May 6, 2010
I hope everyone has had a chance to read Nicholas Kristoff’s excellent
I hope everyone has had a chance to read Nicholas Kristoff’s excellent
column in the New York Times about environmental causes of cancer.
His column announces a new report from the President’s Cancer Panel,
which he describes as the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream.
The report confirms what we already knew: that our lackadaisical
approach to regulation may have far-reaching consequences for our
As Kristoff notes, the report warns about exposures to chemicals
during pregnancy, when risk of damage seems to be greatest. Noting
that 300 contaminants have been detected in umbilical cord blood of
newborn babies, the study warns that: “to a disturbing extent, babies
are born ‘pre-polluted.’ ”
Do you know of any children in our neighborhood who were born pre-polluted?
Do you think the DEQ and its vaunted benchmarks are protecting this
I don’t know but aim to find out.
As you know, there are many pathways for carcinogens to enter our
bodies. That is why we eat organic, to avoid pesticides applied to our
food while its still on the vine. That is why we are careful withour
use of poisons around the home. And that is why we are concerned about
carcinogens in our air. As I hope you now realize, there are 14
carcinogens in Portland’s air at levels that equal or exceed
10 of them come from ESCO.
If we buy the DEQ’s assumptions about benchmarks, these airborne
poisons are capable of inducing more than 1,000 extra cancers in a
population of 1 million over 70 years. And if the benchmarks were
unduly influenced by an ESCO insider, our air may be even more
So what does the new President’s report on cancer say about toxic air?
For starters, it tells President Obama: “The Panel urges you most
strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and
other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase
health care costs, cripple our Nation’s productivity, and devastate
Other key points in the 200-page report:
• Many known or suspected carcinogens first identified through studies
of industrial and agricultural occupational exposures have since found
their way into soil, air, water, and numerous consumer products.
• People from disadvantaged populations are more likely to be employed
in occupations with higher levels of exposure (e.g., mining,
construction, manufacturing, agriculture, certain service sector
occupations) and to live in more highly contaminated communities.
• It has long been known that the inflammation of lung tissue, caused
by inhaling asbestos fibers, tobacco smoke, or fine particles in the
air from diesel engine exhaust and industrial sources, is a major
factor in lung and other respiratory tract cancers.
• Children are exposed to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals and
radiation through the air they breathe, the food and water they
consume, medications they are given, and the environment in which they
live, including their homes, schools, day care centers, and even the
motor vehicles in which they ride.
• Pound for pound, children take in more food, water, air, and other
environmental substances than adults. Children also can be exposed to
toxins in utero via placental transfer and/or after birth via breast
• Children’s bodies also are less able to repair damage due to toxic
exposures, and the complex processes that take place during the rapid
growth and development of children’s nervous, respiratory, immune,
reproductive, and other organ systems are easily disrupted.
• A 2009 study151 of changes in air quality and life expectancy
between 1980 and 2000 in 51 U.S. cities found, after adjusting for
variables (e.g., smoking, migration, education), that cleaner air
accounted on average for 5 months of the 2.72 years of added life
expectancy that occurred during that period.
• Children’s exposure to particulate air pollution is of special
concern because of their greater vulnerability to toxics of all kinds.
• In 2008, USA Today published a series of articles152 based on its
study that used EPA’s model to track the path of industrial pollution
and mapped the locations of nearly 128,000 schools to determine the
levels of toxic chemicals near schools.
• Academic researchers who partnered with USA Today to conduct the
study found that 20,000 schools—about one in six—are within a
half-mile of a major industrial plant. Little is known, however, about
the health and developmental effects of the multiple air pollutants
these and other children are exposed to from industrial gaseous and
• Exposure limits established by EPA are based only on assumptions
about adult exposures, adjusted for safety and uncertainty factors.
Further, establishing and quantifying the exact nature and level of
exposure experienced by individual children is exceedingly difficult,
as also is the case for adults.
• The USA Today study and computer modeling analysis of air toxics
near schools prompted EPA to launch a Schools Air Toxic Initiative153
to understand whether outdoor toxic air pollution poses health
concerns for children. In collaboration with state and local air
quality agencies, outdoor air monitoring is being implemented at 63
schools in 22 states.
• Air at each school will be monitored for 60 days; specific
pollutants measured will vary based on the best available data on air
toxics in the vicinity. It should be noted that some states have
challenged the USA Today results. For example, Louisiana154 and
Pennsylvania155 have published reports, based on their own testing,
indicating that air quality near their schools meets health and safety
• (We know from my reporting that the EPA and DEQ used incorrect
information on ESCO emissions when they chose a monitoring site in
Portland. The monitoring site was set up near another monitoring site.
They collected data they already had. The ESCO problem was swept under
the rug and ignored.)
May 1, 2010
On the faultline
Oregon’s entire gasoline supply is stored in an earthquake danger zone
in Northwest Portland
By Paul Koberstein
What structures would be first to topple if Portland were struck by
The Big One—an epic earthquake that some experts believe is due within
the next 50 years? Bridges? Tall buildings? Homes in the West Hills?
