CAAT testifies on SB 792 (NW Metals)

NorthWest Metals, 7600 NE Killingsworth St Portland OR 97218

Senate Bill 792 was designed to address the NW Metals fire 2018. CAAT submitted this written testimony:

Written Comments to Oregon Legislative Assembly regarding

Senate Bill 792

March 12, 2019

The NW Metals catastrophic fire one year ago on March 12, 2018 caused physical and psychological harm, and property destruction, and led to a mandatory evacuation of residents in the Cully community. Hazardous wastes, from burning solid-waste stored haphazardly on-site, became airborne and settled over a wide area to the west of the facility, including public schools, community and individual local agricultural gardens, private yards, and public parks. Hazardous waste and fire extinguishing fluids from the site were not contained and most likely entered into the local watershed, already compromised by decades of under-regulated industrial contamination. 

The Cully community and the outlying environs have a number of unregulated solid waste storage facilities and auto-dismantlers, also known as ‘chop shops’. No one is sure of the actual number since it seems many of these polluters are not regulated. These unregulated polluters continue to negatively affect the health of the community and diminish property values. These unregulated polluters are also negatively affecting the health of local wildlife populations and continue to complicate the clean-up of existing polluted waterways, including the Columbia Slough watershed, by improperly storing and containing solid wastes and hazardous wastes, spills, catastrophic releases, and illegal dumping. 

As the community suffered through the NW Metals catastrophic fire and airborne toxic event, we turned for relief to Oregon DEQ and to our Oregon state legislators. We have asked state Agencies to regulate these facilities and perform investigatory actions, levy fines, and aggressively pursue polluters and shut them down if they refuse to implement protective practices to stop public exposure to hazardous wastes. We have asked legislators to impose conditions on the permitting of polluters to provide a buffer zone between them and community households. As a frontline community with many low-income neighbors, families with children, elderly residents on fixed incomes, first-time homeowners, new immigrant/refugee families, and a vibrant new housing development economy, the community expressed frustration with the existing state apparatus for protecting our health and well-being and expressed an alacrity for implementation of changes that would allow existing laws and regulations to be acted upon. We are, a year plus later, still waiting for state relief from these known dangers, created by under-regulated and unregulated solid-waste storage companies, auto-dismantlers, and chop shops. 

The Amendments to SB 792 begin to address some of these concerns but not to  address the existing problem. In other words, members of the community are well aware of the problems that exist and still await action from the State Agency’s to insure the health and well-being of local residents and the health of the local wildlife and ground water supplies. Furthermore, as environmental contamination and resultant health maladies become more evident, due to past regulatory and Agency failures, CAAT (Cully Air Action Telemetry) and CAN (Cully Association of Neighbors) encourage the state to revisit this piece of legislation and improve it to create an enforceable SB that serves the people and communities of Oregon, including protecting their health from existing and future toxic contamination, rather than create a ‘paper tiger’ that maintains the same levels of past inadequacy, or worse, that reflects the well-documented influence of industries financial contributions rather than the well-being of the people.

In regards to the particular language designations and constraints of SB 792 (2019) Amendments CAAT (Cully Air Action Telemetry), and CAN (Cully Association of Neighbors), urge legislators to correct the following, and to insert the additional items, described below:

Proposed Amendments to SB 792 requested by Representative KOTEK (v. 3.11.2019)

Section 1 (1) Line 7 Insert

…ORS 822.110, except for ORS 822.110 Section (2) (a) and (b),…

Section 1 (2) Line 13 Insert

…of Transportation, after public notice and consultation with community groups, tribal groups, and other affected parties. Public Notice will be financed in toto by company or individuals requesting site expansion.

Section 1 (d) Page 2, Line 15. Change 

(d) Maintains a current bond that meets the requirements under ORS 822.120. 


(d) Increase the current bond by amending ORS  822.120 written guarantee to $500,000.00

Section 1  New Item. Insert after (d) Page 2, Line 15.

(e) Maintain verifiable environmental liability insurance.

(d- The existing $500 ‘written guarantee’ is a joke, right? It has to be. It is merely a signal to polluters that it is cheaper to create toxic plumes and illegal solid-waste dumps, pay the fine, and walk away than be a responsible neighbor to local communities. Oregon DEQ has repeatedly stated to the community that they do not have the resources to do their job, so increasing the ‘written guarantee’ within OSR 822.120 becomes a priority, or,

e- Mandatory, verifiable environmental liability insurance needs to be codified within existing regulatory framework, just the same as any Oregon resident is required to have auto liability insurance if they choose to drive an automobile, because industry has proven over and over again that ‘gaming the system’ at taxpayers expense is an acceptable part of a business model in the State of Oregon. Prior incompetence by state Agencies has also allowed polluting industries to create and exploit loopholes, or flat-out ignore environmental responsibilities with little of no consequence.)

