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."


  1. Interestingly, I heard a piece on OPB a year or so ago talking about how levels of benzene (which is carcinogenic) in the Willamette Valley is extraordinarily/dangerously high. If my memory serves me correct, I think they were attributing the benzene to PDX, but I could be wrong.

  2. I believe our much higher than normal levels of benzene come from the quality of gasoline we burn in our cars here. Pretty much all of our gas here comes from Alaska, whose crude oil produces gasoline higher in benzene than gasoline from other crude oil. Senator Ron Wyden has pushed EPA to fix this problem and make sure Oregon doesn't continue getting so much of this high benzene gasoline. He's gotten some traction on the issue and a change is supposed to occur within the next couple years I believe.

  3. On a slightly different note, I found it interesting that the Sunday (6/28), Oregonian highlighted the problems of unemployment and lack of economic development in Harney County (Burns is the largest town there) despite the fact that, as quoted by a source, "It's easier to get an air quality permit in Harney County than in other places." When you look at the Oregon map from the EPA report, you can clearly see that Harney County looks about as bad as the Portland area. I was wondering why so now I guess we know. My point would be if even sacrificing air quality doesn't guarantee sustainable growth and development for rural areas -- why risk it?

  4. I was trying to get the right information about the reasoning behind the high benzene levels in Oregon gas, and why we have nearly twice the ratio of benzene (a class A carcinogen) as the rest of the nation. The answer has to do with where we get our fuel from (Alaska "drill, baby, drill, where crude oil is naturally high in benzene); and the fact that most Northwest refineries do not have the equipment to remove benzene when producing gasoline.

    Warren is correct in saying that Sen. Wyden pushed the EPA to establish a benzene cap on each refinery in the nation. But refiners have until 2012 to comply. So hold your breath for a couple more years...

    More information from the DEQ Fact Sheet on Benzene: