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.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

February Update

Lest you think your Air Quality Team has been slacking, time to fill you in on some of what is in the works.  I am going to focus most on where we are with ESCO, but I want to briefly address the Tank Farms.  Unfortunately, a robust process does take time, but I think we should be very encouraged by the increased diligence and thoroughness, and generally, the additional attention that is being given to address our concerns of the health risks of exposure to air toxins.

DEQ is in the process of scheduling and planning a hearing on these permits.  Part of that will be arranging for a pre-meeting where citizen representatives will be able to meet with the permit writers to learn more about how these facilities are currently regulated.  This meeting is tentatively set for Wed. March 10th @5pm.  It is DEQ's intention to advertise it and make it open to the public.  I want to let you know that Aubrey Baldwin, staff attorney from Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center, Mark Riskedahl, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Sharon Genasci, NWDA H&E, myself and representatives from the Linnton community have all committed to participate in this pre-meeting.  I feel very confident this will be an important opportunity for us to learn more.  The official public hearing is in and of itself a very static process, meant to be a process of recording public comment, not discussion or debate.  While this pre-meeting is open to the public, and I welcome anyone who wishes to attend, I am frankly trying to ensure a productive exchange that a smaller group affords.  If any of you feel strongly about attending and/or have specific concerns that you want addressed at this meeting PLEASE EMAIL ME with your concerns and we will make sure they get addressed.  Sharon Genasci has said, and I agree, that it will be more important to turn out bodies at the actual hearing later down the road.

Over the holidays, a group of us worked with DEQ on the draft Request for Proposal (RFP) that the agency will put out to hire the contractor to execute the independent audit of the ESCO plants.  We expect a final draft soon, with a goal of hiring someone by April.  Up to this point, we are satisfied with DEQ's transparency and willingness to listen to neighbors concerns.  A team of us including NWDA Health & Environment Chair Sharon Genasci, Attorney Aubrey Baldwin, NEDC's Mark Riskedahl, Bob Holmstrom, and Dr. Bob Amundson poured over the draft and offered feedback on modifications and specific areas of concern primarily within the scope of work, but also in regards to criteria of selection for the contractor.  I also want to thank neighbors Tom Giese, Will Aitchison, and Kitty Midson for their time on this task.

Estimated date of Independent Contract to Commence: April

ESCO will, as part of this procedure, be conducting an Alternative Analysis- the company has invited neighbors to participate in the development of the Scope of Work for this preliminary process. The AA will, as ESCO's Carter Webb explains: evaluate air pollution control equipment at ESCO's Portland plants, and will identify potential alternatives to reduce emissions of hazardous air pollutants, particulate and odor.  We very much appreciate that ESCO has included myself, Sharon Genasci, Dr. Bob Amundsom, Bob Holmstrom and NEDC's John Krallman in this process.

Estimated date of ESCO AA completion: April

I would also like to report on a meeting earlier this week which Carter Webb requested with DEQ's Nina DeConcini and myself to discuss the company's offer of money towards monitoring at Chapman School.  I explained to him my position, which I have shared with most of you, and articulated in a letter to the editor which was published in the December NW Examiner, but want to make clear:

While neighbors appreciate the value of monitoring, it is generally believed at this time the limited scope of the proposed monitoring (2 months of ambient air quality monitoring-such as was conducted by EPA at the Harriet Tubman site this past fall) offers little additional understanding of the toxins in our air, and is generally recognized to be of little value if conducted for any time period less than 2 years. We have that kind of historical ambient air monitoring data, as well as the results of a neighborhood sponsored dust analysis, both corroborating significant levels of industrial air toxins present in the neighborhood. DEQ has also budgeted for a continuation of the fenceline monitoring which will expand on the abbreviated picture we got from last year's report provided by Cooper's Environmental Services when they conducted a feasibility study of their monitoring technology on behalf of the EPA. 

Monitoring will have the most value to our neighborhood when it can be used to confirm the efficacy of any potential changes made at the site identified through the independent audit.  I will continue to support and fight for the funding to reestablish PERMANENT air quality monitoring at sites across the city to better inform and protect residents from the ongoing presence of toxic air pollution.

Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.