Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Good Neighbor Agreement

Many of you were in the room last May, at the public hearing on the statewide air toxics benchmarks, when Vice-Chair Williamson, of the state's Environmental Quality Commission, advised citizens that the most effective means of fighting a large local source of pollution was a "Good Neighbor Agreement."

My husband remarked that Williamson was just being honest, offering the kind of advice that your friendly college advisor might to help you deal with a particularly onerous prof threatening to fail you.

But Williamson isn't just a wizened observer.  He is vice-chair of the state's rule-making body for the Department of Environmental Quality. He can, and in fact should, see that if the state environmental regulations are ineffective in protecting public health, he and the others serving on the EQC have a mandate to change that. 

And, his advice falls flat for another reason, despite his statement GNA's are neighbor's "best" option, there are few, if any, success stories in Oregon.  So how is it that the state tells us our best recourse is one that has yet to prove itself attainable?

We are well on our way to a GNA with ESCO, I believe.  Without a formal legal contract between neighbors and the company (which is rare with GNA's in any case), many of the tenants of a GNA are being met:  meetings which bring neighbor representatives concerns into the internal discussion regarding pollution mitigation and increased transparency in discussing options and sharing information. With the first draft of ESCO's alternatives analysis on the table, the community is getting its best shot in years to consider what might be possible in the effort to reduce emissions.

The problem is that ESCO is just one of the 19 Title V permitted facilities in the city, one of hundreds of industrial air polluters, including 7 other steel processing facilities and 8 petroleum companies. According to a study published by USA Today, nearly all of our neighborhoods are affected by large sources of toxic air pollution, ranking 233 of Portland's 250 school in the bottom third of the nation due to exposure to dangerous industrial air toxics. There has to be a better way.  Sustaining the citizen involvement necessary for these efforts takes tremendous amount of resources to balance the scale of the financial means of those who will fight any type of pollution reduction effort at every turn.

I stumbled across an interesting third way, that is something other than direct citizen negotiation and dreaming for the time when stringent environmental regulations are enacted and enforced. In July 2008, the then outgoing mayor of Houston TX, sick of decades of inadequate environmental regulation that failed to stem the poisonous tide of air pollution in his city, took matters into his own hands.

In an essay written for the Texas Law Review, Ryan Hackney argues that Houston Mayor Bill White effectively substantiates his authority when he enacted an ordinance that gave the City of Houston broad powers to register and inspect polluting facilities within the City.  Hackney says: "local government may be the level of government that can address air pollution problems most effectively. When a state agency fails to take sufficient action to protect local populations from air pollution, the local government may be the only entity that can take effective action."

I am not advocating yet that our city take over the regulatory authority of large industrial polluters, or do what Houston's Mayor did in enacting a parallel matrix of permits, but I think there is a tremendous amount of room for the city to take a more active role in direct discussions with industry and their representatives to move pollution mitigation efforts beyond the current regulatory framework.  The city can exert influence in building permits, zoning, transportation infrastructure decisions, to ensure that equitable pollution reduction efforts are realized across the city.  In the interest of ensuring equitable livability standards for all residents, the city, could ask that air pollution sources be required to do environmental health impact analysis and monitoring so that citizen' right to know is protected, and everyone can understand what the local impact might be from the regulated sources of  air pollution in our city. Finally, the city can be part of enforcing nuisance ordinances and emergency response preparation, two areas where specifically the state fails to adequately provide timely and effective responses to upsets involving air polluters.

Air pollution problems are inherently local, the worst of them manifesting in "Toxic Hot Spots." Yet this is specifically the area where the Clean Air Act and the state regulatory framework has failed to protect citizens.  Ozone and smog are primarily the problems of cities, where sufficient concentrations of vehicles and industry can emit enough oxides of nitrogen (NOX) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to create hazardous conditions. Likewise, toxic emissions are primarily an urban problem where industrial operations and residential populations exist in close proximity. Health experts are devoting increasing attention to the issue of toxic hot spots - highly localized areas of acute or prolonged toxic exposure. A January 2007 study by the University of Texas Health Science Center found a 56% elevated risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia among children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel.

Thanks to the hard work of citizen action groups like Environmental Working GroupCenter for Health, Environmental and Justice, and Earth Justice, I am heartened to see new vigor brought to the federal debate around toxics and better enforcement of the the Clean Air Act after eight stagnant years under Bush. It seems that this should be accompanied with an honest discussion of preempting some of the state's authority, where it is so failing its mandate to protect public health, and transferring it into the hands of those closer to the problems.    If direct citizen negotiation is still considered the most effective means of addressing local toxic hot spots, citizens need stronger public advocates to work on their behalf. Portland should look to the spirit of what the Houston Mayor did, which was to say, the city is the best entity to look out for the equitable protection of all its citizens and should be creative in its ideas of how to engage on the issue.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

False Choices

The first responders to The Oregonian coverage of Neighbors for Clean Air delivering air toxics petition to DEQ downtown yesterday, gave the usual doomsday speech of pollution reduction equals job destruction.

This age old argument to protect the status quo just doesn't stack up.  In "free market" America, companies shed jobs and move to other countries because of the economy, not environmental protection demands.  According to a September 2009 article in The Oregonian The Ash Grove Cement Kiln in Durkee, Oregon reduced production not because of long overdue threats to limit the toxic mercury emissions from one of the largest sources in the nation, but because global demand for asphalt has dropped significantly during the course of the great recession.

But in Europe, they seem to be able to choose both the environment and jobs.  In a fascinating March 2010 essay published in Harper's Magazine on Germany's labor structure, Thomas Geoghegan notes: "a strange fact: since 2003, it’s not China but Germany, that colossus of European socialism, that has either led the world in export sales or at least been tied for first. Even as we in the United States fall more deeply into the clutches of our foreign creditors—China foremost among them—Germany has somehow managed to create a high-wage, unionized economy without shipping all its jobs abroad or creating a massive trade deficit, or any trade deficit at all." Or, BP-scale environmental destruction. Maybe America is Europe's China--companies come over here to get away with what they can't on their own soil.

It is universally recognized that Germany, and the European Environmental Council, in adopting the Precautionary Principle nearly a decade ago, also get environmental regulation right:  Polluters need to prove they do no harm before they are allowed to impose their toxic outputs into our lives.  We have the opportunity to de-incentify cheap environmentally destructive business models.  We can enact things like "polluter pays" regulations being supported by our own Earl Blumenauer.  We can enact what I would like to say is the "Common Sense" principle.  We know things like heavy metals are dangerous to our health, and devastating to our children's development, and they will most likely cause irreparable damage that may not be seen for decades, and we know the sources of these emissions.  Let's stop it. 

