Neighbors for Clean Air + STAND for Children

I am excited to announce an important partnership in the effort to clean the air of toxic industrial emissions around our schools and neighborhood. The newly formed West-side chapter of Stand for Children ( has partnered with Neighbors for Clean Air, and will make protecting our children by advocating for Air Toxics reduction one of their top priorities. The cooperation between our organizations will allow us to coordinate efforts and speak with a stronger voice.

Founding members of the West-side Portland Stand for Children chapter are joining the thousands across the state already advocating to protect our children and the services they need to thrive especially in this tough budget climate, where nothing can be taken for granted. If you have not already joined Stand, I encourage you to join now: A modest donation of any amount not only helps pay for the full-time legislative lobbyist that ensures our concerns as parents are heard in Salem, but every due paying membership strengthens the power of our grassroots voice. Whether you become an active chapter member or a financial supporter, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are making children a higher priority, and supporting the effort for clean air in the neighborhood. So have your voice counted today. If you have any more questions about the West-side chapter of Stand, please contact Karen Ritzinger

ESCO Emissions and Children’s Health

At a recent symposium on children’s environmental health, Philip J. Landrigan, professor and chairman of preventative medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in NYC, outlined the challenges of protecting our children from the onslaught of diseases caused by the proliferation of toxic chemicals in the environment. Landigran said that there are 3,000 high-volume chemicals used today; for roughly half, there is no basic toxicity information publicly available. (You can read an article about the event here.) “The environment is a powerful determinant of human health, and there’s no group more vulnerable or susceptible to adverse influences in the environment than kids,” Landrigan said. “Pound-for-pound children experience greater exposure to chemicals than adults.” Landrigan also noted that chronic childhood diseases linked to toxic chemical exposure is surging, estimating the costs in the US to be almost $55 billion a year. Any of us who are parents, know that these finite monetary costs don’t even come close to describing the toll on families that children’s health problems can impose.

What I am discovering as I get deeper into this issue of toxic industrial air pollution in our neighborhoods, is that so much about this is just not known. The federal government has only done exhaustive research on the health risks of the 6 criteria pollutants, leaving another 187 different hazardous air pollutants on their list. Admittedly, there are hundreds, if not thousands more toxic substances, not yet even identified. For example, by the EPA’s own admission, some studies have found that cancer risks from diesel particulate matter, which is not even included in the measures above because of uncertainty regarding the appropriate values to use as cancer benchmarks, could exceed those of most other hazardous air pollutants. If the California’s benchmark for diesel particulate matter were adopted, 95 percent of children would be considered to live in counties (including Multnomah County) where hazardous air pollutant estimates combined to exceed the 1-in-10,000 cancer risk benchmark.
Recently, Paul Koberstein of Cascadia Times, looked more closely at the emissions data of ESCO, a steel refinery named as the major contributor of toxic air pollution around 5 NW schools that were ranked in the top 2% of schools nationwide with the worst air due to exposure to industrial air pollution. Carter Webb of ESCO continues to insist that the emissions coming from the 3 plants located on the outskirts of the NW neighborhood do no harm. But with such an obvious lack of scientific data that supports that claim, I think it is time for the company to admit that they base their claim on a standard of regulatory compliance not scientific understanding of the synergistic health effects of hazardous air toxics. And, I believe that the company should admit these regulatory benchmarks are increasingly being shown to not adequately protect public health. When it comes to small children, and the impact on critical windows of development, there are no safe levels of inhaled manganese, lead, arsenic, and hexavalent chromium.
The Swigert family has operated ESCO for close to a century, with Hank Swigert being the latest to hold the position of chairman of the ESCO board, and continues as a board member since leaving that post. Much has been learned in the ensuing years; more often than not, whether it is alcohol, tobacco, or the host of pharmaceuticals that pregnant women unknowingly subjected their children to, we have learned that what today has yet to be proven harmful, reasonable doubt might be the precedence for later knowledge of the serious health risks undertaken. We are just beginning to learn about the dangers of toxic chemical exposures and how what we put in our air can harm us. Don’t the companies that are using our common air space as the depository for their chemical waste owe it to the public to prove they are doing no harm?

Chrome VI found in ESCO’s emissions

Guest Columnist, Paul Koberstein asks:

What do Erin Brockovich, residents of Northwest Portland and some members of the Oregon National Guard serving in Iraq all have in common? The answer is: they all have experience with hexavalent chromium, a dangerous cancer-causing chemical.

Cascadia Times is reporting on its web site ( that ESCO, owner of two steel foundries in the Northwest Portland neighborhood, has been emitting small amounts of hexavalent chomium, also known as chrome 6, since 2005

Cascadia Times is also reporting that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality had documentation of hexavalent chomium emissions at ESCO since 2005, but waited until September 2009 to release the data.

This disclosure comes on the heels of reports in The Oregonian that the Army and war contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root may have exposed hundreds of soldiers to dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium while they guarded civilian workers at a water treatment plant in Iraq ( Among the troops exposed are at least 292 Oregon Army National Guard soldiers, including 16 who say they were sickened by the contact.

