Our commentary in Street Roots | December 27, 2016

street roots logoWe’re grateful to Street Roots — news for those who cannot afford free speech — for the opportunity to share our take from time to time on air pollution and the path to clean air across Oregon. At the end of 2016 we took a look back at an incredible year and a look ahead and opportunities we see in 2017:

A big opportunity for clean air: Looking back, looking ahead

Feb. 3 was a day like no other in the fight for clean air in Oregon. On that day, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality announced that an area of Southeast Portland had alarmingly high levels of both cadmium and arsenic that could impact people’s health. The information came from a study conducted by the U.S. Forest Service on how well tree moss can trap and therefore pinpoint air pollution sources (the short answer: very well).

Read Mary Peveto’s full commentary here.

Portland clean air efforts get boost from Meyer Memorial Trust

Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions has formed a new partnership with Neighbors for Clean Air and Lewis & Clark Law School’s Northwest Environmental Defense Center to pursue cleaner, healthier air for all Oregonians, thanks to a $250,000 award from the Meyer Memorial Trust.

The partnership, BREATHE Oregon, will provide clear scientific data, legal analysis and community outreach so residents and policy makers have the information they need to make decisions that improve air quality in Portland and throughout Oregon.

BREATHE Oregon builds on a research partnership launched last spring between the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, the City of Portland and Multnomah County to assess heavy metal pollution in Portland-metro neighborhoods in response to community concerns about elevated levels of toxins found in the area.

“The BREATHE Oregon partnership helps ensure that meaningful scientific research about local air pollution moves from PSU labs into the hands of community advocates and policy makers,” said Robert Liberty, director of the PSU Institute for Sustainable Solutions.

Linda George, PSU professor of environmental science and fellow of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions is leading PSU’s research efforts. “It’s our hope that our research will engage local residents and inform future air quality oversight in our state,” George said.

In addition to scientific and legal analysis of air quality data and impacts, the Meyer Memorial Trust award funds a series of community symposiums and a fleet of student interns who will work with local organizations to expand outreach about air quality issues.

“The path toward cleaner air is complex, and informed community involvement is essential,” said Mary Peveto, the co-founder and president of Neighbors for Clean Air. “Through BREATHE Oregon, we’ll work with communities most affected by air pollution to ensure they have access to accurate and relevant information and a seat at the table. We’re excited about collaborating with our neighbors, our university, and our state regulatory offices for healthier air.”

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) are in the process of overhauling industrial air toxic regulations to align them with public health, as directed by Gov. Kate Brown’s Cleaner Air Oregon initiative. The Cleaner Air Oregon advisory committee includes representatives from each of the BREATHE Oregon partner organizations, providing a direct connection between academic research, community advocacy, legal analysis and policy recommendations.

“State health experts and regulators depend on accurate, scientifically sound data and engaged, well-informed communities to protect the health of Oregonians,” said Lynne Saxton, director of the Oregon Health Authority. “We welcome the partnership of Meyer Memorial Trust and the grantees to achieve cleaner air in our state.”

About the PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions

The Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University empowers effective community-university collaboration for a more livable, resilient, and sustainable future. With a specific focus on addressing climate change, ISS serves as a link between the city and PSU—working across campus and in the community to provide valuable educational experiences while advancing sustainability efforts in our city and region. (

About Neighbors for Clean Air (NCA)

Neighbors for Clean Air (NCA) is a grassroots nonprofit that seeks to improve public health for all Oregonians by reducing toxic air pollution. (

Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC)

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center is an independent nonprofit organization based at Lewis & Clark Law School, and has been working since 1969 to protect the environment and natural resources of the Pacific Northwest. (

Nanoparticles and the unknown


Governor Kate Brown addresses the Cleaner Air Oregon Advisory Committee at the first meeting.

When we convened last week for the first Cleaner Air Oregon Advisory Committee meeting, members were heartened to hear the Governor reiterate her commitment to this process and to the goal of health based standards that protect the most vulnerable populations. And possibly most importantly, her call for committee members to think big when she suggested that she envisions this new program to lead the nation.

Those platitudes are easily lost when you get into the minutia that is air emissions regulations. It is doubtful that we will all be seeing eye-to-eye throughout this process, but it is clear that the 24 individuals on the Cleaner Air Oregon Advisory Committee bring a tremendous breadth of experience and knowledge  to this discussion.  And we will need it.

Up first on the topics of consideration were the fundamental questions of:

1. Applicability – What businesses will Cleaner Air Oregon rules apply to:
2. Pollutant list – should the rules address Oregon’s list of 52 air toxics, include all 187 on the EPA list, or go with stronger science of established bodies which recognize upward of 1000+ toxics and have established credible processes to evaluate and develop new standards?