In response to our demands, Andy Ginsburg has said the state will begin to look at addressing short-term benchmarks for air toxics.  The work won't even begin until mid-2011.  It has taken the state 10 years to drag itself to this point.  This does not have to be this way.  The Clean Air Act already affords the state the discretion it needs to safeguard public health by more stringent emissions controls and pollution reduction policy. It can write rules today about known heavy metal toxins they measured years ago from identified sources. The state agency can put public health above the needs of the regulated community.

Let's do it. Today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

EPA report confirms: Portland's air is Toxic

The Sunday New York Times reported that EPA's inspector general said the agency is ten years behind schedule in setting guidelines for a host of air toxic benchmarks. Even more damning, the "agency had not met targets outlined in a 1999 planning document, the Integrated Urban Air Toxics Strategy, including tracking urban dwellers' risk of developing health problems from exposure to pollutants.

Frank O'Donnell, the president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental watchdog group based in Washington, said the inspector general's report made clear that 'the issue of breathing cancer-causing chemicals in city air is something of an orphan issue.' For example, the agency's last assessment of the risk of toxic air pollutants is based on emissions data from 2002. That analysis found that 1 in 28,000 people, or 36 in 1 million, could develop cancer from lifetime exposure to air toxics from outdoor sources. That number is an average, however, and people living in densely populated cities may face a higher risk."

The people most exposed, Mr. O'Donnell said, 'are probably not out in the wheat farms - they're going to be people living near where the bus depots are.'"

As Paul Koberstein has noted, Mr. O'Donnell is referring to communities like ours, situated in Portland's toxic hot spots. In fact, Koberstein notes that in Portland we are at 1 excess cancer in 12,000 people or 79 in a million, so we are just more than double the national average.

This just underscores how on track we are to be pressuring the DEQ to address the health risks of air toxics, specifically our children and other vulnerable populations who live, work, play and go to school in Portland's toxic hot spots.

Many of us have experienced the frustration in addressing our concerns to DEQ about the health effects of the toxic emissions from regulated polluters. Over 500 people have signed the petition online and on paper, because every meeting has been the same: complaints of odors, confusing data, and inaction from the agency. That is why our group has elected to take our concerns downtown and deliver the petition in person, to remind DEQ that citizen's expect our health to be put above the needs of polluters.  I hope you will join us Wednesday to deliver the message:

What's in our air? Rally
DEQ Headquarters -- 811 SW 6th Avenue, 1 block south of Pioneer Courthouse Square
blue sky NCA logoWe will meet for a photo in front of the building @ 4:30.
Then a group (whoever would like) can proceed inside DEQ before the 5pm deadline for public comment closes on the current air toxics benchmark rulemaking.

For more information about our Wednesday event and to RSVP please visit the 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Doing my homework

At the end of the last Portland Air Toxics Solution (PATS) Advisory Committee meeting, a woman who had waited patiently in the visitors gallery through the 6 –hr meeting, stood up to address the room.  The public is allowed to attend the meetings, but speaking and asking questions for anyone other than committee members is restricted.  She must have felt strongly about what she wanted to say.

She introduced herself as Kate McCutcheon, the environmental manager at Blue Heron Paper.  The Oregon City company has a mixed record of environmental compliance, incurring fines in the last 10-15 years for air and water infractions.

While Ms. McCutcheon was addressing the room, I did get the strange feeling she was directing her comments at me. Making eye contact, she said, “any one who questions the air toxic benchmarks hasn’t done their homework.”

The air toxic benchmarks or ABC’s (ambient benchmark concentrations) are the metrics introduced by DEQ as the framework that PATS will be utilizing to measure air toxic reductions.  Since most if not all of the air toxics being discussed exceed the benchmarks, it is reasonable to assume that getting them below those benchmark levels will mean a reduction of toxic air pollution in the metro air shed.

But it does not necessarily mean that the air quality will be safe, or vulnerable populations within the metro air shed, like our children, will be safeguarded from adverse health effects due to exposure to toxic air pollution.  This is because the ABCs are annualized average concentrations of air toxics that do not reflect the risk of exposure to spikes and toxic hot spots, like those people who live near large industrial sources of toxic emissions or in low income housing along freeway corridors. And as individual concentrations they do not address the synergistic effect of these toxics are when mixed together.

Unfortunately, Ms. McCutcheon, I have done my homework.  And this leads me to realize that the benchmarks will not address what I, and hundreds of parents have come to realize about the dangers lurking in the Portland air: industrial pollution contaminates the airshed of every school in the Portland area, every one –except one- of which ranks in the nation’s worst 30% of schools at risk.  In fact, 65 schools rank among the worst 10% in the nation due to proximity to large sources of toxic air pollution.  The worst of these schools, including seven in Northwest Portland and three campuses in North Portland, list manganese as the air toxic of most concern.  Yet we are told that the Portland area and the polluters that emit this neurotoxin are already in attainment of the newer stricter manganese benchmark.

And I am not the only one to have done the homework assignment.  Over 40 concerned citizens who recently attended the Air Toxics Benchmark Hearing on May 18th  came to address the same concerns: do these benchmarks adequately safeguard public health from the hazards of air toxics, especially spikes in emissions that at times have been recorded in fenceline monitoring to exceed the benchmark by 300x, yet would not be reflected in an annualized average.

At the same hearing, Commissioner Williamson said what most have come to suspect:  “when it comes to large sources of industrial pollution, the best remedy has been direct negotiation between neighbors and the company through a good neighbor agreement.” In other words, the state won’t help you, you are on your own to address the issue of spikes and toxic hot spots. He unfortunately offered no insight as to how a community gets leverage against industry, which has the backing of well-funded powerful lobbyists, and which operates within a state regulatory framework that has allowed the proliferation of sacrificial zones of toxic hot spots, by adopting metrics and calculations that ensure compliance of permitted air emissions limits by relegating them unenforceable.

While I acknowledge that there is a solid body of science behind the benchmarks, the problem was in the question, not the answer.  The Air Toxics Science Advisory Committee (ATSAC) was not asked to determine what is the safe level of the neurotoxin manganese exposure to children, which as scientists Dr. Brodsky (OHSU), Dr. Carmen (Texas Air Commission, and Lone Star Sierra Club), and Maye Thompson, PhD (Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility) would say is zero to minimal.  Instead they were only asked if the science supported the reduction from current benchmark to the lower one. 

