BPA Ban fails in Oregon Senate

The Oregon Senate failure to pass the BPA ban today is a wake up call.  As Jon Isaacs wrote on the OLCV blog, Feb 15th in anticipation of the passing of Senate Bill 1032: “I don’t think it’s possible for a public health issue to be any less controversial and straightforward to Oregonians than keeping toxic chemicals out of food containers intended for babies.” The Oregon Environmental Council chronicled a whole list of scientific information regarding the harm to children in supporting the ban, including:

  • Premature babies are exposed to levels of BPA ten times greater than the general population
  • BPA exposure is linked to heart disease, diabetes and liver abnormalities in humans
  • The Centers for Disease Control found BPA exposure in 93% of Americans age 6 and up during a test in 2007.
What this tells me is you can’t take anything for granted, not common sense, not clear and compelling health outcomes, not the fact that Washington, Wisconsin, California, and Minnesota already had pushed ahead; and not that the federal government has indicated it will enact this as well.  

When it comes to curtailing toxins in our environment, the air we breathe and the products we use, citizens must continue to apply the necessary pressure through letters to our public representatives and newspapers, and through public engagement in the regulatory process.

A few weeks ago, I received an update from the Department of Environmental Quality regarding its Portland Air Toxic Solutions Advisory Committee.  I am one of over 30 professionals and private citizens sitting on this committee to devise the plan to reduce the dangerous air toxins identified in the Portland air shed.  This is not easy, as we found after the first meeting last August.  Even agreeing on the ground rules is contentious when you have competing interests at the table.  But being at the table is critical, and not taking anything for granted is essential, to seeing real and measurable improvements to our policy of regulating and reducing air toxics.  

Despite the tremendous strides on this issue this past year and the growing national momentum behind curbing the health endangering chemicals and toxic substances in our environment, the failure of the BPA ban in the Oregon legislature reminds me of the uphill battle citizens face to push back the tide on the proliferation of chemicals in our midst.  We must continue to speak out about our concerns.

February Update

Lest you think your Air Quality Team has been slacking, time to fill you in on some of what is in the works.  I am going to focus most on where we are with ESCO, but I want to briefly address the Tank Farms.  Unfortunately, a robust process does take time, but I think we should be very encouraged by the increased diligence and thoroughness, and generally, the additional attention that is being given to address our concerns of the health risks of exposure to air toxins.

DEQ is in the process of scheduling and planning a hearing on these permits.  Part of that will be arranging for a pre-meeting where citizen representatives will be able to meet with the permit writers to learn more about how these facilities are currently regulated.  This meeting is tentatively set for Wed. March 10th @5pm.  It is DEQ’s intention to advertise it and make it open to the public.  I want to let you know that Aubrey Baldwin, staff attorney from Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center, Mark Riskedahl, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Sharon Genasci, NWDA H&E, myself and representatives from the Linnton community have all committed to participate in this pre-meeting.  I feel very confident this will be an important opportunity for us to learn more.  The official public hearing is in and of itself a very static process, meant to be a process of recording public comment, not discussion or debate.  While this pre-meeting is open to the public, and I welcome anyone who wishes to attend, I am frankly trying to ensure a productive exchange that a smaller group affords.  If any of you feel strongly about attending and/or have specific concerns that you want addressed at this meeting PLEASE EMAIL ME with your concerns and we will make sure they get addressed.  Sharon Genasci has said, and I agree, that it will be more important to turn out bodies at the actual hearing later down the road.

Over the holidays, a group of us worked with DEQ on the draft Request for Proposal (RFP) that the agency will put out to hire the contractor to execute the independent audit of the ESCO plants.  We expect a final draft soon, with a goal of hiring someone by April.  Up to this point, we are satisfied with DEQ’s transparency and willingness to listen to neighbors concerns.  A team of us including NWDA Health & Environment Chair Sharon Genasci, Attorney Aubrey Baldwin, NEDC’s Mark Riskedahl, Bob Holmstrom, and Dr. Bob Amundson poured over the draft and offered feedback on modifications and specific areas of concern primarily within the scope of work, but also in regards to criteria of selection for the contractor.  I also want to thank neighbors Tom Giese, Will Aitchison, and Kitty Midson for their time on this task.

Estimated date of Independent Contract to Commence: April

ESCO will, as part of this procedure, be conducting an Alternative Analysis- the company has invited neighbors to participate in the development of the Scope of Work for this preliminary process. The AA will, as ESCO’s Carter Webb explains: evaluate air pollution control equipment at ESCO’s Portland plants, and will identify potential alternatives to reduce emissions of hazardous air pollutants, particulate and odor.  We very much appreciate that ESCO has included myself, Sharon Genasci, Dr. Bob Amundsom, Bob Holmstrom and NEDC’s John Krallman in this process.

