Sunday, August 23, 2009


It was disturbing to read The Oregonian article last week about DEQ's effort to assist a major industrial polluter in circumventing Federal emission laws: DEQ to help polluter seek federal break.

This article is not about jobs vs the environment. It is about DEQ's discretionary authority and the transparency of the process the agency uses to set priorities. It demonstrates the worst fear residents have about the alleged science that tells us industry is not a significant part of the air pollution problem in our city. Instead it is very possible to infer this science masks an agency bias, that while employing no economists on staff, the agency still chooses to weigh the financial interests of the industrial facilities that the DEQ is charged with the duty to regulate. This calls into question every aspect of the DEQ's Air Quality Division, including its basic assumptions for the Portland Air Toxics Solution which specifically has said addressing individual point sources of pollution will be excluded from consideration.

I appreciate that our elected officials like city and state representatives and the governor, may at times be faced with these kinds of tough decisions. Decisions that must look at what serves the greater public good: economy or environment. But this type of over arching decision should not be in the hands of the Department of Environmental Quality which has a mission statement to specifically safeguard the environment and public health and well-being.

In the time since I was given the opportunity to testify at the Health Interim Workgroup hearing, I have been trying to consider what legislative/policy steps might be taken to fix this problem. I have also taken part in the first of six meetings of the Portland Air Toxics Solution (PATS) Advisory Committee. And I have researched existing programs that are better addressing the mitigation of industrial pollutants. There are two things that I think could be specifically interesting for Portland and Oregon to consider:

1. Re-framing PATS to model after the Louisville, KY STAR program. This program brought industry to the table and held them to enforceable emissions standards based on a "no greater than 1 in a million risk" of additional cancers for any one source of toxic pollution. With 32 of 37 industrial facilities in compliance within 2 years, the city has seen dramatic drops in toxic air pollution including a 75% drop in 1,3 Butadiene. Compare this to PATS, which has already invested 10 years to just define the problem and is projecting the program, which will ultimately produce voluntary, not mandatory, guidelines, will also take another 10 yrs to realize results. That is almost two generations of children.

2. Consider a state version of "Kids Safe Chemical Act." legislation introduced by Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Representatives Solis (D-CA) and Waxman (D-CA) to protect Americans, especially children from chemicals introduced by industry, by putting the burden on companies to prove they are safe before they can introduce them into the environment.

While most of the provisions of this bill are designed to combat the unfettered use of toxic chemicals in consumer products designed for children, I believe much of this same language could inform the industrial air pollution regulatory process to better safeguard the air quality of the communities where our children live, play and go to school:

Highlights of the Kid Safe Chemicals Act of 2008

Require Basic Data on Industrial Chemicals
Chemical companies must demonstrate the safety of their products, backed up with credible evidence. Chemicals that lack minimum data could not be legally manufactured in or imported into the United States. [Section 505]

Place the Burden on Industry to Demonstrate Safety
EPA must systematically review whether industry has met this burden of proof for all industrial chemicals within 15 years of adoption. [Section 503]

Restrict the Use of Dangerous Chemicals Found in Newborn Babies
Hazardous chemicals detected in human cord blood would be immediately targeted for restrictions on their use. [Section 504]

Use New Scientific Evidence to Protect Health

EPA must consider and is authorized to require additional testing as new science and new testing methods emerge, including for health effects at low doses or during fetal or infant development and for nanomaterials. [Section 503]

Establish National Program to Assess Human Exposure
The federal government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to expand existing analysis of pollutants in people to help identify chemicals that threaten the health of children, workers, or other vulnerable populations. [Section 505]

Expand the Public Right to Know on Toxic Chemicals
New, Internet-accessible public database on chemical hazards and uses will inform companies, communities, and consumers. EPA is to rein in excessive industry claims of confidentiality. [Sections 511 and 512]

Invest in Long-Term Solutions
New funding and incentives are provided for development of safer alternatives and technical assistance in “green chemistry.” [Section 508]

I sincerely believe that the engagement and leadership of our elected officials brings new hope for optimism on this issue of turning back the clock of unfettered industrial emissions. It is time to take the burden off the DEQ to manage the huge conflicted tasks of safeguarding the environment and public health and well being with balancing the interests of the industrial polluters the agency regulates. Specific policy and legislation will provide the clear framework for the regulatory process. I look forward to working with the elected officials, at the city, county, metro and state level, to realize this.

Monday, August 10, 2009

8/7/09 House Health Committee Workgroup Hearing Testimony

"Most of the cases [of pollutants chronicled in Late Lessons] involved costly impacts on both public health and the environment, two fields of science and policy-making that have become specialized and somewhat polarized during the last 100 years. 

 Individuals experience their health and their environment as one, interconnected reality. Science, regulatory appraisal and policy-making need to be similarly integrated."

 -Late Lessons From Early Warnings: The Precautionary Principle 1896-2000


 The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's current regulatory policy does not adequately protect public health from the hazardous emissions of the more than 71 industrial facilities in Portland, including 19 Title V permitted facilities.

*   34 Portland City Schools ranked in the top 5% of schools across the nation with the worst air due to toxic industrial emissions.[i]

*   15 Portland Schools ranked in the top 2%, making them nearly equivalent to the modeled conditions of a school in Marietta OH that was closed down, because the ambient conditions matched the modeled profile.

