“Most of the cases [of pollutants chronicled in Late Lessons] involved costly impacts on both public health and the environment, two fields of science and policy-making that have become specialized and somewhat polarized during the last 100 years.
Individuals experience their health and their environment as one, interconnected reality. Science, regulatory appraisal and policy-making need to be similarly integrated.”
–Late Lessons From Early Warnings: The Precautionary Principle 1896-2000
THE EFFECTS OF TOXIC INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION ON PORTLAND SCHOOLS AND NEIGHBORHOODS
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s current regulatory policy does not adequately protect public health from the hazardous emissions of the more than 71 industrial facilities in Portland, including 19 Title V permitted facilities.
34 Portland City Schools ranked in the top 5% of schools across the nation with the worst air due to toxic industrial emissions.[i]
15 Portland Schools ranked in the top 2%, making them nearly equivalent to the modeled conditions of a school in Marietta OH that was closed down, because the ambient conditions matched the modeled profile.
In July 2009, the EPA released its National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) report based on 2002 data, showing Multnomah County to be in the top 2% of counties in the country with the largest populations at increased risk of developing cancer due to toxic air pollution (exceeding 100 cases per million).[ii]
1. DEQ has failed Oregon communities by allowing air toxics standards to be voluntary benchmarks, not legally mandated restrictions. This makes our air toxic standards among the weakest in the country.
• CA, WA, MD, NY, VA, KY and other states have led the way to use the discretion afforded states by the Clean Air Act to set stricter ambient air quality standards. Oregon has not.
• Benzene levels in gasoline are nearly 3x greater in this region than anywhere else in the country.
• 586 gasoline storage tanks are located along the Willamette River in NW Portland operated by 7 different companies (Some nearly 100 years old). Together, these tanks in NW Portland, which hold about 200 million gallons, annually emit ~1,394 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including the known carcinogen benzene.[iii]
· Oregon law allows leakage rates at these tanks of up to 10,000 parts per million (ppm).
· In San Francisco, CA the law allows only up to 100 ppm
2. For Title V permit holders, those polluters who meet the standards of highest volume of toxic emissions, Oregon relies on Plant-Site Emissions Limits (PSEL) that are specifically unenforceable as there are no coinciding operating limits in place.
• For example, ESCO Corp. operates two steel foundry/metals casting facilities in NW Portland within 1000 ft of several schools. DEQ describes the plants as such: “The ESCO plants emit particulate matter and fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lead and sulfur dioxide. The ESCO plants are considered a major source of VOCs some of which are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as hazardous air pollutants.”
Without enforceable operating limits in place, the two plants ESCO operates have been able to increase their reported toxic air emissions (Toxic Release Inventory TRI) by over 4800 % from 2003-2007, including nearly doubling the release of heavy metals (from 425 lbs to over 1000) and increasing the release of Glycol Ether to nearly 20,000lbs.[iv] ESCO, as I am sure their representative will tell you when he has the floor, can still maintain that they are fully compliant with their Oregon DEQ-issued air permit.
3. Oregonians must rely on modeled data, not actual monitored ambient conditions information, because the DEQ does not allocate funding for monitoring in industrial neighborhoods.
• USA Today published a risk assessment report developed by researchers and scientists at the U. Mass-Amherst, Johns Hopkins, and the U. of Maryland to analyze exposure to industrial pollution at schools across the nation.
•A recent EPA report (NATA), further concluded that toxic air pollution puts residents of Multnomah County among those most at risk of developing cancer in the US.
4. DEQ has significant data sources (e.g. Cooper Environmental Services and a history of neighborhood monitoring) raising cause for specific concern; yet, the agency appears to want to dismiss all the data sources and ignore potential community health threats.
•”Total Airshed”- the model that still informs the DEQ Air Quality regulatory process was developed to confront the six original smog causing pollutants (carbon, lead, nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter, and sulfer dioxide). Unfortunately, a focus on a total air shed, in our case a tri-county area, has created sacrificial zones of toxic industrial pollutant hotspots across the city. This is because industry is seen to be only 10% of the problem statewide. This belies the experience of many neighborhoods in Portland which are in very close proximity to industrial point sources like the Northwest.
- Mandatory restrictions/reductions of toxic air emissions by industrial sources in aggregate.
•DEQ should revisit a study that set a total cap on industrial emissions in Portland and determined individual appropriations to facilities. In turn, enforceable total limits need to be assigned to Title V industrial facilities.
- Mandatory Pollution Prevention (P2) program of independent audits every 5 years that aims at the reduction of overall emissions.
- Fund adequate ambient air quality monitoring in order to protect concerned citizens’ right to know what is in the air they breathe.
- Adoption of the “Precautionary Principle” by DEQ.
• The Precautionary Principle would inform the regulatory process in a way that better safeguards public health by immediately reducing benchmarks to their lowest known safe levels, and then proceeding with caution in incremental increases that prove there is no harm to public health.
E.g. Manganese: The current available knowledge says, that like nickel and lead, there are no known safe levels of exposure to children. And with recent court cases being won, proving the connection of exposure of manganese in workers causing Parkinsons-like neurological damage, it would be prudent to limit manganese emissions until we can assess the safety of the cumulative loads.
- Adoption of Polluter Pays Health Tax
• It is widely known that industrial pollution increases the costs of health care[v]. This was documented in Portland as early as 1974 by a specific study conducted by researchers at OSU.[vi]
It, therefore makes sense, that if DEQ receives nearly 70% of their budget from the process of allowing pollutersthe regulatory process that allows them to emit dangerous and hazardous emissions into our public air shed, that we should make the polluters assume some of the health care costs that are born from their pollution.
This would be a logical way to fund universal health care coverage through fees, based on emissions volume, taken from the industries allowed to pollute the air.
[i] USA Today: The Smokestack Effect, Toxic Air and America’s Schools http://content.usatoday.com/news/nation/environment/smokestack/index
[ii] 2002 National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment: http://www.epa.gov/nata2002/
[iii] Koberstein, P. Portland’s Toxic Cloud Cascadia Times, 2009
[iv] Koberstein, P. Portland’s Toxic Cloud Cascadia Times, 2009
[v] Ostro, B and Chestnut, L. Assessing the Health Benefits of Reducing Particulate Matter Air Pollution in the United States. Environmental Research 76:94-106, 1998.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Report to Congress: The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act, 1990 to 2010. EPA-410-R-99-001, November 1999.
[vi] Jaksch, J and Stoeveneur, H. Outpatient Medical Costs Related to Air Pollution in the Portland, Oregon Area. Department of Agricultural Economics, Oregon State University July 1974