Estimated date of ESCO AA completion: April

I would also like to report on a meeting earlier this week which Carter Webb requested with DEQ’s Nina DeConcini and myself to discuss the company’s offer of money towards monitoring at Chapman School.  I explained to him my position, which I have shared with most of you, and articulated in a letter to the editor which was published in the December NW Examiner, but want to make clear:

While neighbors appreciate the value of monitoring, it is generally believed at this time the limited scope of the proposed monitoring (2 months of ambient air quality monitoring-such as was conducted by EPA at the Harriet Tubman site this past fall) offers little additional understanding of the toxins in our air, and is generally recognized to be of little value if conducted for any time period less than 2 years. We have that kind of historical ambient air monitoring data, as well as the results of a neighborhood sponsored dust analysis, both corroborating significant levels of industrial air toxins present in the neighborhood. DEQ has also budgeted for a continuation of the fenceline monitoring which will expand on the abbreviated picture we got from last year’s report provided by Cooper’s Environmental Services when they conducted a feasibility study of their monitoring technology on behalf of the EPA. 

Monitoring will have the most value to our neighborhood when it can be used to confirm the efficacy of any potential changes made at the site identified through the independent audit.  I will continue to support and fight for the funding to reestablish PERMANENT air quality monitoring at sites across the city to better inform and protect residents from the ongoing presence of toxic air pollution.

Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Kinder-Morgan, Equilon (Shell) and Chevron Title V Permits up for renewal

7 companies
8 terminals
586 storage tanks
300 million gallon capacity
1,394 tons of volatile organic compounds emitted annually

–This is a description from Paul Koberstein, of CASCADIA TIMES, of the Northwest Portland Petroleum Tank Farm situated between Hwy 30 and the Willamette River, as analyzed from current  Title V air pollution operating permits.  On the ten year anniversary of publishing BAD AIR DAYS, Cascadia Times has been looking back into the air quality issues of Northwest Portland. After CT’s publication of the story of faulty control technologies at the fuel transfer stations along the Willamette, David Paul a leading attorney with a soft spot for the environment, successfully represented NW neighbors fighting Chevron for failing to properly capture hundreds of tons of VOC’s in their fuel transfer process at the NW terminal.

Currently three companies’ Title V air permits are up for renewal: Equilon (Shell), Chevron and Kinder-Morgan.  If you click on their names, you can go to the Department of Environmental Quality’s website announcements.  According to Koberstein,  “Kinder Morgan’s gasoline storage tanks contain 30 percent of the 300 million gallons of gasoline stored here in Portland, and they leak like crazy.” He estimates 236 tons per year.  California has required that companies ensure storage facilities have a leakage rate of no more than 100 parts per million (ppm); Oregon allows for 10,000 ppm. That, and the fact that our gasoline (due to a combination of refinery standards and where it is sourced from) has some of the highest Benzene content in the US (nearly 3x higher), makes for a really bad stew.

If you live in the Northwest neighborhood, you may recall in spring 2009, experiencing a strong presence of “natural gas” or “unburned fuel” odors that persisted for almost two weeks.  NW Natural Gas was called over 100 times, by anxious residents concerned about an active leak in their home. A medical clinic on NW 23rd and Lovejoy called an inspector out to determine the cause of the odor. Lincoln High School was thoroughly inspected by a hazmat team, and Ainsworth ES evacuated the students before it was determined the gas odor was not originating on site. Many residents complained of dizziness and headaches. Though we were never provided a definitive explanation, many neighbors suspect the tank farms as the potential source of those odors.

For this reason, residents have requested a public hearing before these permits are renewed.  It is essential for citizens to make a strong showing at the public hearing for these two permits, to express concerns about the safety of these nearly 100 year old fuel storage units that have the potential to leak hundreds of volatile and deadly HAPS into our airshed including Benzene, a known carcinogen.  The request for a hearing has been accepted by DEQ and I will forward information as soon as I have it. In the meantime, DEQ advises that the written public comments are due by the following dates (click following links for each companies’ public records):

Equilon (Shell) 5pm, January 25th  
DEQ Request for Comment 
Draft Permit  
Draft Review Report
Kinder-Morgan  5pm, January 26th  
DEQ Request for Commen
Draft Permit  
Draft Review Report
Chevron  5pm, January 26th  DEQ 
Request for Comment 
Draft Permit  
Draft Review Report

All comments may be submitted to:
Catherine Blaine NWR AQ Permit Coordinator

If you would like to receive notification directly, please email:, or you may follow us on Twitter: pdxair.

Thanksgiving Meditation

Ever since my niece was born, half into our family of Minnesota Catholics of European descent and half into the Lakota nation, I have had to reconsider much of the world I take for granted. Some of those things are in the details, in insidious stereotypes perpetuated by sport team mascots and Peter Pan. Others are in the larger context of our cultural mythology, like the institutionalized teaching of the uniquely American Thanksgiving holiday, or even more unique: Columbus Day. It is not a far stretch of empathy to understand that a portion of our nation may not see either of those events as a reason to celebrate, or certainly in the same light that has been shined on them from the European perspective.