We need to reframe the question.  What health metric can be used to inform the regulatory process?  Anything that maintains the status quo is not genuine, and threatens to provide a false pretense to the regulated community that they are compliant and do no harm.  The status quo says that almost every Portland school is at danger due to toxic air pollution.  The status quo says that Multnomah county, and Oregon, lead the nation in excess rates of cancer due to toxic air pollution.  Nobody should be allowed to put dangerous air toxics in our common domain, and claim that they are not part of the problem.

This Thursday, June 3rd is the next meeting of the PATS advisory committee.  DEQ has scheduled three hours to discuss the benchmarks.  Ms. McCutcheon can be assured that I, and others, will have questions. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tank Farms: Grandpa must die

At the heart of the tank farm issue is the reality that a new tank, like the one operated by Chevron that was installed in 2007, emits half the deadly pollution than an older storage tank does, according to permit writer George Yun. The idea that some tanks are "grandfathered" in with allowable excess emissions rates makes no sense when regulating something as deadly as benzene emissions. Reasonable people would assume that there would be time limits explicitly stated for how long they may continue to operate with outdated dangerous  technology.  “Grandfathering” by its nature should guarantee that an end is imminent, it should not be a state of perpetual life support for old and deadly operations.

Thanks to the research of Cascadia Times' Paul Koberstein, we know the Northwest Industrial Sanctuary is home to 536 petroleum storage tanks with a 300+ million gallon capacity, and combined are responsible for spewing 1,392 tons of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into our air shed. The majority of the tanks are old, between 40 and 100-yrs old. Due to the high public health threat of emissions associated with petro chemicals, including benzene a toxicant linked to leukemia, which has been identified at levels above health benchmarks across the entire Portland metro air shed, all storage tanks with the potential to emit this know carcinogen should be held to the strictest emissions standards, regardless of age of facility.  While I appreciate that this move would be a financial burden to the companies operating these tanks, I also believe it is unconscionable that they are allowed to co-opt public health by spewing 100s of tons of deadly emissions into our air shed.  

The public is currently being invited to comment on the proposed renewal of Air Quality Permits for Chevron, Kinder Morgan, and Shell (Equilon) petroleum storage facilities in NW Portland.  If you have not submitted comments, or did not provide testimony at the public hearing last week, please consider doing so before the deadline:  5pm, Tuesday, May 25th to Catherine Blaine.    Click here for the DEQ notice.

Some recommended "asks" from comments already submitted:

1.  Continual ambient air monitoring at the tanks.
2.  On-site, continuous, monitoring of wind speed and direction at each facility conducted by independent contractors.
3.  Recording/reporting of all "unburned fuel" and "gasoline" odors to all facilities, and attribution applied to tank farms in aggregate, without the requirement of citizens to name an individual source.
4.  Time frame to phase out all older tanks and/or require all tanks to adhere to the stricter emission standards achievable by newer tanks.
5.  Clarification of why some companies, including Kinder Morgan, are classified as something other than a storage facility, despite the near identical operations to the other 6 companies operating in the tank farm who are.  Citizens know that this allows them to skirt federal reporting requirements designed to safeguard public health such as the federal Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) database. TRI was established under the federal Emergency Planning Citizen Right-to-know Act, that helps protect communities in case of a disaster, by informing them of the nature and volume of volatile toxic chemicals that are stored, processed, and otherwise might create a public health threat in the event of a catastrophic emergency.  The tank farms in the NW Industrial Sanctuary are situated on a known earthquake fault line and in a flood zone. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


One neighbor summed it up best, when she asked the final question during the pre-hearing Q&A period: "Since the Town Hall Meeting a year ago at Chapman Elementary School, has the agency done any tests to better understand the problem or taken steps to fix it?"

Gregg Lande, Oregon DEQ's Senior Air Quality Analyst and the person responsible for the state's air monitoring program and the air toxics benchmarks, responded: "No."

And there is the sum of the meeting on the Air Toxics Benchmark Hearing, with particular regards to the new manganese benchmark. Manganese is the toxic that many in the room last night had first learned about last year, when also learning that their neighborhood schools ranked among the worst in the nation due to the presence of manganese and other toxic industrial emissions. The 40+ neighbors, parents and otherwise concerned citizens that attended the benchmark hearing learned that this rulemaking will have no effect on the problem identified by the study published by USA Today in November 2008. 

No positive effect that is. 

The more insidious threat is that under a veil of "science," the rulemaking on manganese, lead, ethyl benzene and mercury can and will be used by the polluters that put these toxins in our environment as continued protection of the status quo, and fodder for the sources to claim "they do no harm."

Let me do a quick recap of the status quo: 65 Portland area schools (117 statewide) rank in the worst 10% of schools across the nation with the most dangerous air quality due to proximity to industrial sources of pollution. The federal government's most recent National-scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) report, released in July 2009, showed Oregon to have the 3rd largest population at risk of excess cancer due to toxic air pollution. Finally, according to the National Cancer Institute, Multnomah County, which ranked among the worst counties in the nation in that same NATA report, also leads the state, and the nation, in rates of breast, lung, pancreas and brain cancers.

What was confirmed at the hearing is the DEQ has no measurement, or specific program in place to measure and address the short-term exposures that our children risk living in the many identified toxic hot spots across the city. These benchmarks are annualized averages and meant to address a lifetime of exposure. Risk is assessed by modeling and very limited monitoring data from the one monitoring station situated in North Portland.  As Dr. Lambert, a toxicologist from OHSU, who sits on the ODEQ's Science Advisory Committee who makes these rulemaking recommendations, said the state does consider "these benchmarks to represent an acceptable level of risk."

Fortunately the public had some important advocates to put our concerns on record. Among them:

1. Dr. Matthew Brodsky, a neurologist at OHSU, who has done specific research on the effects of manganese. He testified to studies that show short term acute exposures to cause irreparable damages in the brain. In written testimony he notes: "It is astounding to me how this can be allowed to continue in such a densely populated neighborhood, and in such proximity to an elementary school full of children with rapidly developing little brains that are at the greatest risk of long-term neurologic damage."

2. Maye Thompson, RN, PhD, Environmental Health Program Director, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, who noted: "We are accruing evidence that air pollution affects the brain and neurological development. For instance, children from highly polluted Mexico City, compared with matched controls from a low-pollution city, showed a high incidence of cognitive deficits on psychometric testing, and brain abnormalities in the prefrontal region on MRI. These findings suggest that brain inflammation linked with air pollution begins at an early age and is associated with early cognitive impairment."

