Tag Archives: Toxics

Cully’s Vile ‘Soup’ recipe finally released by DEQ in their 2018 Oregon Air Toxics Monitoring Summary

The term ‘Vile Soup’ came to me as I was skimming through the tables at the end of the 2018 Oregon Air Toxics Monitoring Summary, released this last February 2020. I figured DEQ would interpret the numbers as stand-alone measurements that were all below a dangerous threshold. With DEQ announcements of the last few weeks, that does seem to be the case. As an environmental activist, and a breather, living near the Owens-Brockway facility and other industrial polluters, however, my own concerns were not assuaged by these numbers. And beyond the numbers, what is that prevalent tang in the air? The constant presence of soot and recurrent solvent odors are easy to notice. Are my senses lying to me? Or, maybe it is just another unusual airflow pattern from PDX or the diesel trucks along Columbia Highway and I-205? 

In the DEQ report, there are quite a few compounds that read at a maximum level with a higher concentration at the Cully monitoring site (Helensview Alternative High School) than they do from other sites. When volatile chemical compounds meet, they often interact with each other, creating new compounds that might create more, different, negative health effects for the human body than the original toxin. The large amount of measurable compounds in the Cully airshed creates a ‘vile soup’ of different compounds. We breathe this soup. Every day. But the additives are not just arrowroot put into a broth to thicken it, or olive oil to give it a luxurious swirl. Instead, the amount of different chemicals at levels higher than other sites create a vile recipe that we all smell, taste, and inhale. 

When chemicals combine and modify each other, the health effects of this mixture of volatile chemical compounds is called ‘synergistic effects’. The state has done no research on synergistic effects even though they know it is detrimental to health and is happening in our community.

In term of metals (which may or may not be synergists even as they are of individual concern): the reading for lead shows a higher rate than at the NATT’s trend sites (NATT sites are the national trend/average monitors set in specific locations around the city and the nation for baseline comparison.) The problem with lead is that any amount is dangerous, especially to children living near the polluting facilities or attending the three schools within a mile of Owens-Brockway. Lead also bioaccumulates. Once it enters our body, lead will embed its molecules into our blood, bones and teeth, and tissue organs, and that creates real problems like cancers and neurological disabilities. 

Chromium-6, a very dangerous carcinogenic metal, shows a maximum reading of .0842 (higher than any other monitor), and yet has a high 96%ND (which is confusing because %ND rates need to be below 80% for the reading to be valid.) The arsenic levels are also very high, and may be the result of Owens-Brockway adding raw materials, like sand, into the glass-cuttle mixture to achieve uniformity. We already have high rates of arsenic in our local environment, so adding more to our airstream and yards increases the likelihood of damage to the body.

While this information is a bit frightening, CAAT means to illustrate the types of dangerous compounds that are routinely sampled in the local airshed. There are so many pollutants around us, some are natural and have always been here, although they may have been hidden underground or in rocks. The industrial pursuit for efficient production and increased profit has mined these metals and brought them closer to us. Metals, mined and then introduced into industrial processes, do not go away, not through incineration nor chemical degradation. They can settle on the ground and sink into watersheds, and they also can be taken up in plant leaves, fruits, and vegetables and bio-accumulate, fixing themselves in our bodies.

As industrial production grew, thousands of under-regulated and poorly understood synthetic chemicals were developed and entered into the mix. Among them are VOC’s, which will disperse with the airstream and most will eventually breakdown. These are the ‘chemical’ scents we catch while hanging out in our backyards tending the garden or enjoying the open-space yards Cully is so well know for. Many VOC’s are extremely toxic in large airborne toxic events and some are recognized as cancer causing carcinogens. Some also are bio-accumulative. While longterm human exposure from many VOC’s has not been researched enough, CAAT surmises that in the least VOC’s are respiratory irritants, causing headaches, nosebleeds, and dizziness, and probably have effects on our emotional health and immune systems as well. 

