compelled to share some sobering facts, released yesterday by the EPA, regarding Oregon and air pollution.  We have once again risen near the top--of the dirtiest heap.  Blake Morrison reports in the USA Today this morning that: "The government's latest snapshot of air pollution across the nation shows residents of New York, Oregon and California faced the highest risk of developing cancer from breathing toxic chemicals."  You can see the official EPA report here

What good is this kind of information?  I believe strongly that it is the kick in the pants that the Governor's office and our state legislators and Washington representatives need to act specifically and deliberately to mitigate toxic hot spots where residents are at risk of increased exposure to harmful emissions.

As one EPA official notes: "Air toxic risks are local. They are a function of the sources nearest to you," said Dave Guinnup, who leads the groups that perform the risk assessments for toxic air pollutants at EPA. "If you are out in the Rocky Mountains, you are going to be closer to 2 in a million. If you are in an industrial area with a lot of traffic, you are going to be closer to 1100 in 1 million."

The missing component for Oregon has been a state agency that has the teeth to provide leadership and oversight on this issue.  The NWneighborhood has for years brought attention to, and documented, the existence of toxic emissions coming into the neighborhood from nearby industrial sources.  But the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality continues to stand behind the "industry is less than 10% of the overall air pollution problem STATEWIDE." But as Guinnup noted, air pollution is local.  In our case, the majority of the population at risk in Oregon lives in Multnomah County. Oregon needs to adopt swift legislation that gives DEQ the authority to clean up toxic hot spots, and require the best available technology (a step beyond the current federally mandated MACT standard for Title V permitting) that effect high density residential neighborhoods. This needs to come with the authority to demand oversight and monitoring at industrial sites which pose a potential threat to residents, that currently are relying on self-reporting and company arranged monitoring to assess risk.

Please write to the Governor's Office.  Let Kulongoski know that this is a priority to residents and must be addressed if we are going to fulfill the mission to be the "greenest city in the world."