3.  Sharon Genasci, Northwest District Association Health & Environment Chair, offered a great chronicle of neighbors' efforts to monitor the air shed themselves and the history of recording high levels of manganese and lead in dust samples taken off porches near, and downwind of, one of the city's largest steel foundries. She also noted her committee addressing the issue of conflict of interest of members of the science advisory committee as far back as 2004.  Genasci suggested that the conflict of interest was severe enough to put a shadow over any of the benchmarks set during that period. 

4.  Finally, testimony was provided by Sattie Clark, parent, local manufacturing business owner, and founder of a sustainable business alliance. Clark described her personal experience of behavioral and other health issues with her son and the subsequent discovery that he had high, chronic, levels of arsenic. When she consulted the USA Today study on schools and industrial pollution, she found that the neighborhood school near her family's house was situated near an industrial source of arsenic, and arsenic was a pollutant of concern in the profile of the school's air quality problem.

Where are we now? Scientific research supports that there are no known safe levels of exposure to neurotoxins such as manganese yet DEQ's proposed air toxic benchmarks for emissions do not guarantee *reductions* in the current levels of manganese emissions around Portland and the state. We have until June 30 to let DEQ know their proposed benchmarks do not adequately protect public health. 

Email your comments to them now: Gregg Lande: benchmarkupdate@deq.state.or.us 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Body Burden of Toxic Chemicals

Nicholas Kristof of the New York TImes wrote an editorial yesterday about an about to be released report from the Federal Cancer Panel, entitled: New Alarm Bells about Chemicals and Cancer.  Read it here.  This is on the heels of a report released earlier this year, and reported on by Blake Morrison for USA Today. In this study the General Accounting Office, chastised the EPA for its failure to protect children from toxic chemicals.  Read Blake's article here.

This is all the more reason for us to question the decade old Air Toxics Benchmark program in Oregon.  We need to press the state to ensure that the best new science is taken into consideration when new air toxics benchmarks are adopted.  The problem with these benchmarks, if they stand on their own, is the false pretense they provide for polluters.  These allow company's to assert, like ESCO did in a letter to the NW Examiner in December last year, that the toxic releases that have put 35 of Portland schools in the top 5% of schools across the nation with the worst air due to the aggregate load of toxic industrial air pollution, are "doing no harm."

Please help us send a strong message to the DEQ and the EQC - the rule making body for that agency - that we expect the state to adopt air toxic standards that are protective of public health, particularly children and other vulnerable populations, who live in urban areas with high industrial air toxics.  Sign the petition here.

And attend the hearing on May 18th:
Public Hearing on Air Toxics Benchmark Rulemaking
DATE: May 18, 2010
TIME: 6 p.m.
LOCATION: ODOT, Main Floor, Conf Rm AB
Address 123 NW Flanders, Portland

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why the Air Toxics Benchmarks Matter

For months, we have been asking people to care about the Air Toxics Benchmarks, specifically the new stricter standard being proposed for manganese. It would be pretty easy to accept that the state is addressing our concerns about industrial Air Toxics as they consider lowering the manganese benchmark to match the current California standard.  Since last year when I stumbled on the report that showed 35 Portland schools, including my daughters', to be in some of the worst industrial toxic hot spots in the nation, I have been routinely directed to the Department of Environmental Quality's program:  Portland Air Toxics Solutions (PATS).  Last summer I became one of the over 30 members of the PATS Advisory Committee.  It has been through this process, the first meeting in August 2009, and the 2nd just held in April 2010, that I have come to better understand the importance of the Air Toxics Benchmarks.  And to realize it is incredibly important that citizens pay attention, especially those of us who are concerned about the high levels of these specific pollutants, like manganese, which we discovered through USA Today's national report on industrial pollution.

The Air Toxics Benchmarks will be the metric that the state agency uses to measure reductions in toxic air pollution.  

The problem is, that these benchmarks are measured in terms of the annualized averages of the ambient levels detected (or most likely modeled) over the tri-county area.

And this new stricter manganese benchmark will not require any emissions reduction efforts for those facilities emitting the neurotoxin in the toxic hot spots in the city, Northwest and North Portland, where, according to DEQ data, manganese was both modeled and monitored at the highest levels in the tri-county area.  And, most notably, 2008 fenceline monitoring data of the ESCO facility revealed that the manganese levels in the air emissions from the NW steel refinery were sometimes 300 times the benchmarks.  At least that is what I infer from the comments by DEQ and ESCO staff who both assert that "we are already in attainment" of this new stricter benchmark.

That is why I drove the nearly 450 mile round trip to deliver the message to the Environmental Quality Commission in person at their meeting last week in Coos Bay.  I showed up to address Agenda Item M, on the Air Toxics Benchmark Rulemaking, which was thankfully removed by DEQ Director Dick Pedersen to allow for more public input.  Because, we need to insist that the EQC consider adopting dual standards to address not only the long term health risks, but the short term risks of high exposures experienced in the toxic hot spots, as well as the more protective levels that are needed to safeguard the most vulnerable to these high spikes, like our children.  My concern is, without the qualification that these current ABC's do not address the risk of the most vulnerable to short term exposures, these benchmarks will be used as a false pretense of public health safety by the sources of these air toxics.  In other words, major sources of manganese, lead and other types of toxic air pollution will go back to saying "we are doing no harm," even if the science says that there are no safe levels for children.

I urge everyone to sign the petition to ask the EQC to ensure that the Air Toxic Health Benchmarks protect children from short term and long term exposure to toxic pollutants present in the environment where they live, play and go to school.  Click here to sign online.  Let's deliver the message at the May 18th public hearing, or before the June 30th public comment period closes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

How bad is the air in Portland?

I have been on a journey of discovery into Portland air quality since March 2009. That was when I ran across a national study that showed my daughters' elementary school to be in the top 2% of schools across the nation with the worst air due to proximity to toxic industrial emissions (USA Today: The Smokestack Effect). To make matters worse, in July 2009, the federal government published its most recent National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) report that showed Oregon to have the 3rd largest population at risk of excess cancer due to exposure to toxic emissions.  My latest stop this week, a website introduced through TEDMED 2009 speaker Bill Davenhall, ERSI Global Marketing Manager, that gives users a way to assess health risks through geography.

