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:
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

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