What about the 500 or so supersized gasoline storage tanks along U.S.
Highway 30 in Linnton, where virtually all of Oregon’s petroleum is
The tanks rest on weak soils that would liquefy in a major earthquake,
said Yumei Wang of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral
Industries. “Some of the bulk facilities are old and vulnerable. Some
important high-voltage electric lines are also in the area of
At a public meeting in March, several Northwest Portland residents
discussed earthquake risks of petroleum tanks with oil company
representatives and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
DEQ scheduled the meeting to review proposals to renew air-pollution
permits for three gasoline companies.
“It is paralyzingly scary,” said Elizabeth Patte, who lives several
miles from the tank farms in Willamette Heights.
“And that fear is based on things we know about in the industrial area
below us. I'm guessing there is an ocean of toxic materials that we
don’t know about down there too, stored in facilities built on fill
along a fault line unmonitored by DEQ or anyone else, no evacuation
route to speak of with the West Hills ridgeline to trap whatever is
“We probably should have oxygen masks at hand,” said Patte.
James Roddey, earth sciences information officer for the Oregon
Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, said neighbor’s concerns
about the durability of the gasoline storage tanks during a major
earthquake are justified.
“They pose a very high earthquake risk,” he said. “They were not
designed to withstand earthquakes.”
Roddey said there is a risk of incurring “two different types of
earthquakes that could threaten the tanks.”
The most deadly, known as a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, would
likely be centered about 75 miles offshore under the Pacific Ocean,
where two plates of the earth’s crust meet. It “could shake an area
like that for a very long time,” he said.
Scientists say such a massive shaking event has occurred 18 times in
the past in Northwest Oregon. If such a quake were to occur, the
gasoline tanks might be no more than an afterthought in light of huge
projected losses exceeding $12 billion, 30,000 destroyed buildings and
A Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake could be similar to the Great
Alaska Earthquake of 1964, which destroyed several large gasoline
storage tanks in the Anchorage area.
“Many of them caught on fire,” Roddey said.
A second type along the frequently active Portland Hills fault, known
as a crustal fault, would be more moderate.
The gasoline storage tanks along U.S. 30 “sit right on top of that
fault,” Roddey said.
The fault is about 30 miles in length and runs north/south through the
heart of downtown Portland to the north end of Forest Park.
The Geological Survey has identified a third fault under sediments
running parallel to the Portland Hills Fault. The East Bank Fault
underlying Benson High School and Lloyd Center on the east side of the
Willamette River is capable of producing a quake with magnitudes
greater than 6. Scientists do not know what effect a quake along that
fault might have on the storage tanks, but the fault is thought to be
capable of producing “particularly strong earthquakes,” the USGS says.
DEQ notes that many fuel storage tanks are very old, including some
that were built 100 years ago on marshland in Northwest Portland that
had been filled in after the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition.
Many tanks were constructed without regard for earthquakes, but even
tanks built to today’s seismic standards may not withstand a 9.0
earthquake, such as the recent tremor in Haiti. In fact, no large
manmade structure in Portland would be safe during a 9.0 quake, said
The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries is studying
the earthquake risks to the gasoline storage tanks, in collaboration
with the Oregon Public Utilities Commission. That study is not yet
Craig Weaver of the U.S. Geological Survey said at a recent conference
of the Seismological Society of America, held recently in Portland,
said a Cascadia Subduction Zone quake would occur off the Oregon Coast
area where two of the earth’s tectonic plates collide, creating a
600-mile-long fault line. The two plates, known as the Cascadia plate
and the Juan de Fuca plate, are converging at the rate of 1-2 inches
per year, causing stress that will continue to accumulate until it is
released in a giant earthquake, he said.
“The effects of a great earthquake will reach far inland,” he said.
Shaking could last up to five minutes, and would be felt most strongly
along the coast but will also be strongly felt in the Willamette
Valley. “Prolonged shaking can cause structure collapse, landslides
and the disruption of lifeline services.”
Earthquakes can also fracture underground pipelines. The gasoline
storage tanks in Linnton are connected to the underground Olympic
Pipeline, which ruptured and exploded 10 years ago near its northern
terminus at Bellingham, Wash., killing three teenagers. Kinder-Morgan,
which operates a major tank farm in Linnton, has been called “sort of
the poster child for pipeline problems," by Carl Weimer, executive
director for the Pipeline Safety Trust, a fuel transportation safety
advocacy group formed after the 1999 pipeline explosion in Bellingham.
Jan Secunda, who lives in a 105-year-old home in Linnton, said,
“there’s plenty here to scare the bejesus out of anybody.”
A public hearing on renewal of air-quality permits for Kinder Morgan,
Equilon Enterprises and Chevron Products, three major petroleum
companies in the Linnton area, is Monday, May 17, 6:30 p.m., in the
White Stag Building, 70 NW Couch St., Room 142/144, 6:30 p.m.