By inputing zip codes into the search engine a visitor to the site can get a picture of their place history and the environmental exposures associated with them. I have lived many places in my adult life, and I also threw in a few zip codes from my husband's side which hails from SE Texas to SW Louisiana (otherwise known as cancer alley).  Finally I threw in the zip code for Marietta OH where a school was closed because of the local industrial emissions. Here are some of what I found:

Milwaukee, WI:  14 chemicals
Baltimore, MD: 4 chemicals
Santa Cruz, CA: 8 chemicals
St. Paul, MN: 21 chemicals
Marietta, OH: 24 chemical
Houston, TX: 7 chemicals
Lake Charles, LA: 10 chemicals

And finally, Portland OR: 82 chemicals

82 chemicals.  Portland's progressiveness seems to expand beyond bike paths, light rail, and the streetcar.

It has been documented that city living in and of itself is a health risk.  I am a strong believer in our urban growth boundary and even in the theory of "20 min. communities." But are these pillars of progressive land use planning sustainable in an environment that still allows unfettered capitulation of natural resources by industrial entities?

Portland's contemporary dilemma is nothing new.  Even in 1913, as the ESCO Corporation was part of the movement to fill in Guild's Lake, and appropriate the NW expanse along the deep water Willamette River for industrial use, other city leaders were battling to realize the promise of the 1907 million dollar municipal park bond measure, and attempting to save the west hills forest from development.

It is hard to say which more suited the values of the family who built the house in 1904 where my family currently lives on lower Thurman Street.  Their parents concurrently built the house next door and a four plex right behind those.  I suspect they were middle class, workers who were benefitting from the jobs close by.  I also suspect they enjoyed the pristine forests nearby, though had no guarantee they would remain.  I do know that they could have no idea what dangers lurked ahead as industrial activity boomed.  There is very little science today to help us understand how these chemicals effect us, and almost none regarding the synergistic effects of 82 of them.

On the eve of the 2nd Portland Air Toxics Solution Advisory Committee meeting, I think it is time for our Environmental Quality Commission to address the unique problems of Portland's air pollution by ensuring that the Air Toxics benchmarks are truly protective of public health.  The current benchmarks are incapable of addressing the exposures of those most at risk, like children, and those who live in toxic hotspots, exposed to all 82 toxic chemicals and heavy metals.  You can send a message to the DEQ that specifically asks the EQC to ensure that the Air Toxic Health Benchmarks protect children from short term and long term exposure to toxic pollutants in the environment where they live, play and go to school.

Public Comment closes June 30th on the Air Toxics Benchmark ruling, and there will be a public hearing May 18th.  I urge you to make your voice heard that we expect out regulatory process to be protective of public health.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The public meeting the public wasn't invited to.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has often taken the chance to sing the praises of citizens who are actively engaged in the effort to advocate for cleaner air. Just this past week, the NW Examiner's April edition came out with a letter from Andy Ginsburg praising Paul Koberstein's interest in air quality and the health of residents of the northwest neighborhood. Of course, he was also trying to take back statements he made on record about the effect of industrial pollution, but that's for another blog.

You can imagine the surprise when I learned today that the DEQ held a public hearing in our neighborhood, at the Friendly House on March 30th, to review the Rule change regarding Air Toxics Benchmarks. You can view the public notice here.

Specifically, the notice states: DEQ [plans] to update air quality ambient benchmark concentrations for Ethyl Benzene, Lead, Manganese and Mercury.

Many of you may recall our effort last Fall that sent more than 700 postcards to the Governor's desk to address the concerns about the manganese benchmark. Then in December 2009, some of you showed up at, and provided testimony at, the actual Air Toxics Science Advisory Committee meeting where these benchmarks were discussed. So it is reasonable to assume that if the agency felt it necessary, or even if law dictates, holding a public hearing to finalize this, that some in our neighborhood would be counted among the public that would participate.

But we never received the notification of this public hearing on the Manganese and other benchmarks. I contacted others active on this issue and not one had heard of this public hearing.

I would have assumed, if the agency was sincere in their interest to have the public participate, I could have been notified about this meeting either from any of the many Air Quality and Northwest Region DEQ staff with which I have had regular contact over the last 12 months, or through my role on the Portland Air Toxics Solutions Advisory Committee, or by whatever means it was advertised publically, or finally, as a subscriber to any one of the five DEQ online updates I have signed up for and from which I regularly receive information. As it stands, Nina DeConcini, NWR administrator for DEQ told me in a very contritely worded email, that "The update to the air quality ambient benchmark concentrations for Ethyl Benzene, Lead, Manganese and Mercury is currently slated to go the Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) at the end of this month for their consideration. We are open to reopening the public comment period and having more hearings, but this would delay the EQC's action by at least two months."

This issue of conscientiously including citizen involvement in the regulatory process causing delay is beginning to sound very familiar, and frankly, feel like blackmail. We are already suffering through a two year delay on the renewal of the ESCO permit because somehow a robust and thorough process did not fit into the usual calendar. Maybe it is time for the agency to reconsider how it currently accounts for citizen engagement in its process.

I think the omission of any meaningful communication from the agency to the neighborhood for this public hearing, illustrates the vacuity of the agency's effort at public engagement. This is either a demonstration of gross negligence or malfeasance. Either way, it underscores the tremendous uphill battle of keeping an engaged and informed public participating in the process when the agency affords it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why I support Rex Burkholder for Metro President

I think it would be a misrepresentation to call this an official endorsement, as if I was in a position to offer meaningful weight, so let's stick with political musing.  I intend only to share my thoughts, and encourage all of you to choose your candidates wisely, vote with purpose, and to remind the candidates why you voted for them.  I don't think our air toxics problem is a litmus test issue for political candidates, yet.  But I do think that the way candidates, and already elected officials, engage on this issue is very telling about their attitudes toward their jobs and the concerns of their constituents.

There have been some notable efforts by our representatives to look at what jurisdiction they have in the area of air pollution, and how best they can use it.  Representative Mitch Greenlick has been particularly active, making the connection between pollution and public health, he has been looking at ways to plug gaps in our legislation that will safeguard our kids from exposure to air toxics.  His leadership on the House Health Committee has galvanized that group to push for new policy for the 2011 legislative session. Notable support from that committee has come from Rep. Ben Cannon and Sen. Suzanne Bonamici.

