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.
A group of Cully neighbors is pushing for environmental improvements inside the operation of a large glass recycler on the neighborhood’s eastern edge, as the company seeks a $4 million tax break in the planned upgrade of its furnaces.
Owens-Brockway Glass Container Inc., based in Sumner, is requesting a $4 million tax abatement from the city’s Portland Development Commission as part of a $51 million improvement on their two operating furnaces. The furnaces melt pieces of glass, referred to as cullet, sourced from recycling initiatives, into 1 million bottles each day.
The Cully neighbors want to know if the plant is responsible for the arsenic plume identified in its vicinity through a US Forest Service moss study conducted in 2013 and released in its entirety in June.
While arsenic is not believed to be used in the production of glass at the plant, it may be a byproduct of the production process. Other plumes of arsenic identified through the moss data have been linked to glass factories.
In its most recent permit issued by the Oregon Department for Environmental Quality, Owens-Brockway is allowed to release 249 lbs. of lead into the air, which qualifies it for a Title V permit, the highest level of emissions permitted by the US Environmental Protection Agency and DEQ. Not required by law, the plant has no filtration system for its emissions.
DEQ officials made an unannounced visit on June 28, accompanied by EPA officials. It was determined that so-called “fugitive dust emissions” weren’t being properly handled as cullet made its way from the trucks in which it came to the facility’s conveyor chute for melting. The conveyor was also found to have some holes, and dust particles were escaping.
DEQ issued Owens-Brockway a warning letter, asking that it cover its cullet loads while they go from the truck to the chute for processing, that they perform daily visible emissions inspections and record the results, among other things.
Owens-Brockway officials did not return calls and messages seeking comment by press time.
“I want Owens to follow the same law that I and everyone in this community has to follow,” said Gregory Sotir, a member of the Cully Air Action Team, a group of neighbors working on air quality in Cully. “If they break the laws, they need to be held responsible.”
Concurrently, the Portland Development Commission, which is negotiating the company’s tax abatement request on behalf of the City of Portland, is waiting to hear from company officials about a letter it submitted in conjunction with representatives from a dozen local groups and agencies, including the Cully Air Action Team, environmental justice group Verde, area neighborhood associations, and city, county and state officials.
The letter asked for best-practice emissions filtration at the plant, emissions monitoring onsite, as well as fence line monitoring and monitoring at nearby schools. They asked for company investments in local green space in Sumner, a clean up of the toxic Johnson Lake adjacent to the plant, and local preference in employment practices.
Additionally, the letter writers want Owens-Brockway to go above and beyond their permit and follow health-based standards in their emissions, which would be cutting-edge practice in Oregon industry.
“We’re using this as an opportunity to say to the company, ‘There’s a community that really cares about what’s going on, so are you willing to do something to address this as corporate citizen?’ ” said Andy Reed, Enterprise Zone manager for PDC. “ ‘Are you willing to go above and beyond what’s expected?’ We want the project to move forward but in a responsible way.”
Owens-Brockway, a multinational Fortune 500 company, has a decidedly spotty record in the area of environmental protections. This particular plant had numerous violations in 2012 and 2013 in the regulated opacity levels in the emissions coming out of its smokestacks. It received a penalty totaling $33,200 from DEQ for the violations in July of 2013.
The company, a subsidiary of Owens-Illinois, reached a court settlement with the EPA in 2012 to pay nearly $40 million in an Ohio federal court for environmental violations in Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Reprinted from the Cully Neighbor News, Cully Association of Neighbors
These heavy metal concentrations are from the corner of NE 57th and Portland Highway.
These heavy metal concentrations are from NE Cornfoot Road adjacent to Oregon National Air Guard.
The USFS maps are located here.
What these photographs and maps show are elevated concentrations of heavy metals in our Cully neighborhood. These concentrations may come for a variety of sources including industrial polluters such as Porter Yett, Owens Brockway (just east of map edge), and others.
Thanks to our friends at Living Cully/Verde for help with this page.
Air toxics activists Alma D. Velazquez and Jennifer Jones talk with Sarah Clark of KBOO radio on June 22nd. Our Toxic Air: We Can Do Better!
Watch the workshop given by Alma Velazquez of CullyStinkTeam with Greg Bourget and Seth Woolley of PortlandCleanAir at Hollywood Library in Portland, OR.