On the first point, applicability seems the simplest.  All sources of toxic air pollution, which exist today or seek to do business in Oregon, should be covered by these rules. It is of course the existing health risks – from existing sources – which has driven this process so urgently this year.  And while it may seem obvious to most that Oregon’s new rules should apply to both, that is existing and new sources, state officials like to characterize the findings of the workgroup as mixed.  That is, that some programs include both, and “others” only new sources.  In reality, of the six alternative state programs that were reviewed by the technical workgroup, only one, Washington’s,  applied to only new sources.

Additionally, advocates would like to see the discussion of applicability go beyond the scope of new or existing to include a more health based evaluation of what is considered “de minimis.”  This is the first threshhold upon which the decision is made about whether or not a facility’s emissions are significant enough to be addressed by Oregon air rules.  The health based model would be a simple shift from defining “de minimis” on the toxicity of pollution, not purely on the weight or total volume of emissions.

We must remember that colored glass manufacturing skirted air regulations because of precisely the concept of “being too small.” Before allowing a “De minimis” exemption, regulators must consider whether sources operate in an area where the ambient cumulative concentrations of toxics is determined to be a health risk.

The second point is one that will potentially require the dismantling of a cornerstone of Oregon’s current air toxics program.  The current program has focused on the identification of 52 ambient benchmark concentrations for air toxics called ABC’s.  To do this Oregon convened the Air Toxics Science Advisory Committee, made up of volunteers with various science and engineering expertise, charged with reviewing existing literature to support current toxics standards. The initial committee helped both to identify what toxics should be included in Oregon’s program, as well as at what “acceptable level.”

But the six other state programs that were considered by the Cleaner Air Oregon Technical Workgroup last summer all look at much larger lists of pollutants when considering regulations.   At the minimum end, EPA has a list of 187 Hazardous Air Pollutants, conceived in the 1990’s, but to which nothing as been subsequently added.  In contrast, California’s program has standards and guidance for over 800 air toxics. In addition to an inclusive list of pollutants, California has dedicated substantial resources to researching and developing risk based concentrations (RBCs) for a large number of the listed toxics. DEQ could incorporate California’s RBCs into the Oregon program to provide certainty upfront and to conserve limited agency resources for implementation of the program.

In practicality, despite Oregon employing an independent review process through its Air Toxics Science Advisory Committee, the state has decided time and again that California’s standards are scientifically supportable.  In fact, 51 of the 52 toxics on Oregon’s list are set at the same level as California.  California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is widely recognized for scientific excellence. OEHHA employs hundreds of highly educated and trained professional staff which includes toxicologists, epidemiologists, biostatisticians and physicians; many have international reputations in their scientific fields. It is clear that Oregon would be well-served to adopt the determinations by the California board outright and forgo the lengthy and costly process of making independent determinations.

This is critical so Oregon can ensure residents that it can create health based standards that can address risks known and that may become known in the future as the growing field of monitoring and understanding risks brings better information to the fore.

One such area is in regards to pollutants smaller than PM2.5, or nano-particles, that the World Health Organization has already indicated may be addressed in the next edition of its air quality guidelines. Last month new research was published that revealed magnetite particles, derived from iron oxide, were present in the brain tissue of 37 people. Other studies have linked such particles to Alzheimer’s disease. But as of yet, there is little monitoring or robust scientific data to prove causality. It is troubling to think that Oregon would not ensure a mechanism to adequately address risk from emerging science.  But it is very difficult to envision how Oregon could in a timely and feasible way utilizing the current Oregon air toxics review process.

The decision for Oregon to broadly adopt not just California’s highly regarded pollutant list and standards, but also the mechanism to include future determinations by the OEHHA, would make it far easier for Oregon to adopt a broader range of pollutants into its program, as well as establishing an effective strategy for inclusion of future pollutants and new science to evaluate risk levels.

The importance of getting this right is fundamental to Cleaner Air Oregon achieving the Governor’s goals of health protective air standards. We hope that DEQ/OHA staff and the co-chairs of the committee will see fit to more robust discussion of this topic at the next meeting.

The public is free to submit comments on all Cleaner Air Oregon Advisory Committee agenda discussion topics.  If you have an opinion about what list of pollutants Oregon should include in its new Health Based air standards, please submit it to DEQ/OHA cleanerair team:

10.20.2016 Letter to CAO AC Co-Chairs

To see all “Big Tent Air Coalition” documents, including public comments on permanent glass manufacturing rules, VW Diesel Settlement,  and the Cleaner Air Oregon rulemaking process, please visit the “Big Tent” page.









Rally for Clean Air!

We had a moment of magic in front of the Oregon Convention Center last Wednesday, replete with rainbows.  Just before Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Health Authority convened the last of four public forums on the Cleaner Air Oregon program, the rain gave way just enough and the most diverse collection of amazing voices raised a unified chorus for clean air in Oregon.  I am speaking, of course, of the Rally for Clean Air. It was truly remarkable in the collection of the twelve organizations demonstrating the continued strength of community consensus that Cleaner Air Oregon must deliver health based standards that ensure clean air for everyone all of the time.