PAH’s last a lot longer in the environment than VOC’s and are often associated with diesel, and tobacco smoke. As PubChem states:

”Our environment is contaminated with a diverse array of chemicals; one of which is polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). While some PAHs are potent by nature, others undergo interactions such as additivity, synergism, antagonism or potentiation to manifest their toxicity.” https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/9154#section=Interactions

These metals are of concern to the people in the Cully and other local neighborhoods. In the DEQ Monitoring Summary, they register at higher levels in Cully compared to other testing sites:

Arsenic (developmental toxin)

Chromium (carcinogen; developmental toxin; female/male reproductive toxin)

Nickel (carcinogen; probable for developmental toxin; F/M reproductive toxin)

Selenium (selenosis)

These VOCs are of concern to the people in the Cully and other local neighborhoods. Most of these register below danger levels, however, they are part of the recipe for the vile ‘soup’:

High compared to other testing sites:

1,2 Dimethylbenzene (used in many industrial processes, one form being xylene, can cause headaches and depression) (the SE 45th site has some crazy maximums)

1,3 Butadiene (carcinogen; developmental toxin; female/male reproductive toxin)

2-Butanone (MEK) (respiratory irritant)

Acetone (developmental toxin; male reproductive toxin)

Acrylonitrile (carcinogen) (high numbers at other test sites but Cully has 100% ND which is mighty strange)

Benzene (carcinogen; developmental toxin; female/male reproductive toxin)

Carbon disulfide (carcinogen; developmental toxin; F/M reproductive toxin)

Carbon tetrachloride (carcinogen)

Ethylbenzene (carcinogen) (the SE 45th site has a high maximum)

Toluene (developmental toxin)

Trichlorotrifluoroethane (a CFC that destroys the UV protective ozone layer)

These PAH’s are of concern to the people in the Cully and other local neighborhoods. Most of these register below danger levels, however, they are part of the vile ‘soup’:

Acenaphthene (carcinogen; respiratory irritant)

Dibenzofuran (carcinogen if in polychlorinated form)

Fluoranthene (potential carcinogen, scary synergistics)

Fluorene (irritant)

Phenanthrene (irritant)

Napthalene (irritant; potential carcinogen, mothball odor)

Carbonyls:

Acetaldehyde (carcinogen)

Formaldehyde (carcinogen)

There is a lot of data in these tables, and the DEQ did well to set up these monitors. What we, as residents, decide to do with the information and data is up to us. DEQ will continue to monitor, and to permit polluters, as is required under the law, but only the local politicians can make the changes necessary to protect you from industrial polluters and the vile ‘soup’ that they create.

Call them up and tell them about your concerns:

Governor Kate Brown: 503-378-4582;

Speaker Tina Kotek Capitol Phone: 503-986-1200, District Phone: 503-286-0558:

Senator Michael Dembrow Capitol Phone: 503-986-1723; 

Representative Barbara Smith Warner Capitol Phone: 503-986-1445; 

Representative Tawna Sanchez Capitol Phone: 503-986-1443;  

Senator Lew Frederick Capitol Phone: 503-986-1722; 

DEQ Complaint Line 1-888-997-7888 

Most of the health effects info comes from: 

The Prop. 65 List/OEHHA: https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/proposition-65-list/

or, PubChem: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

The 2018 Oregon Air Toxics Monitoring Summary is available online at 

https://www.oregon.gov/deq/aq/Documents/2018AirToxicsSum.pdf

CAAT Written Testimony on CAO Risk Hazard Assessments

Owens-Brockway, Portland, OR.

Updated July 2019, original April 14, 2019 

Cully Air Action Telemetry (CAAT)

Regarding Section 7.1.b of SB 1541 of CAO

Severe human health effects should comprise individual as well as additive effects.

‘Severe’ should be an indication that is a causative for any negative health effects

Since these toxins, many of which are synthetic and do not exist in the natural environment, affect the human system in negative ways, causing potentially permanent injury, they should all be considered severe. The bee sting analogy (OHA) does not really work for me. No one willingly seeks to be stung, even if bee venom is a non-synthetic irritant for which the majority of the population is only going to receive a minor irritation. The sting is still severe in its delivery, and of course one can literally be stung to death. Yellow jackets? Killer Bees? What about yellowish airstreams and killer polluters? Are both acute instances and chronic exposure ‘severe’? I think so. And who knows what the emissions are, at what levels and how concentrated, and any potential densities of exposure? Polluters are, after all, allowed to self-report emission inventories and releases. Are they always being honest? Ever hear of Sapa defrauding NASA for the last 20 years? 