Other efforts to engage public officials has been less gratifying.  From our Governor's office which oversees the DEQ and Environmental Quality Commission which is the agency's rule making body,  we have received nothing but form letter replies, and responses from the DEQ officials to whom the letters were forwarded.  I sat through yesterday's Governor's debate on the environment, and it is clear that either Democratic candidate, Bradbury or Kitzhaber, will bring a more purposeful mandate to our environmental policies than the current resident of that office.

Multnomah County officials, while responsible for our County Health Department and Public Schools, say that the County has no authority over air pollution, even if it is adversely affecting the health of children while at school.

The city, which has authority over nuisance ordinances between neighbors and businesses, does not seem engaged to move on the ongoing -and classic- nuisance complaints of odors and dust when they come from one of the large industrial sources of pollution.  Mayor Adams and City Council member Amanda Fritz are very aware of the NW neighborhood's ongoing struggle with industrial emissions, and seem genuinely supportive of our efforts; and yet again, there seems to be lacking any specific authority or jurisdiction over the air pollution issue.  I think for both the city and the county, this pattern of evasion underscores the need to put air toxic pollution, and enforcement against offenders, into the hands of the elected officials closest to the sources.

Which brings me to Metro and Rex Burkholder.  As the nation's only elected regional government, Metro was put in place specifically because - as their website says - "clean air and clean water do not stop at city limits or county lines. Neither does the need for jobs, a thriving economy and good transportation choices for people and businesses in our region. Voters have asked Metro to help with the challenges that cross those lines and affect the 25 cities and three counties in the Portland metropolitan area."

Since Rex Burkholder first showed up at the Air Quality Town Hall Meeting we held last spring in the Chapman ES Auditorium, he has continued to be an ardent supporter of our effort.  I believe, that if Rex were Metro President, he would consider taking a look at the lack of city, county and regional jurisdiction over the "nuisance" of air pollution, and give us a representative, closer than Salem, which citizens could turn to in resolving the oppressive presence of industrial odors and black dust, which affect the region's residential livability. His track record of innovation and leadership from a founder of BTA and assisting in the establishment of the Center for a Livable Future demonstrate that he not only has leadership skills, but the unique capability to look at creative new options to solve old problems.  And that's why I support Rex for Metro President.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why BPA and Air Toxics are linked

Our friend at USA Today, Blake Morrison, has just published an article covering the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) damning report on chemical policies released this past week.  The report was an assessment of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) performance over the past decade in regards to safeguarding our children from toxic chemicals.  Morrison reports: "Top officials routinely ignored scores of recommendations by the agency's own children's health advisory committee."  And the article goes on to quote Ted Schettler, science director for the advocacy group Science and Environmental Health Network, who has served on EPA and National Academy of Sciences advisory committees: the problems "are setting the stage for an overwhelming wave of disease and disability...in the coming decades."  Of particular concern, Morrison notes: "the lack of information about thousands of chemicals and how they interact with each other."

Which brings me to the toxic bisphenol or BPA.  Oregon's failure to pass a bill to ban BPA in baby bottles seems like a very sad indicator of the political will in this state.  As I reported in an earlier blog,  Jon Isaacs of OLCV said of this bill:  "I don't think it's possible for a public health issue to be any less controversial and straightforward to Oregonians than keeping toxic chemicals out of food containers intended for babies." But instead of joining the ranks of Maryland, Washington, and Wisconsin -states who all figured out that we need to act faster on information that the FDA and others have now- Oregon legislators split 15 - 15--and a tie means a loss.

What to do now?  Oregon Environmental Council has vowed the fight over BPA is not over.  And I would implore that we consider the BPA fight closely linked to the air toxics fight.  This isn't a niche issue, this is a chemical used ubiquitously: plastic bottles, baby bottles, nearly all canned goods.  Consumer Reports and Environmental Working Group each issued extensive studies of the hazards of BPA late last year. And this issue is about the broader issue of chemical reform and the proliferation of industrial chemicals into our air, our food chain and our environment.  We need to raise our voices and let our legislators know we expect Oregon to be at the front of this movement.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Earthquakes and Tank Farms

There was a timely subject addressed at today's City Club Friday Forum.  The speaker was Scott Burns, Professor of Geology, Portland State University, and the talk entitled: Earthquakes in Oregon: Past, Present and Future.
I encourage everyone to listen to this fascinating discussion of earthquakes in our region.  

Specifically, I want to thank NW Neighbor and City Club Member, Isabel Sheridan, for raising the important question at the forum of the safety of the petroleum tank farms in the event of a large earthquake.  You may listen on line @ http://www.pdxcityclub.org/ or listen to the rebroadcast tonight on OPB at 7pm - 8pm.  Isabel's question comes @ minute 41:39 - 44:12, as the first members' question after the speaker has finished his presentation (follows host's question).  She asks the following:

"In Portland there are 536 petroleum tanks with a 300 million plus gallon capacity and they are situated on fault lines, in an earthquake zone, fire zones, etc.  What government agency, for example DEQ, is exercising its jurisdiction to ensure that these facilities have addressed earthquake preparedness?"

Spoiler alert: after a very interesting explanation, Mr. Burns ends his answer with "We have a lot of work to do."

Thank you to Isabel for raising this important question at the forum.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

DEQ Admits: Emissions from foundry are 95% of air quality problem for neighborhood

On Thursday, the March NW Examiner featured an astounding article about the air quality issue in the NW neighborhood.  For most observers it seems like stating the obvious.  But for those of us that live and breathe in close proximity to industrial facilities, routinely cleaning the black dust off our porches and smelling the pungent metallic odors with regularity-it is nothing short of miraculous.  With stubborn resolve for over a decade, our regulatory agency has repeated the mantra:  industry is less than 10% of the problem.

Knowing that history was no small part of my resolve last spring when I took on this issue.  When I came across the study published in USA Today, showcasing industrial emissions in isolation, several neighborhoods in Portland were clearly ground zero toxic industrial hotspots of the worst kind.  My first thought was:  "This is the game changer. This is when we finally can take on the hard work of specifically mitigating the problem of industrial air toxics."

Unfortunately, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, was not ready to change so fast. In the first of many email exchanges that I received almost exactly a year ago on March 26th, 2009, Cory Ann Wind, NW region Air Quality Manager reiterates:

The study that you are referring to is the one that originally appeared in the USA Today in December 2008.  The study uses information based on the Toxics Release Inventory, a chemical reporting database only for larger industry.  But to fully understand air pollution, information from all sources of air pollution - industrial and business activities, cars and trucks, home and commercial heating, and population activities such as open burning, landscape maintenance and solvent use – must be taken into account.  Typically, industrial activities are a very small (less than 10%) piece of the pollution puzzle. 