April 30, 2016
While community members have made numerous complaints to the Oregon DEQ regarding foul and chemical odors in Cully, we have seen little real progress in addressing the mediation of such odors. Neither have we seen an accounting of the origin or monitoring of such odors. We, as residents of the Cully neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, are concerned that unregulated chemical releases may affect our long term health in a negative way as well as our short-term comfort. This is of special concern given our high population of children and elderly.
Perhaps the DEQ is unaware of the amount and nature of the chemicals being used. If so, please send them a message and document below on asphalt pollutants, (from http://www.ncair.org/toxics/asphalt/) Granted, this document only addresses toxic air pollutants related to the Porter Yett facility (5949 NE Cully Blvd.) but we hope it may spur on the DEQ to take a more responsive and transparent approach to protect the health of Cully residents. Other industries may be using similar TAPs, toluene and other PAHs yet there seems to be little information about how these TAPs are being addressed.
Cully, as a community within Oregon, is home to a very diverse and economically vulnerable population. We strongly believe that our complaints and concerns have systematically been ignored. Because of this, many of our residents may have become resigned to the fact that the air around us may be laced with known carcinogens. We are compelled to demand that the Oregon DEQ restrict Porter Yett and other TAP industries from polluting our air and endangering our health. We would further request increased monitoring and a listing of all known TAPs being used in industrial processes within 1000 feet of the Cully neighborhood boundaries. It is our deepest hope that DEQ will now focus its attention to protecting the people it is meant to serve. Please respond to this letter, and our health concerns, within 30 days.
The Cully Air Action Team, previously known as the Cully Stink Team, was started in early 2015 to address ongoing air pollution and toxicity in Portland’s Cully neighborhood. The Cully neighborhood is the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in all of Oregon, and includes many elderly and economically vulnerable people as well. It stretches roughly, from NE 42nd Ave to NE 82nd, and from NE Prescott to the contaminated Columbia Slough. The neighborhood is well-known for vegetable and flower gardens, large and beautiful trees, and oversize yards. Formerly, Cully was an agricultural area owned by Thomas Cully, and before that an important area for Native people that included the Chinook village of Neerchokikoo (Whitaker Ponds.)
Due to adverse planning that regarded residents as second-class citizens, industrial development was located along the Columbia Slough, and a large dump placed near the Union Pacific rail line. Some of these areas have been remediated, including the new Thomas Cully Park, while others allowed to continue polluting the air and groundwater.
To address the recurrent noxious odors, the Cully Stink Team has focused much of it’s efforts on the Porter W. Yett asphalt facility, just south of the rail line by NE Cully Blvd. and NE Columbia Blvd. This facility uses bitumen from the Athabasca Tar Sands region. These petrochemical products comprise some of the dirtiest carbon resources currently in use and their refining has led to a cancer epidemic among the Athabasca, the Peace River and other First Nation peoples of Alberta, Canada. In making asphalt, the Porter Yett facility releases sulfur compounds, benzene and other VOC/PAHs, carbon monoxide, and PM2.5 and PM10. Some of these compounds are carcinogenic and the others can cause respiratory difficulties and diseases including emphysema, bronchitis and asthma. Synergistic effects have, of course, been poorly researched.
Porter Yett is just one of numerous industrial polluters, including Boeing, the Oregon National Guard, and Owens Brockway glass recycling. Cully residents have repeatedly contacted Oregon State DEQ officials, filed verbal and online complaints and spoke with local elected officials about odors and toxicity. The DEQ’s response has been inadequate. The DEQ seems conditioned to weigh industrial concerns with more emphasis than local community members health concerns. We are pushing for a shift away from this legislative danger, aware that many of these pollutants have negative long-term health effects as well as short-term negative comfort effects.
We want, at a minimum, for the DEQ to represent people and protect the health of the community. We want consistent monitoring, unannounced in advance to industries, to identify point source contaminants and all carcinogens. We want effective regulations imposed to eliminate these poisons and carcinogens from entering the environment.
Cully has recurring and severe airborne stink events. Numerous complaints have been filed with DEQ yet nothing has been done to address the current airborne stink event. As taxpayers, homeowners, community members, locavore farmers, gardeners, and breathers we demand the DEQ move swiftly to eliminate carcinogens and other pollutants that are dumped, pumped, or combusted into the Cully biosphere.
Questions? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org