Neighbors for Clean Air wishes to thank all the partner organizations who showed up and made it happen, bringing tables (thank you, NECN), tents (thank you, Oregon PSR), bringing sound systems (thank you, 350 PDX) and bringing themselves and their powerful testimony:

Nicholas Caleb– Neighbors for Clean AirDSC_0081
Alma Velazquez – Cully Air Action Team
Dayna Jones – OPAL Environmental Justice / Lewis and Clark Law School
Jessica Rojas – Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods
Dr. Susan Katz, MD – Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility
Rob Nosse – Oregon House of Representatives, District 42
Jessica Vega Pederson, Oregon House of Representatives, District 47, Candidate for Multnomah County Commissioner
Chris Winter – Crag Law Center

The organizations which sponsored the event were: Oregon Physicians for Responsibility, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Crag Law Center, Beyond Toxics, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, South Portland Air Quality, Eastside Portland Air Coalition, North Portland Air Quality, Cully Air Action Team, Neighbors for Clean Air, and 350 PDX.

DSC_0083And thanks to Sangye Ince-Johannsen, if you missed it, you can watch the video of the speeches.  Definitely worth the time!

And while the voices outside the convention center were fresh and new, the ones framing the conversation inside the Convention Center Ballroom at the DEQ Cleaner Air Oregon Public Forum  reminded us that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure the outcome of this effort is health based standards that ensure clean safe air for everyone all the time.


You can help too and add your voice to this chorus, by participating in the DEQ/OHA  online survey.  These are the same questions that were put to attendees at all of the public forums held across the state.


What we can learn from the Permanent Glass Manufacturing Rule

In a region that lives under the threat of activity along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, we can’t take earth moving events lightly.  But this week, the ground moved.  This ground moving was not the buildings tumbling down kind, but more the biblical mountain moving kind.  Where the public’s faith, hard work, and persistence paid off to see the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality move positively in the direction of developing health based air emissions regulations.

This week the Environmental Quality Commission voted to adopt new rules, referred to as the Colored Art Glass Manufacturing rule or CAGM, which mark huge progress toward visioning what health based air emissions regulations could look like, by incorporating many of the key comments written by Crag Law Center attorney Chris Winter, on behalf of Neighbors for Clean Air and our partner public health advocates. Specifically, DEQ strengthened the permanent CAGM rule from its first temporary version by incorporating much of what the public asked for:

  1. Reducing the applicability threshold for the rule from 10 tons per year of hazardous air pollutant- containing glass to five tons per year.
  2. Making the rule apply statewide rather than only in the Portland area.
  3. Changing the standard that confirms a control device is working from the 99.0% capture efficiency standard to a ‘grain loading’ particulate matter standard at the control device outlet of 0.005 gr/dscf (grains of particulate per dry standard cubic foot of air.)
  4. Changing the rule’s 24-hour health benchmark for hexavalent chromium from 36 ng/m3 (nanograms per cubic meter of air) to five ng/m3, based on a re-evaluation of the exposure levels that could pose an unacceptable risk to human health.

There are a plenty of ways these rules don’t go far enough. And it is likely DEQ will get an earful from the many folks who still live everyday in high risk zones for toxic pollutants as the agency wraps up its statewide public forums on the Cleaner Air Oregon program next week, Wednesday October 5th at the Portland Convention Center.  (If you plan to go – join our Rally for Clean Air at 5pm)

But it is important to take a moment and reflect on how truly monumental a shift this rule adoption represents in the trajectory of an agency which has spent nearly two decades articulating the public health risk of air toxics, yet didn’t adopt a single recommendation (much less rule) to reduce them.  Until this week.  With one new rule, for one category of sources of toxic heavy metals.

This is the basis of hope and optimism to ride in on as we commence the next phase of the nearly two year Cleaner Air Oregon broader rule making process.  This process, like promulgating this one new colored glass manufacturing rule demonstrates, will take time and frustrate many that participate.  But the promise of success is what can sustain us.  The promise that Oregon can truly lead the nation in recommitting to the true values of sustainability that go deeply beyond green washing platitudes. The promise that outcomes instead embrace innovation and a true commitment to environmental responsibility, social equity, cultural vitality and economic health.

In the end, we know, and now have proof, there are common sense ways that air regulations can provide predictable guidance to businesses to ensure their operations don’t pose or add to unacceptable public health risks in any of our communities. The regulatory certainty Governor Brown promises through Cleaner Air Oregon will allow all businesses large and small to identify problems earlier and plan ahead to address them, simultaneously giving the public reliable measuring sticks to literally, breathe easier.