Category Archives: Articles and Essays

Articles and Essay about CAAT and Cully pollution

Porter Yett to introduce new filtering device

Porter Yett, the asphalt manufacturing facility on Cully Blvd between Portland Highway and Columbia, is the largest source of community nuisance odors complaints to DEQ locally, and one of the main concerns for CAAT in terms of focus. Their releases of noxious odors have long plagued the neighborhood. CAAT has been working with DEQ to pressure the company to take some responsibility for these contaminants and health effects, and to mitigate the odors.

It is with a sense of optimism, tempered by skepticism, that we welcome Porter Yett’s announcement that they will be using a new containment and filtering system called Blue Smoke Control to mitigate odors. Blue Smoke Control seems a promising and innovative system. The new Control system provides a more robust filtering system than the previous odor removal systems used by Porter Yett.

From the company brochure it seems that all production areas, from the entry of aggregate into the boilers for heating, to off-loading the finished asphalt into trucks will be in containment and toxic fumes filtered. Whether or not this truly ameliorates the problems of nuisance odors and toxicity release remains to be seen, or smelled. But CAAT is hopeful that Porter Yett’s initiative on mitigating the stench does work, and we applaud the company for moving to install this technology.

CAAT will continue to closely monitor this new development as the spring and summer paving season, with high asphalt production volumes, commences. It will still remain important for community members to file complaints about any noxious odors with DEQ, so that we at CAAT can follow-up and pressure DEQ into actionable response.

How Galway’s Trash is Reminsicent of Portland’s Air

I want to share a story about pollution, and the excuses that are made to pretend that ignoring its existence will solve the problem.

I moved to Galway, Ireland, for a spell when I was 25. (If I had my druthers, I would never have left! Ah, immigration!) I arrived on an amazing September day, walking through the center city, pondering how and where I was going to work, where I would live, and what music I would see first. My meanderings took me from Shop Street, to High Street, to Quay Street, the fresh Galway Bay air surrounding me, billowing clouds in the sky, a lighthearted stride and a new beginning.

A walkway led along a tributary to Lough Corrib, which I was admiring, when I came across a fairly thick dam of rubbish – all sorts of plastic trash, a few sneakers, some chunky items I cannot recall – and my image of this beautiful and clean city came crashing down: This could not be the result of one, or even solely a few- days of filth tossed into a river, carried downstream and plugged by a dam that on wetter days would see the water carried over its top. Why was this there?! It’s a city sustained by tourism – doesn’t anyone care to keep up its image, at least?

I decided that I was going to figure out what to do about it.

I walked to the city’s administrative buildings, and spoke with the councilor for the local environment (my terms might be wrong, here, but the man was in charge of keeping the city clean.) I described what I had seen, and he said, “Sure, it’s not usually a problem! September has seen little rain, and most of the year the water carries all that rubbish into the Bay and out to sea!” We then had a discussion about how that wasn’t truly the solution to Galway’s rubbish issues, but I divined that there really wasn’t anyone employed to clean the Lough, and that was that.

So I went to the University College Galway (now NUI) to see if I could borrow a fishing net with a long handle to scoop the stuff out. The professor I spoke with was somewhat skeptical of my endeavors, but allowed me to borrow the net, as long as I returned it by the end of the day. I took the net, bought some gloves and ten large black plastic bags, returned to the scene and got to work.

I filled one, two, three, four black plastic bags, receiving stares and furtive quizzical looks all the while. When I was up to my eighth bag, a man, the one person who had briefly struck up conversation during my junk-fishing bonanza, had purchased more bags and brought them to me.  I think I filled about twelve bags in all, and I actually began to find interesting the discarded crap in the nets.

I talked a construction crew into allowing me to sling the bags into  their skips, returned the nets, and felt a little better that, once the rain came, everything that would have been washed out to sea was diverted into landfill. (Of course, I then discovered that Galway, the fastest growing city in western Europe, only had a primary treatment plant. The swans were bathing in raw sewage! Oi.)

So where am I going with this? Today, as with many days this summer, quite a few this autumn and several already this winter, Cully’s air has been fouled with the stench of asphalt, mainly due to  atmospheric inversion.  On the days when the ground temperature is warmer than the air, it is less noticeable, so there is a better chance that the VOCs and other airborne toxics remain unnoticeable. There is no problem, right? The pollution heads skyward, dissipates, and is essentially non-existent – or at least harder to pinpoint.

The same argument prevails, that, given the right conditions, pollution goes away. It’s not in our back yard, or in anyone’s back yard. It’s for the Earth to absorb or disperse. Portland is an unwilling recipient of toxics from China, Boardman, and other distant locations, all due to atmospheric conditions. All pollution ends up somewhere. In a twisted way, our toxic inversions are positive events as they alert people that there are truly problems with our air quality legislation – they can call, complain, get active in issues that affect everyone. People need clean air to survive. We can’t let industry or government continue to hide behind the guise of dissipation or loss of jobs. Call DEQ when you smell anything! It’s up to us.