This response, or specifically, this resolve the agency had to deflect attention from industry has been repeated many times since that first exchange.  Most notably, in two legislative hearings (Aug '09 & Sept. '09) on air pollution and health that intended to examine the issue of the effect of industrial emissions on public health, Andy Ginsburg, DEQ Air Quality administrator instead showed up with a long slide presentation on the hazards of wood smoke.

There have been many points during this past year that signaled neighbors were gaining momentum on the air quality issue, but none can be more significant than this point when the regulatory agency takes the critical first step in acknowledging the problem out loud.  I can not fathom why it has taken this long, and what might have triggered the change in Andy Ginsburg's heart to make such a statement, one for which he clearly understands the implications and effect on the discussion.  I do think back to my first encounter that I described in a posting last July with DEQ Director Dick Pedersen.  All present at that meeting who had worked with and more likely against DEQ for years, were impressed with the relatively new director's sincerity and integrity to be a change agent, and to reassert the protection of the environment into the mission of the Department of Environmental Quality.

I think it is clear that Dick Pedersen is the real deal.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

DEQ's Response to Gas Odor 2/28 - 3/1

As a service to the many who were concerned by the gas odor in the city last Sunday-Monday, I would like to share with you the response I received yesterday from DEQ.  Cory Ann Wind is the NW Region Air Quality Manager, as the agency set her as the point person for the public response.  Her email specifically addresses the requests I made in an email to DEQ Director Dick Pedersen on Monday.:

From Ms. Wind's email response:
"We fully understand your frustrations and are similarly concerned about this odor incident. We have been working since yesterday morning to investigate it.  We have not been able to determine an exact cause, but wanted to respond to the questions you posed in your message and also update you on our activities. 
If the situation is life-threatening, please call 911.  911 may refer calls to the Oregon Emergency Response System (OERS) which is managed by  Oregon Emergency Management in Salem. DEQ is one of many entities that make up this system.  This system is manned after hours and over the weekends for immediate response.  OERS typically refers incidents of spills of oil or other hazardous substances to DEQ.  DEQ did not receive a referral from OERS for odor complaints that were logged over the weekend.  Non-urgent complaints should come directly to DEQ via our Northwest Region complaint line:  503-229-5393 or via e-mail at: nwrcomplaints@deq.state.or.us.
DEQ received some calls this weekend, primarily from residents of Northwest Portland about natural gas-related odors.  The calls continued Monday morning, 3/1, but more from North Portland, described more as fuel-related or chemical-related odors.  Combined, DEQ received 11 e-mail complaints and 10 phone complaints from N and NW Portland.  The nature of these complaints were characterized as “industrial” odor, “oil smell”, “diesel odor”, and “unburned fuel”.
The following are the wind observations from our monitoring station in North Portland:
·         February 28:  from the northerly direction and light
·         March 1:  from the northerly direction and calm
We spoke with NW Natural Gas.  They had crews out over the weekend and on Monday morning, 3/1.  They confirmed that it was not a natural gas leak at any of their facilities or from any of their customers.  Our complaints coordinator also checked in with the City of Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) and confirmed that they have been receiving complaints all weekend, but had not found a source.  They were not observing any odors at their facility located in St. Johns.  Along with the citizen complaints, we also received one call each from facilities representatives from Kaiser Permanente’s North Interstate medical facility located at 3500 N Interstate and the Portland Public Schools administrative building at 500 N Dixon.  DEQ staff has contacted each complainant to follow up and explain what DEQ is doing to investigate.
DEQ responded to these complaints on Monday 3/1 with the following:  
  • Sending staff to the North Portland area around the University of Portland to investigate the current (3/1) odor.  Staff identified various odors characterized as “autoclave”, “roofing tar”, “exhaust”.  No specific follow-up.
  • Sending staff to Swan Island to follow up on a lead we received from Northwest Natural Gas.  A Northwest Natural Gas leakage inspector said maintenance being done on the Going Bridge to Swan Island may have been the source.  Staff observed that grinding of concrete was being done but would not produce an odor.  However, the crew he spoke to mentioned a strong “gear oil” smell coming from the rail yard earlier on Monday morning, 3/1. We have contacted Union Pacific Rail Yard about this, but have not heard back from them. 
  • Sending staff to NW Portland to investigate the odors from the weekend complaints. No odors were detected at the time in the field, but staff recommended follow-up with Carson Oil and Myers Containers located on NW St. Helens Road.  Permit staff will be following up on these items.
  • Communication between staff and Vigor (formerly Cascade General shipyard) to investigate their oily wastewater treatment plant.  This treatment process is a potential source of fuel odors.  They were operating on Sunday and Monday but immediately ceased operation when we notified them of the complaints we were receiving and of the “inversion” conditions that were in place.  The permit writer will follow up on this.
  • The Northwest Region Air Quality duty officer was devoted exclusively to taking phone calls all day (3/1) for additional incoming complaints and getting back to complainants with information.  
Each of these DEQ staff is summarizing their actions and recommending follow-up.  We can make those available to you and others who would like to review them.  We will continue to investigate the source of the odors until we exhaust our leads of potential sources.  DEQ takes these odor complaints seriously. We want to be able to provide information that is timely and accurate to residents.  We'll keep you posted on any developments and don't hesitate to contact me at any time.
Cory-Ann Wind
NWR AQ Manager
(503) 229-5567

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What is in our AIR?

There has been a disturbing trend of gasoline odors in the NW neighborhood this past year.  As neighbors to the Industrial Sanctuary in NW Portland, we are pretty accustomed to the onslaught of nasty odors.  We even have developed our own key of association, to better help identify where they are coming from.  Overwhelmingly, most people experience the industrial odors emanating from ESCO, described variously as:  burnt toast, burning metal, and burning rubber.  But these acute and persistent gas odors are a different animal altogether.  

My first experience with the gas odor was last spring on May 23rd, 2009.  As I finished a run at Lower Macleay, I was walking up the little cut through from Upshur to Thurman that would be an extension of NW 29th.  As I emerged from the brush I was assaulted by the strong presence of a gas odor - to me it smelled like the gas that comes when the burner fails to light and the natural gas to the stove is on.  I was therefore not surprised to see later that day the Northwest Natural Gas truck across the street at my neighbor's house.  She had also smelled it and was concerned there was a natural gas leak at her house or somewhere nearby.  I later learned that NWNG was called to the neighborhood over 100 times for the same reason.  It wasn't until neighbors saw the van outside that they realized this was not just their home. At that time we were able to put it together that this was something affecting the whole neighborhood.  Even as disturbing as that was, most troubling was that despite repeated calls, and the ongoing persistence over two weeks, the neighbors never got a response and most significantly never got a conclusive answer as to the source of the odor.  Many things were ruled out, including NW natural gas customers, sewer or water problems, the fuel burning at the airport which happened at a different time and the wind patterns did not support that fumes from which would have carried into the neighborhood.

