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.