Thanksgiving is still one of my favorites, a holiday of gathering with friends, or less often these days, family; a chance to reflect on gratefulness, and an unabashed excuse to bask in self-absorbed guiltless culinary indulgence (hours in the kitchen all to myself!). More considered reading of history has only added depth to its importance. My total immersion this year into the effort to reduce toxic industrial air pollution provides interesting fodder for meditation while chopping onions and herbs. I find myself considering what was lost, as much as gained in that fateful collision of the two worlds represented in the history book as “pilgrims” and “indians.”
As a civilization we had a chance then, and in the ensuing years of establishing what would become the United States of America, to reconsider what was “own-able.” Ownership and sovereign rights vex civilization to this day. How different the world economy and potentially the environment and climate would be if we didn’t assume that the natural world was own-able. It occurs to me now, that since certain classes of people were still deemed own-able, convincing power and money hungry entities that trees, land, water, and air should be universally shared, would be nearly impossible.
The history of corporate America is littered with an undulating path of push and pull regarding sovereign rights. Early 19th century corporate leaders resisted labor organizing, leery of the inherent concept that employees had rights or ownership of any decision making regarding company practices. In the 1990’s when I worked for NIKE, the idea of rights filtered down to consumers, as activists insisted that a company that makes so much money from the African American community and culture, should also make sure that they are more inclusive in their hiring practices.
My hope for this century is a reformation of the cost of the environment. We need the external costs to be internalized, to be reflected in the value put on each and every thing we do and we produce. I have faith in the free market, and continue to be inspired by the ingenuity of innovation that characterizes American business practice. So I believe that once external costs of polluting air, of consuming non-renewable resources, and of harm to public health and well-being are calculated, businesses will be able to adapt and continue to do what they do best: determine a way to build wealth and capital. But, the problem I see for the future of sustainable business, is that we haven’t stopped subsidizing non-sustainable business. If a company can continue to process non-renewable raw materials spewing hundreds of thousands of persistent bioaccumulative toxins into the air, land and water and can still claim, as ESCO did in the letter to the NW Examiner editor in November 2009: “results assured us that ESCO is not causing harm,” then the bike component manufacturer around the corner with a net zero carbon output doesn’t have a chance unless we find a “value” to be added beyond market differentiation.
We need a discount, or at least a financial benefit, for the businesses who do no harm, who do not add to the health care costs of the state, or the superfund clean up, or the Department of Environmental Quality’s costs to protect humans and the environment. The businesses who, in effect, do not take for granted that impact on the natural environment is free.

International Climate Action Day

Do you know what the number 350 means? If you do nothing else to mark this year’s International Climate Action Day, I suggest you discover the meaning behind this number, and why an organization has devoted itself to educating the world to this cause.

350 parts per million is the magic number of sustainable levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Anything more than that, scientists say, causes Artic ice to melt, widespread drought, and kills forests. The earth is currently at 390 ppm. Yes. We are too high. But, the organizers say: “If we can stop pouring more carbon into the atmosphere, then forests and oceans will slowly suck some of it out of the air and return us to safe levels.” is an International movement (click here to see more about this event) to raise citizen awareness and create a collective sense of urgency when our governments meet in December in Copenhagen to agree on a new climate treaty.

To live the creed: Think Global Act Local, Neighbors for Clean Air has launched a letter writing campaign aimed at reducing Portland’s local industrial toxic air emissions. Citizens of Portland have already adopted lifestyle changes that reduced our local carbon emissions in 2007 to 1% below 1990 levels. That is outstanding, and shows a commitment by individuals to make the necessary sacrifices to reverse the damage of global climate change. But, that is only part of our air pollution problem in Portland. Industry makes up at least 15% of the total air pollution soup in our tri-county air shed, and as far as we can tell, looking at one industrial polluter, that number is only increasing.

So our 350 action is to send 350 letters (ok, I would rather it be 3500) to the Governor’s office to ask for the following specific actions to curtail industrial air pollution in our state:

1. Reduce the Ambient Benchmark Concentration for manganese to the lower 0.09 ug/m3 level recently adopted by California.
2. Monitor to ensure the ambient conditions of fenceline neighborhoods of known industrial lead sources do not exceed the new stricter federal requirement of no more than 0.15µg/m3 per quarter.

Why these two actions?

Before last spring, when I came across the report published in USA Today about industrial air pollution and our schools, I knew little about the air toxic Manganese. But it is this toxin that put fifteen Portland schools, primarily in North and Northwest Portland, in the top 2% of the schools nationwide with the worst air due to industrial air toxics. Manganese, like lead, is a potent neurotoxin. There are no safe levels of exposure to children. While we have had some constructive conversation about the air toxics problem in our city over the last six months, there have been no substantive changes.

It is time to hold industry in this state to the same high standard we hold ourselves, to be part of the solution. This takes incremental rule changes and specific legislation that gets at source specific mitigation. This is how we will all win, and Oregon will truly become the greenest state in America.

Send your letter to the Governor today:

Governor Kulongoski

160 State Capitol

900 Court Street

Salem, Oregon 97301-4047