*   In July 2009, the EPA released its National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) report based on 2002 data, showing Multnomah County to be in the top 2% of counties in the country with the largest populations at increased risk of developing cancer due to toxic air pollution (exceeding 100 cases per million).[ii]

1.    DEQ has failed Oregon communities by allowing air toxics standards to be voluntary benchmarks, not legally mandated restrictions.  This makes our air toxic standards among the weakest in the country.

  CA, WA, MD, NY, VA, KY and other states have led the way to use the discretion afforded states by the Clean Air Act to set stricter ambient air quality standards
.  Oregon has not.
levels in gasoline are nearly 3x greater in this region than anywhere else in the country.
  586 gasoline storage tanks are located along the Willamette River in NW Portland operated by 7 different companies (Some nearly 100 years old). Together, these tanks in NW Portland, which hold about 200 million gallons, annually emit ~1,394 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
, including the known carcinogen benzene.[iii] 

·      Oregon law allows leakage rates at these tanks of up to 10,000 parts per million (ppm). 

·      In San Francisco, CA the law allows only up to 100 ppm 

2.    For Title V permit holders, those polluters who meet the standards of highest volume of toxic emissions, Oregon relies on Plant-Site Emissions Limits (PSEL) that are specifically unenforceable as there are no coinciding operating limits in place. 

  For example, ESCO Corp. operates two steel foundry/metals casting facilities in NW Portland within 1000 ft of several schools. DEQ describes the plants as such: "The ESCO plants emit particulate matter and fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lead and sulfur dioxide. The ESCO plants are considered a major source of VOCs some of which are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous air pollutants." 

Without enforceable operating limits
in place, the two plants ESCO operates have been able to increase their reported toxic air emissions (Toxic Release Inventory TRI) by over 4800 % from 2003-2007, including nearly doubling the release of heavy metals (from 425 lbs to over 1000) and increasing the release of Glycol Ether to nearly 20,000lbs.[iv] ESCO, as I am sure their representative will tell you when he has the floor, can still maintain that they are fully compliant with their Oregon DEQ-issued air permit.

3.    Oregonians must rely on modeled data, not actual monitored ambient conditions information, because the DEQ does not allocate funding for monitoring in industrial neighborhoods.

• USA Today published a risk assessment report developed by researchers and scientists at the U. Mass-Amherst, Johns Hopkins, and the U. of Maryland to analyze exposure to industrial pollution at schools across the nation.

•A recent EPA report (NATA), further concluded that toxic air pollution puts residents of Multnomah County among those most at risk of developing cancer in the US.

4.    DEQ has significant data sources (e.g. Cooper Environmental Services and a history of neighborhood monitoring) raising cause for specific concern; yet, the agency appears to want to dismiss all the data sources and ignore potential community health threats.

•"Total Airshed"- the model that still informs the DEQ Air Quality regulatory process was developed to confront the six original smog causing pollutants (carbon, lead, nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter, and sulfer dioxide).  Unfortunately, a focus on a total air shed
, in our case a tri-county area, has created sacrificial zones of toxic industrial pollutant hotspots across the city. This is because industry is seen to be only 10% of the problem statewide. This belies the experience of many neighborhoods in Portland which are in very close proximity to industrial point sources like the Northwest.


  1. Mandatory restrictions/reductions of toxic air emissions by industrial sources in aggregate.
    •DEQ should revisit a study that set a total cap on industrial emissions in Portland and determined individual appropriations to facilities. In turn, enforceable total limits need to be assigned to Title V industrial facilities.

  2. Mandatory Pollution Prevention (P2) program of independent audits every 5 years that aims at the reduction of overall emissions.

  3. Fund adequate ambient air quality monitoring in order to protect concerned citizens' right to know what is in the air they breathe.
  4. Adoption of the "Precautionary Principle" by DEQ.
    • The Precautionary Principle would inform the regulatory process in a way that better safeguards public health by immediately reducing benchmarks to their lowest known safe levels, and then proceeding with caution in incremental increases that prove there is no harm to public health.

    E.g. Manganese: The current available knowledge says, that like nickel and lead, there are no known safe levels of exposure to children.  And with recent court cases being won, proving the connection of exposure of manganese in workers causing Parkinsons-like neurological damage, it would be prudent to limit manganese emissions until we can assess the safety of the cumulative loads.

  5. Adoption of Polluter Pays Health Tax
      It is widely known that industrial pollution increases the costs of health care[v].  This was documented in Portland as early as 1974 by a specific study conducted by researchers at OSU.[vi]

    It, therefore makes sense, that if DEQ receives nearly 70% of their budget from the process of allowing polluters
    the regulatory process that allows them to emit dangerous and hazardous emissions into our public air shed, that we should make the polluters assume some of the health care costs that are born from their pollution.

    This would be a logical way to fund universal health care coverage through fees, based on emissions volume, taken from the industries allowed to pollute the air.

Reference Notes

[i] USA Today: The Smokestack Effect, Toxic Air and America's Schools

[ii] 2002 National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment:

[iii] Koberstein, P. Portland's Toxic Cloud  Cascadia Times, 2009

[iv] Koberstein, P. Portland's Toxic Cloud  Cascadia Times, 2009

[v] Ostro, B and Chestnut, L. Assessing the Health Benefits of Reducing Particulate Matter Air Pollution in the United States. Environmental Research 76:94-106, 1998. 

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Report to Congress: The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act, 1990 to 2010. EPA-410-R-99-001, November 1999.

[vi] Jaksch, J and Stoeveneur, H. Outpatient Medical Costs Related to Air Pollution in the Portland, Oregon Area. Department of Agricultural Economics, Oregon State University July 1974