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.




Is Cleaner Air Oregon really different?

I wrote this “open letter” in response to a facebook post earlier this week on the Eastside Portland Air Coalition facebook page.  It was a comment from one of EPAC’s founders, Jessica Applegate, a woman who has been tirelessly dedicated to clean air activism since last spring, and who has emerged as a true leader for her community.

Dear Jessica,

You made such an important point, and asked such an important question, when considering whether there exists any reason to believe Cleaner Air Oregon will substantially change the way air pollution is regulated in our state; you wrote: “This is scary and supports my worst fears- that all of the Cleaner Air Oregon will be for nothing.  How is this different?”

The simplistic answer is that this is different exactly because of you.  Because you, and thousands of your neighbors care about the outcome.  If you want to know – that is the only distinction I can see between now and 10 years ago when the state put together and executed the Portland Air Toxics Solutions (PATS) project. And it is the reason to be hopeful, beyond hopeful, optimistic. Again, because of Eastside Portland Air Coalition and South Portland Air Quality, and North Portland Air Quality, and Cully Air Action Team, and The Dalles Air Coalition, and Corvallis Clean Air, and Haydon Island Clean Air.  Never before has there been this widespread, but connected, network of clean air activists laser focused on what the state is doing around air emissions regulations.

When I first joined the PATS Advisory Committee (PATSAC) in 2009, I was so much like you are now as the Eastside Portland Air Coalition representative on the Cleaner Air Oregon Advisory Committee (CAOAC) this fall.  I had only just months before been awakened from my deep ignorance of the problem, having no applicable training or grounding in anything related to the complexity of atmospheric chemistry, air emissions regulations or even community organizing, for that matter.  I had successfully (by metrics at the time) rallied friends and neighbors around the crazy injustice of a regulatory system that made polluting our neighborhood with toxic heavy metals legal and that used only the flimsiest metrics, annualized averaged ambient concentrations, to measure any consideration of health risk.  And, like you, I had quickly connected enough dots to see that the problem of toxic air pollution was not just my neighborhood’s problem but it was the problem of any Oregonian that lived next to a facility that was permitted to emit toxic chemicals into the air, and anyone who breathed in any neighborhood in Portland.

Most importantly, I knew this was about all the children who went to schools and lived in neighborhoods as – or more – polluted than mine, whose parents and collective community didn’t have the time or resources to fix this themselves. Where populations were more likely to have higher percentages of people of color, lower income, and non-english speaking families, making navigating the craziness that is DEQ public process impossible, much less establishing a basic level of understanding about the problem and risk.

So it was, despite the chorus of skepticsm of long term advocates, I entered into the PATS committee work with great expectations. Like now with Cleaner Air Oregon, elected officials I turned to directed me to that as the answer to my concerns.  The state had a plan to resolve the deficiencies of air emissions regulations in our state.  This would be the path to closing the huge gap between what was currently legal and what was reasonable to assume was a risk to my children and all the people that breathe air in Portland.

I don’t need to rehash the outcomes of that process. The Oregonian reporter Rob Davis did a far more admirable job than I could hope to last spring in his investigative report: How Portland learned its air was toxic – and failed to fix it.

So why should we be optimistic in the face of the same such entrenched interests that will be dedicated to make this latest effort fail? This time around, why should we expect regulators to regulate and industry to capitulate?

We don’t.

It is not those players who will be different –  it is ours.  During the PATSAC process there was a loose affiliation of like-minded individuals and organizations representing the public. We were unfortunately just not prepared to do much more than support each other’s individual contributions, and more often, exchange glances and roll our eyes in understanding when we heard cringe worthy declarations of opposition to anything that moved in a progressive direction.  And when the dust settled, as we suspected, the game had been so rigged, that there had probably been no way to move against industry opposition anyway.

But as I predicted then the day I walked out, that end was just the beginning.  We have not wasted the time since, instead spending the subsequent years building broad awareness among elected leaders and local municipalities of the failure of existing regulations; of the existence of solutions to deal with toxic air pollution.  We have learned even more about the growing scientific consensus of risk, and the means by which folks working on the forefront of technology were identifying new ways to measure and new ways to mitigate pollution.  We have worked with companies willing to help us understand what is possible.  We have continued to push against ones that won’t change. We have joined forces with public health advocates.  In the lead up to the 2015 legislative session, we did the hard work to build a genuine coalition of over 20 like-minded organizations.  This coalition educated ourselves about and worked together against the most insidious air toxic in our state: diesel.

But still what we needed was you.  You – and all of the people who have risen up over these last six months speaking out, telling their stories, saying “no more!” – this is our army – the foundation of confidence that we will prevail.  We have expertise and more importantly we have solidarity, at least around the most basic principle:  All Oregonians deserve clean air all the time.

With sincere respect,



Throughout the month of September, the Department of Environmental Quality will host a series of statewide forums on the progress of the Cleaner Air Oregon reform process. On October 5th at 6-8 PM, the final forum will take place in Portland at the Oregon Convention Center.

Before the event, clean air advocacy groups will host a rally to communicate a vision for how we can achieve clean, healthy air in our communities. Let’s show DEQ that there is mass public support for real change!

Follow the Clean Air Rally event page on facebook to get updates on speaker list and program description.






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.

PATSAC work concludes

Monday marked the final scheduled meeting of the Portland Air Toxics Solutions Advisory Committee.  I am feeling a little chagrined this morning, as my participation did not end how I would have hoped.

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