Human sensitivity is not the same as acute physical injury. Severe should be construed as a causative for any negative health effects. In the same way, hydrogen fluoride may be a different hazard than selenium, and have a different TRV, but chronic exposure to selenium will have a severe effect on human system including vision loss, paralysis, cardiovascular, hepatic and renal effects.

The State must protect the health of the community. At least, that is what I say to myself each November when I pay my property taxes. And, when someone moves into a community, they may not even be aware that different emissions from polluting industries will have a severe effect on their health and the health of the wider community, or have the base knowledge that something is wrong with that smokestack across the street. The headaches and coughing, the kids nightmares and bloody noses, may not be severe in some peoples views, but over time….

So, Option 1, the choice that offers widest protection statute for the health and well-being of the local community, and the adjacent communities is the only choice.

And, industry should not be allowed to slow this process down. The people of Oregon have already decided they want to live in cleaner and healthier environment.

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Comments on the Draft Recommended Procedures for Conducting Toxic Air Containment Health Risk Assessments (TACHRA)

Overall, the TACHRA document provides a comprehensive and detailed framework for Oregon-based polluting industries to perform a series of tasks that will allow them to continue to pollute and endanger local residents and fauna, and poison flora, waterways, and land.

These areas of concern came up for me as I read though this document:

1: Allowing industries to self-assess with little or no oversight from DEQ, or any other State Agencies, is an open invitation for fraud, and for unscrupulous companies to provide skewed data.

2: Public involvement in both this process and the process of determining RAL’s and Adjusted RAL’s is virtually non-existent (post-SB 1541), and so removes the affected population from joining the debate to protect their own health, lands, and air.

3: Many determinative effects and resultative actions remain undefined or unclear, including what, if any, penalties exist for providing false data, for operating illegal un-permitted sites, and for polluters who repeatedly break the law and violate health standards.

4: Are any businesses or industries or other entities that release dangerous pollutants into the air exempt from RAL’s?

5: Why are so few actions and solutions being implemented to actually reduce health risks to the public?

If self-assessment by polluters remains the only reporting mechanism, Level Three and Four Risk Assessments should be required when community complaints reach a threshold of consistency over time and scope. For example, if DEQ or other State Agencies receive a set number of complaints over a six-month time period for a particular and unique nuisance, the local polluter must do a verifiable Level There or Level Four Risk Assessment within a reasonable period of time. Verification can be conducted by the State or an independent and reputable third-party. Because of the immediacy of complaints from the public, a venue for public input needs to be implemented so both the State and the polluter hear from the community on the effects of the pollution. The resolution of pollution problems must rely on public participation as much as, if not more than, industry self-assessment since the likelihood of under-reporting of toxin release by polluters is well established, historically and locally. In the case of invisible or unnoticeable toxins, local health effects should also be considered as a determinate factor in assessment using local epidemiological reporting by clinics, schools, and others. 

Again, the result of self-assessment leaves the pollution, and resultant health burden, on the public and is not a verifiable quantification of pollutant releases. To be equitable, the public must be made aware of, and be included in the process of determining, the dangers of living and raising children near polluting industries and businesses. 

Going through the TACHRA document:

In section 2.1, page three, paragraph five, regarding the final sentence: Are cancer burdens assumed, or are they statistical from OHA and other Agencies data, or other sources? If polluters are clustered together, as they are in the Cully neighborhood in Portland, statistical data from OHA, health providers, and schools would be more relevant than assumed cancer rates.

In Section 2.2.1, page five: For polluters within 2 km of a school, Level 3 or Level 4 Screening Risk Assessments should be mandated given the susceptibility of young people to pollution related chronic and other illnesses. In general, ELAF should be prioritized.

