Have you noticed a smell of burnt matches in the air recently, in the morning when you are getting up and watering the tomatoes or getting ready for a morning jog?
Chances are you are smelling the potent industrial pollutant sulfur dioxide, SO2. The pollutant comes from the combustion of tar sands fuel, coal, and petrochemicals. Throughout the Cully air-shed this past summer the smell of SO2 was prevalent and noticeable as a recurrent nuisance. Numerous complaints to the Oregon DEQ have been met with responses ranging from “We don’t know where the SO2 is coming from” to blaming it on asphalt laying and road maintenance taking place in distant down-wind locations. Through inquires to DEQ in the past and careful research of existing permits the Cully Air Action Team does know that Owen-Illinois Brockway (O-I) and Porter Yett both produce SO2 as part of their industrial processes. Control technology does exist to capture and neutralize SO2 yet O-I has been fined by the EPA in the past for lying about installing and using that technology. Porter Yett does have a control unit to capture SO2 although it is unclear if it is operating at all times. The state leaves it to the industry to report any toxic air releases or breakdowns in capture equipment.
Aside from the states inability to determine the source of the pollutant there are other problems with SO2 too. Here is a CDC/ATSDR fact sheet about the health effects of SO2 on humans.
SO2 is primarily associated with acid rain as an environmental pollutant. There are indications that SO2 is also an indirect greenhouse gas, creating sulphate aerosols that contribute to localized climate change.
The acrid smell comes from the sulfur element and as the aerosol SO2 disperses it becomes acidic and can damage invertebrates and aquatic life. SO2 is a known danger. The mystery of where it is coming from needs to be addressed.
Portland as a municipality likes to portray itself as a leader in being responsive to community members environmental concerns. The Portland Climate Plan mentions our regions “high incidence of respiratory illnesses” and sets an objective for Community Resilience (16B, page 116) to respond to this ‘high incidence of respiratory illness’, but neglects to inform that that diesel pollution levels are exacerbated by other aerial pollutants, such as SO2 and NOX (nitrous oxide.)
I’ll explore the impact of NOX as a pollutant in another article, but if you are smelling burnt matches, that is probably SO2, from a local polluter. It is always important to file a complaint with the DEQ. Right now though, it may be best to close your windows and stay inside awhile to avoid breathing the irritating pollutants. Exercise and garden time may have to wait until the SO2 aerosol cloud dissipates.