Tag Archives: Toxics

CAAT Written Testimony on CAO Risk Hazard Assessments

Owens-Brockway, Portland, OR.

April 14, 2019 

Cully Air Action Telemetry (CAAT)

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.