In Section 2.2.2, and in general: While Mutlipathway Factors already include agricultural land and bodies of water where fishing takes place, wetlands need to also be considered as they are incubator zones for many species, including endangered species. Given methane outgassing from wetlands, another method should be established for monitoring wetlands habitats, perhaps tissue sampling of indicator species.

Section 2.3: The Risk Assessment Process needs to be more community inclusive with the public more engaged. Perhaps a community complaint designation for the polluter of ‘high complaint level’ (many complaints) or ‘low complaint level’ (few or no complaints) for areas zoned for residential use in the vicinity of the polluter needs to be designed. The public should be informed of this ‘complaint level’ during the Risk Assessment Process.

Section 2.4.1: Under Modeling Protocol, page nine, bullet point one, include ‘sensitive wildlife areas.’

Section 3.1.1: Polluters estimating pollutant emission rates compounds the main problem with the Draft TACHRA regarding the dangers of industry self-assessment, as stated previously. Polluters have made a mockery of self-assessment and fostered corrupt practices at the State level, and this has all been well documented by media outlets, independent scholars, and environmental activists over decades of research and investigation. Allowing polluters to “assess toxic air contamination emission at the capacity to emit” (3.1.1, bullet point 2) just provides one more level of distortion for unscrupulous operators. A better way may exist in examining chemical intake manifests and determining where toxic compounds, and elements, go after being processed by the industry. For example, if a company is receiving 1000 .lbs of methyl chloride a mechanism should be created to account for the use, synthesis, and release of the dangerous chemical emissions or byproducts into the local environment. Needless to say, any hazardous residues must be disposed of properly. This is a more responsive methodology to local health concerns and contamination than relying on the ‘capacity to emit’ method. 

In terms of Adjusted Hazard Index RAL’s (page 14), public participation and community inclusion with EQC Advisory is crucial. Developmental effects from pollutants are recognized in the Draft TACRA but need to be prioritized, especially for mutagenic contaminants [e.g Cr(VI)]. There is a critical need for verifiable assessment and containment of mutagenic pollutants. Marginalized and other frontline communities deserve special protection, outreach, and inclusion given neonatal care concerns (access, affordability, education, language, etc.) Any development of higher index numbers should necessitate more robust pollution containment procedures. 

Section 3.2, page 16, paragraph two: Why does ‘Fugitive Emissions at Stage One’ not include on-site truck transportation emissions and spillage?

Section 3.3, page 17, paragraph three: Simple modeling for one hour extrapolated to a 24-hour emission footprint is an invitation to provide skewed data and perpetuate fraud. A more reasonable approach would include either Level 3/4 Screening Risk Assessment, or on-site 24-hour modeling for a multi-month long sampling period.

Section 3.4, page 17, paragraph seven: The public needs to be informed of, and invited to, any and all meetings between DEQ and the polluter.

Section 3.5: Title V facilities and industries that use or produce criteria pollutants, or highly toxic PBT’s, should be mandated to perform Level Four Screening Risk Assessments. PBT emitting, or production, facilities and industries should have mandated TBACT to eliminate or minimize toxin releases into the environment. Public notice and inclusion here are crucial. 

The State has spent considerable time and resources defining explicit Risk Action Levels. However, communities should not be forced to trade or relinquish their health safety, or the health safety of their animals, lands, agricultural products and consumable garden foods, or the health of local flora and fauna for any increased risk that comes from CAO Risk Action Level permitting. Unless enforcement of environmental quality regulations and clear consequences for pollution violations are codified within the TACHRA, including enforceable sanctions, mandatory retrofits and filtering using TBACT (e.g. thermal oxidizers, scrubbers, containment housing, and electrostatic filters), substantial monetary penalties, or shut-downs, then TACHRA will not be a sufficient protection for the people and environs of Oregon. As mentioned earlier, the States’ and Agencies reliance on unsubstantiated and unverifiable self-assessments from polluters may very well allow for a return to past practices where DEQ functioned more as a bystander, aware that something was going on with some toxic pollution release and contamination, but unable or unwilling to take any action, rather than a functioning regulatory agency charged with protecting the health of the people of Oregon, or the Oregon environment.

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.