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.