Section 4 New Item(s) (9) and (10) page 5 Line 11. Insert

(9) Either enter into a Prospective Purchaser Agreements (PPAs) with DEQ, publicly noticed to adjacent communities for public  comment before implementation, or, 

(10) Earmark not less than 5% of company’s total gross receipts to an Orphan Sites Account (OSA) Contaminated Site cleanup fund.

(These two items may be combined, but it is crucial that the State allows and directs Agency’s to create a framework for responsible practices for polluting industries, and to allow public participation in the design of PPA’s. The OSA, if it still exists in Oregon’s state framework, should be pre-loaded by polluting industries rather than rely on future taxpayer revenue. IF OSA has sunset, then a new Orphan Fund for solid-waste auto dismantles and storage facility needs to be created.)

Section 7 (h) (4) Page 6, Line 13. Change

Change “may” to “shall”

Please make these changes and alert CAAT, and the constituency that you have done so.

Cully Air Action Telemetry – CAAT (formerly Cully Air Action Team)

Cully Association of Neighbors – CAN

One thought on “CAAT testifies on SB 792 (NW Metals)”

  1. Verbal Comments: The NW metal fire occurred one year ago today. I was teaching a middle school class and heard on the radio that a fire had started at an unregulated chop shop and tire storage facility in my neighborhood of Cully.

    The fire quickly became catastrophic,
    local responders were overwhelmed and just let the tires and hazardous materials burn.
    I live one block south of the evacuation zone,
    the air was acrid and thick with black soot.
    All the neighborhood birds went silent and disappeared
    Most everyone at the next NA meeting asked me about the safety of their newly planted vegetable gardens and the soil. I told them to contact DEQ, but DEQ said they could not afford to do widespread soil testing.

    Homes adjacent to the site caught fire and burned, animals and pets died, DEQ tried to contain hazardous waste flow from the site but failed and the contaminated water went off site.

    My auto mechanic told me a few days later that DEQ and the state forced him to file all this paperwork and plans for his facility, and he had done so. But NW Metals didn’t. NW Metals decided to set up a chop shop, inappropriately store hazardous and solid wastes, and knew that the state would not respond.
    NW Metals knew the state would not do anything.

    My auto mechanic was angry with the state, and the DEQ, because of that double standard. He still obeys the law, but what does that signal of non-compliance send to others, including polluting industries?

    Psychological harm became evident when community members shared stories at the NA of crying children, children having nightmares from the catastrophic fire, feelings of helplessness, and feelings of anger towards the State and Agencies for not doing their job.

    NW Metals was fined by DEQ, numerous times, for violations and improper containments of hazardous waste, and now they are appealing the fine with their shell company, FHA Holdings. They continue to operate and store hazardous material on site and flaunt the DEQ investigations and fines.

    Because, they know they can.

    Illegal chop shops and unregulated solid and hazardous waste storage facilities are a relative common eyesore along the Columbia Highway and Portland Highway corridors of NE Portland. People assumed, myself included, that they were permitted by DEQ to operate a business, and that safeties were in place to prevent catastrophic fires, illegal dumps, and toxic plumes.

    That was not the case.

    This bill, SB792, is a start, but it needs to become much stronger:

    A buffer zone should be established and codified in existing regulatory frameworks between the community and auto dismantlers and other polluting industries.

    All auto-dismantlers and polluting industries need to have and maintain verifiable environmental liability insurance.

    For any existing site expansion, public notice and consultation with community groups, tribal groups, and other affected parties should be required. Public Notice should be financed in toto by company or individuals requesting site expansion.

    People are tired of bearing this burden, worried about future health issues caused by environmental contamination, and unsure of the safety of the yards or plants they grow in their veggie gardens.

    Tonight I’ll be reporting back to the Cully NA about this hearing. I don’t want to pretend to be optimistic.

    SB792 needs to be strengthened, as noted in my written comments. (Scroll up on this webpage for them!)

    The state should not allow polluting industries to water-down SB 729.

    We all know that water is toxic.

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