As The Oregonian reported on September 29, “Hexavalent chromium is a corrosion fighter so toxic that an amount the size of a grain of salt in a cubic yard greatly increases the risk of leukemia and lung, stomach, brain, renal, bladder and bone cancers.

Erin Brockovich, is the Southern California legal researcher whose efforts to help residents of a small town who were stricken with chromium 6 exposure was dramatized by the 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts in the title role.

Right to Know

Every American has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living. Right-to-know laws provide information about possible chemical exposures.” EPA website: Protect the Environment: Learn about your right to know.

A recent NW Examiner article documenting the contradictions and discrepencies in the emissions reports from ESCO Corp. reveals a troubling picture of the current state of toxins reporting. First established by the EPA in 1986, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was passed in response to concerns regarding environmental and safety hazards posed by the storage and handling of toxic chemicals. These concerns were triggered by the disaster in Bhopal, India. The Bhopal disaster, or Bhopal gas tragedy, was an industrial disaster that took place at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal, Madhaya Pradesh. At midnight on 3 December 1984, the plant released an estimated 42 tons of toxic methyl isocynates (MIC) gas, exposing more than 500,000 people to MIC and other chemicals. The first official death toll was 2,259. The government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Others estimate 8,000-10,000 died within 72 hours and 25,000 have since died from gas-related diseases.

The Bhopal disaster is frequently cited as the world’s worst industrial disaster. To reduce the likelihood of such a disaster in the United States, Congress imposed requirements on both states and regulated facilities, a hallmark of which was the creation, in 1988, of the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), a database which provides information to the public about releases of toxic chemicals from manufacturing facilities into the environment through the air, water and land.

But what Paul Koberstein of The Cascadia Times, the investigative reporter responsible for the September Examiner article, uncovered as he plumbed the depths of the many reports of ESCO emissions is a dizzying array of calculations and varying lists of toxins, one list reported to EPA for TRI, one to DEQ, others that come up on their testing reports, and still others reported nowhere in the previous reports that come up in the fenceline monitoring that was conducted by Cooper Environmental Services. The effect for residents of the NW neighborhood reading this article is confusing and troubling. As one neighbor asked me after reading it, “why do they (ESCO) seem to lie if there is nothing to hide?”

The intent behind TRI and emissions reporting is to inform the public. But the information is anything but clear, often inspiring fear and confusion among citizens trying to assess their own risk of living in proximity to industrial sources of pollution. That’s why the study of schools and industrial air pollution, reported in the USA Today report, was so useful. It translated complex industrial emissions information into data the public could understand: health risks. Was it a smoking gun, no? But using highly sophisticated risk drivers, which balanced the proportional toxicity of each chemical, its volume, smokestack heights and prevailing wind patterns that would effect its concentrations, it certainly gave us a blueprint for where to start. Looking at the model, and understanding that this model successfully predicted the high levels of toxins in the Ohio school that was subsequently shut down, it was reasonable in the wake of the publication of this report, for communities to investigate further when the data indicated a high probability of a toxic industrial pollution hot spot.

ESCO’s answer to the USA Today report, as stated by Carter Webb at the Aug. 7th House Health Committee Interim Workgroup hearing chaired by Rep. Mitch Greenlick: “We look at the DEQ and the ESCO monitoring data and we see that our operations are not creating a risk to anyone.” But, in reality, and in closer scrutiny of this self-reported data, and self-funded monitoring that Mr. Webb is referring to, is not that there is any solid science backing the understanding that the ESCO emissions don’t cause physical harm or long term health risks. But that instead, ESCO emissions, which include heavy metals like nickel, lead, manganese and Chromium VI – all known to perpetuate indefinitely in the environment once introduced – fall under current ambient benchmark concentrations by which the company is regulated. In other words, the company is fully compliant with the letter of their permit.

But science has not established that there is any safe levels for lead and manganese, known neurotoxins; or Chromium VI the cancer causing compound made famous in Julia Robert’s portrayal of Erin Brochovich. Or the synergistic health effects of the 64+ toxic chemicals listed in the emissions reports from ESCO.

This is industry’s dilemma. They are paying significant amounts in fees to be permitted to pollute (money that amounts to 70% of DEQ’s budget). And I imagine that they pay equal if not greater amounts to meet their compliance requirements and generally jump through the hoops to provide the reports required of them, not to mention the lobbyists to protect them. All for what? If you are not buying public trust with this investment than really what good is it? The EPA, the Clean Air Act, Citizens Right to Know, and TRI are all efforts by our federal government to provide US citizens with peace of mind. If the state agency’s process of administering the regulations is flawed, or certainly its stringency – and the agency’s loyalty -suspect, then the money and energy that industry dumps into the regulatory process is a waste. My argument is that industry needs transparency and a strong regulatory process as much as neighboring residents, to bank the public trust they so desperately depend on to continue to operate their facilities, emissions from which trespass on our public airshed in annoying odors and black dust.

At this point we can neither afford to go back to unregulated, unfettered toxic industrial emissions, or stay where we are, trapped by confusion, suspicion and fear. Our city and state legislators must provide us with the leadership to forge a new path forward, one that ties regulation firmly to the objective of realizing specific public health outcomes when science exists, and precautionary health safeguards when negative health outcomes can be reasonably anticipated.


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.