ESCO Neighborhood Advisory Committee Approves Chapman Air Monitoring Plan

In a vote of 5-1, ESCO Neighborhood Advisory Committee members approved the Chapman monitoring plan at the last meeting held October 27th.  This project was a condition of the Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) signed in 2011 with ESCO. The company committed  to providing $25,000 to monitor for metals at Chapman School. This particular GNA item was highly contentious, one insisted on only by former Northwest Neighborhood Association President Ron Walters. He does not serve on the NAC.

The NAC meets quarterly, and NCA received DEQ’s approval of the plan and the City’s approval of the permit just last week, clearing the plan for a vote by the committee at this previously scheduled meeting.

Air monitoring can be difficult and expensive, and $25K is a relatively small amount of money. To put it in perspective, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality secured $375,000 to run a single toxics monitor in North Portland for 12 months. And a NW neighborhood monitoring project run by NWDA Health and Environment Committee over 10 years ago cost about $40K. Ironically, ESCO staff have questioned the budget, but reiterated the company will not provide more funds to support more expensive research.

Neighbors for Clean Air took the lead on developing a protocol.  We turned to leading air quality advocates, Global Community Monitor (GCM), for guidance on technology that is affordable, reliable and from which we can expect defensible results.  In addition we have secured a partnership with Dr. Linda George, an atmospheric chemist in Portland State University’s Environmental Science Department, who has conducted research on Nitrogen Dioxide levels – often a surrogate for fuel combustion – in the Portland Metro area (see: mrao env pollution 2014).  GCM has helped us identify and procure MiniVol monitoring devices and a local lab that can do the analysis. Dr. George will lead a team of students who will conduct the actual monitoring sampling and records. In addition, GCM’s team will travel to Portland to assist with installation and train the students in proper sampling technique.

This was no easy feat and yesterday’s approval marks nearly 12 months of NCA staff time (thank you to the amazing John Krallman!) sunk into the development of the plan, including the very rigorous process of meeting ESCO’s only two stipulations: that the plan must be approved by the Department of Environmental Quality, and the monitors must be placed at Chapman school. DEQ’s approval took over 9 months, with considerable accommodations required so as to meet the Quality Assurance standards of the testing protocol and handling of the samples. NCA was required to acquire a Research Permit from the City of Portland to allow installation of the monitoring devices on the fence surrounding the tennis courts at Chapman School.

The monitoring plan calls for the analysis of 40 toxic substances, including manganese, which was the biggest risk driver in our neighborhood identified both by DEQ’s Portland Air Toxics Solutions emissions data and the USA Today Smokestack Effect Study and for which ESCO was named as the most significant source. These monitors utilize a low volume intake that deposits onto a removable filter, acting much like a mechanical lung.  Filters are removed and sent to the lab for analysis. The laboratory testing methodology used, X-ray fluorescence (XRF), can test for forty heavy metals in one test.  In addition to identifying individual toxics, the samples will also be weighed to obtain a measurement of the total fine particulates that are in the ambient air, known as PM 2.5.  PM 2.5 poses the most significant health risk as it is highly aspirated, especially by children, getting deep into lungs and even crossing into the blood stream.

Again, due to budget, there are some limitations.  Higher volume samplers, such that the DEQ can employ, can provide richer data, by pulling higher concentrations faster through the filters.  And we also know that the heaviest deposits of metals likely to be associated with ESCO’s emissions, are unlikely to be captured this far from the facility. In DEQ’s approval of the testing plan, agency staff flagged the fact that because of the lower flow rate of the MiniVol, the minimum detection limits (MDLs) will be higher. In some instances we may not detect the presence of some heavy metals, like arsenic and cadmium, but they may still be present at unsafe levels because the MDLs are greater than Oregon’s established health-based benchmarks. But for manganese, lead, cobalt, and nickel, toxic metals all associated with ESCO’s emissions, our sampling will be sensitive enough to demonstrate whether or not these pollutants are below health-based benchmarks.

So what are the overall benefits of this limited monitoring project?  In addition to seeing how much of ESCO’s manganese emissions and other metals associated with the steel refinery are making it to the school, we are gaining valuable experience with a lower cost community based monitoring protocol. With DEQ’s approval of the plan, we will be able to compare some of these values with  measurements taken at other facilities in the Portland metro area.   The technology is highly mobile and could be implemented in other neighborhoods which have potentially large sources of toxic heavy metals emissions.

The sampling is scheduled to commence in January 2015 and run for 12 months.  A final report will be available spring of 2016.  Just in time, as ESCO’s 5 year Title V permit, last renewed in 2012 following the GNA, will be expiring in 2017.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)