DEQ Proactively Requests Air Quality Emissions & Production Data from 1,298 Facilities in Oregon

Hopefully everyone complies! Here is the press release from Oregon DEQ, this morning:

Data from nearly 1,300 industrial facilities will strengthen air permitting program and inform Cleaner Air Oregon rulemaking
Portland, OR—The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has sent letters to industrial facilities with DEQ air permits and registrations requesting reports on their usage of substances from a list of 633 chemicals.

http://www.deq.state.or.us/aq/cao/docs/EI_Letter.p… The requested data will be used by state regulators and health experts to develop an effective health risk-based permitting program as part of Governor Brown’s Cleaner Air Oregon initiative.

Using this information, the state will develop a more comprehensive inventory of air toxics emissions. The inventory will allow DEQ and the Oregon Health Authority to develop and implement a regulatory program that appropriately prioritizes efforts to control emissions to reduce potential risks to human health. The data will also provide the foundation for recommendations to the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission for which facilities should be subject to reporting, permitting, or other regulatory requirements.

The list of chemicals that must be reported is based on a combination of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Hazardous Air Pollutants, as well lists from the Washington Department of Ecology and California Air Resources Board. With this information, DEQ will be able to determine the types of facilities using these chemicals, as well as the quantities typically used on-site. The chemicals reported will be compared with current scientific data to identify which ones pose health concerns and need to be brought into the new regulations.

The letters have been sent to 1,298 facilities in Oregon. DEQ has created a website to assist facilities in gathering and reporting new data, http://www.deq.state.or.us/aq/cao.htm DEQ will propose draft air toxics rules to the Environmental Quality Commission in December of 2017 following an extensive public engagement process, including an analysis of the emissions data as well as the fiscal and economic effects of any proposed rules.

For more information visit:
DEQ’s Air Toxics Emissions Inventory webpage, http://www.deq.state.or.us/aq/cao.htm

To receive information about this program as it develops, you may sign up for text or email updates at the Cleaner Air Oregon website, http://cleanerair.oregon.gov/

Contact: Jennifer Flynt, Public Affairs Specialist, 503-730-5924, flynt.jennifer@deq.state.or.us

 

Cully’s Spanish-speaking residents call for more information on local air toxics

Residents of the northeast Portland neighborhood of Cully gathered this week to share concerns about air pollution from local factories and passing diesel trucks.

“If we know what’s happening here we can share that information with other people who don’t know,” said Araceli Becerril. “What can we do? What should we know about how to protect ourselves.”

Becerril volunteers with a local nonprofit that advocated for clean water. So when she got an email announcing Wednesday night’s meeting about air toxins, she came to find out what what going on. She hadn’t heard about problems with the air.

And she wasn’t the only one. Two women hired for the evening to watch children while neighbors learned about air toxins, joined in.

“It’s the first time I’m hearing about this, and I’m worried,” Lleny Ku said.

Organizer Alma Velázquez, a volunteer with Cully Air Action Team (link is external), said she grew up in Guadalajara and thought you could tell if the air was polluted by the color of the air.  So when she learned about possibly unsafe levels of arsenic and cadmium near glass companies in other parts of Portland, she began organizing neighbors for a formal study on the air in their neighborhood.

As neighboring states tighten regulations on dirty emissions, Oregon has become a dumping ground for older model semi trucks. That’s a big problem for people in Cully, where a major transport route borders the neighborhood to the North. Glass and asphalt companies operate nearby, along streams and ponds marked with signs warning of polluted water.

Mirexa Acosta said she hadn’t known about the companies, but she’s not surprised. Sometimes when she walks outside, the air smells like chemicals that remind her of pesticide spray.

“We’re not informed about anything,” she said. She’d like to know how to complain.

Nina DeConcini, a regional administrator at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (link is external), told Acosta and the other attendees that the agency wanted to hear from them, and would respond to concerns with inspections and studies. The state, for example, recently installed two air monitors in the neighborhood.  They expect results will be ready this fall.

airquality_20160921-10
Lleny Ku (left) and Mirexa Acosta were startled to find out about potential problems with the air quality in Cully.

DeConcini encouraged people to call the agency’s tipline with any concerns: 888-997-7888

Matt Hoffman, a program specialist with Multnomah County Environmental Health, said the county has little control over factory emissions, but it’s looking at how to limit traffic from old diesel trucks that use county roads.

“One of the most powerful tools we have is the personal stories from people on the ground,” he said. “You talk about your experiences, your neighborhood, and your family. That can be powerful.”

https://multco.us/global/news/spanish-speaking-residents-call-more-information-air-toxins-cully-neighborhood

Clean air advocates want large glass processing plant to be an environmental model

O-IA 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

What is the Cully Air Action Team?

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.

Complain to the Oregon DEQ about an Airborne Stink Event

Questions? Contact us at info@cullycleanair.org