Whatever the source, this needs to be stopped.  If this is coming from a stationary gasoline or petroleum source such as any of the 536 petroleum tanks (more info here) in the industrial sanctuary, we are potentially being exposed to dangerous levels of benzene a known carcinogen linked to leukemia and other cancers.  We already know, with our high levels of benzene in gasoline that is not due to be lowered until 2012 through federal legislation, people near freeways in Portland are breathing nearly 40 times the legal limits of benzene (more on the Wyden backed federal legislation can be found in a 2007 Blue Oregon article here). And of course without an adequate monitoring network in our city, we really have no idea what our exposure is.  It makes it all the more critical that the city or the state's Department of Environmental Quality has a plan of response, which includes:

1.  Establishing central response team that can receive citizen reports and send an investigator immediately.  Something that can react with the same efficacy as NW Natural Gas.

2. Establish real time permanent monitoring that can alert residents if there are dangerous levels of toxins in the air. 

3.  Find the source of these acute gasoline odor events in the neighborhoods surrounding the NW industrial sanctuary that most consistently and frequently report them.

To get this done, it is time to act.  We should write our Governor, our mayor, our state legislators, and the head of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality:

1. Governor Kulongoski http://governor.oregon.gov/Gov/contact_us.shtml
2. Mayor Adams: mayorsam@ci.portland.or.us
3. Representative Mitch Greenlick: greenlick.rep@state.or.us
4. Dick Pedersen (Director ODEQ): PEDERSEN.Dick@deq.state.or.us


A gasoline odor event was reported last Sunday, neighbors yet again experiencing an acute presence of gasoline/gas odors.  Unlike the better documented gasoline odor from last spring (23 May - 6 June 2009), this one is more similar to others that have not persisted as long. (There was also a presence of strong gas odors reported early on Sunday, 7 February 2010 close in NW; and another on 24 February 2010 at 6:00pm by a group meeting near the St. John's Bridge). My understanding of our most recent experience on Sunday 28 February 2010 is:

7:30 - 8:00 SUNDAY while out hiking on the forest park trails above the neighborhood, a resident was so bothered by the presence of gasoline odor that she told her hiking partner: " The air is getting to me, I am going to stop."  This person went back to her NW home and filed an online complaint through portlandair.org

8:00am SUNDAY-- staff that opened Food Front called NWNG because of the strong presence of gas odor at the store.  It was reported that NWNG did not find any source related to a natural gas customer.

9:00am SUNDAY-- Cyclist @ NW Everett and 19th reports through Twitter to @pdxair that there is a strong gasoline smell at that corner.

9:00am SUNDAY--  Neighbor at St. Honore Bakery on NW Thurman smells acute gasoline odor--this person made a phone call to DEQ 800 emergency number who directed her to 911 who directed it back to NWNG.  (This same person has received multiple phone calls back from DEQ, and has been in ongoing dialogue with agency staff).

10:30am SUNDAY--  Cyclist on St Helen's Road reports strong smell of gasoline/gas in front of CMS, LLC.

2:00pm MONDAY -- DEQ staff and Sharon Genasci (NWDA H&E Chair) knock on residents' doors who registered online complaints to inquire about association with ESCO.

This is not to say these are the only complaints, but it gives us a pretty good understanding of the timeline, the placement, the agency response.

In the wake of this, and the history of events like this, the neighborhood should demand the following:

1.  Full report of all complaints the agency received, and the subsequent response--this would include, but not limited to:  phone, online, indirect reports from other agency.
2.  Report of NWNG complaints and response
3.  Assessment of prevailing wind patterns during the period of time that the event was recorded.
4.  Report of all potential possible sources for this kind of acute gasoline odor.

In addition a huge source of frustration is not knowing who to call or what a person should do when this occurs The neighborhood needs critical direction from DEQ, as to which of the following avenues does the agency deem MOST effective in eliciting an immediate response when there is an acute odor event such as this: 

1.  Oregon Emergency Response System – 1-800-452-0311
3.  911

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

BPA Ban fails in Oregon Senate

The Oregon Senate failure to pass the BPA ban today is a wake up call.  As Jon Isaacs wrote on the OLCV blog, Feb 15th in anticipation of the passing of Senate Bill 1032: "I don't think it's possible for a public health issue to be any less controversial and straightforward to Oregonians than keeping toxic chemicals out of food containers intended for babies." The Oregon Environmental Council chronicled a whole list of scientific information regarding the harm to children in supporting the ban, including:

  • Premature babies are exposed to levels of BPA ten times greater than the general population
  • BPA exposure is linked to heart disease, diabetes and liver abnormalities in humans
  • The Centers for Disease Control found BPA exposure in 93% of Americans age 6 and up during a test in 2007.
What this tells me is you can't take anything for granted, not common sense, not clear and compelling health outcomes, not the fact that Washington, Wisconsin, California, and Minnesota already had pushed ahead; and not that the federal government has indicated it will enact this as well.  

When it comes to curtailing toxins in our environment, the air we breathe and the products we use, citizens must continue to apply the necessary pressure through letters to our public representatives and newspapers, and through public engagement in the regulatory process.

A few weeks ago, I received an update from the Department of Environmental Quality regarding its Portland Air Toxic Solutions Advisory Committee.  I am one of over 30 professionals and private citizens sitting on this committee to devise the plan to reduce the dangerous air toxins identified in the Portland air shed.  This is not easy, as we found after the first meeting last August.  Even agreeing on the ground rules is contentious when you have competing interests at the table.  But being at the table is critical, and not taking anything for granted is essential, to seeing real and measurable improvements to our policy of regulating and reducing air toxics.  

Despite the tremendous strides on this issue this past year and the growing national momentum behind curbing the health endangering chemicals and toxic substances in our environment, the failure of the BPA ban in the Oregon legislature reminds me of the uphill battle citizens face to push back the tide on the proliferation of chemicals in our midst.  We must continue to speak out about our concerns.