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.
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.”
CAAT wants you to come to the Cleaner Air Oregon Public Forum on Wednesday, October 5th!
There will be a rally at 5:00pm, before the Forum officially starts at 6:00pm. The forum is schedule to end at 8:30pm.
Cleaner Air Oregon wants to hear from people across the state to pass on their views and thoughts to the CAO Regulatory Advisory Committee. This is a VERY IMPORTANT opportunity for Cully to share what is on their mind regarding the upcoming revamping of our air quality legislation.
The forum with include presentations by DEQ and OHA staff, and there will be opportunity to give this input after these presentations.
There will be childcare and interpretation if DEQ has advance notice that both are needed. Respond if you have these needs to CleanerAir.Oregon.gov/forum-rsvp
If you can’t attend, there will be an online version of the forums available via CleanerAir.Oregon.gov from Sep 13 – Oct 5.
The Cully Air Action Team has been extremely busy and involved in air quality issues over the past few months. This is the first weekly posting spree, split into several topic-based posts, serving to bring readers up to speed on CAAT’s activism and issues that exist with air quality in Cully, in addition to listing important upcoming meetings and events that people should attend. We all breathe air from the same airshed!
July saw the establishment of a weekly, 30-minute call-in conversation with representatives of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Multnomah County, to discuss the many air quality issues that affect us, in Cully: Heavy industry with little or no air filtration; several high-use transportation corridors; the Port of Portland; Forest Service moss results; Air Quality informational meetings; specific polluters I will mention, below.
The United States Forest Service (USFS) moss samples indicated that Cully is the most polluted neighborhood in all of Portland. From this data, DEQ decided to establish two air monitors in Cully. One air monitor was located on 1 Sep at Parkrose Deliverance Tabernacle on NE 57th & Portland Highway, while the second is at a BES Pumping Station on about NE 62nd, north of Columbia Highway, placed 19 Sep. Both air monitors are functioning, with data collected daily by DEQ. To complement these monitors, a meteorological data station has been mounted atop Living Cully Plaza. On 1 Oct, DEQ will begin to analyze 30 days’ worth of data from the first monitor, in addition to corresponding meteorological data, and we are told to expect results sometime mid-Oct. These results will indicate what has been in the air for 30 days, but unfortunately will not pinpoint the source of the heavy metals. If the results show that there is a level of heavy metals that exceeds state health benchmarks, OHA will take some form of action to alert public.
As to why DEQ is spending so much time, effort and outreach on Cully:
- Cully is a historically underserved community, the largest and most diverse neighborhood in Portland. There are issues of environmental justice and unheard voices that need to be immediately addressed.
- From the Moss Samples we can see that Cully is off the chartsregarding aluminum, chromium and cobalt (highest in Portland for all three), iron; very high in arsenic, lead, copper, zinc, and molybdenum. http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr938.pdf
This is a fantastic document, listing all the moss sample sites throughout the city, and the corresponding metals found in each sample. Although I knew Cully was bad, I hadn’t considered all the metals measured in the samples, as Bullseye and Uruboros were gathering attention for Chromium, Cobalt, and Arsenic. Thus, when I looked at the sample from two blocks away, I was astounded to see the aluminium measured the worst in the city. Everyone should look at their closest moss samples to see what was collected. It is difficult to envision air pollution amidst blue skies and gorgeous days.
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!