By Nancy Tannler
Montavilla residents held a town hall meeting to address government officials, environmental experts and Portland Public School about their worry over the recent installation of a crematorium at the Gable Funeral Home, 80th and NE Everett.
Plumes of black smoke, foul odors and loud machinery are the main complaints of neighbors living in the immediate area. Not only is this a mostly a residential area, but Vestal School is a block away.
Fritz Hirsch, Montavilla Neighborhood Association chair, presided over the well-attended meeting. Representatives from DEQ, Neighbors for Clean Air and Portland Noise Control were on the panel. An invitation to the Gable Funeral Home was extended but no one showed up.
The first question addressed to the panel was what is being done about the noise, smoke and odor since the crematory was installed four months ago?
According to Paul Van Orden of Portland Noise Control, the Gable Funeral Home was cited on September 6 and given fifteen days to comply to a noise ordinance violation. (As of press time, October 24, the deadline, it is not certain if they met those standards.)
As the law stands now, they are permitted to burn from 7 am to 10 pm at a certain decibel, during the other hours it is less.
Many residents in attendance spoke out about how loud the incinerator is. It can be heard over radio, television and even while playing the piano.
Van Orden said that here in the Northwest we are just beginning to deal with density other cities across the US have been coping with for years where industrial, commercial and residential zoning overlap.
The Gable Funeral Home is on a little finger of land off 82nd and zoned commercial while the rest is residential. Connecticut is the only state that does not allow crematoriums in urban areas.
Another question is the fallout particles and their health risk. David Monro, DEQ Regional Manager weighed in on this issue. He said that DEQ detected no enforceable emissions although they do not have anything to test the opacity of smoke other than a six minute visual check.
This is a gray area that John Krallman, staff attorney, Neighbors for Clean Air shed some light on. The funeral home was issued a DEQ General Permit that checks for a certain standard of clean air and water.
Levels of toxic emission for this permit is decided by a state regulatory committee of five people from different parts of the state called the Environmental Quality Commission (EQC). Lane County is the only place that has a high particle emission standard, the rest of the state has to meet the EQC levels who only check for six substances in the air.
Mary Peveto, Neighbors for Clean Air, said that it is the belief of her group that this is a very low standard, especially for people living in an urban environment. Peveto said that it is time for DEQ to do more extensive testing for particle pollutants. David Monro, DEQ, was in favor of more research, but he said like most bureaus, especially environmental departments, they are stretched to their limit financially.
A homeowner in the area, Carol Skinner, spoke up about the dangers of mercury poisoning and how toxic even small particles are to a human. Mercury-laden teeth fillings full of neurotoxins are incinerated with the bodies. Those particulates have to go somewhere.
A representative from Portland Public Schools told the audience they have hired an environmental firm to collect samples and test for heavy metals in the schoolyard. No results are available yet.
DEQ has been doing observed and unobserved inspections of the funeral home. On August 12, a DEQ infraction was filed against Gable Funeral Home because the operators did not have proper certification. They are in compliance now.
Parents of students at Vestal Elementary School are appalled that their young children are exposed daily to the thought of cremated bodies. One parent asked the question, “What are you supposed to say to your child about this?” He added his son’s school experience has been great until this issue came up.
State Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer said she knows the current DEQ regulations for toxic particles are not enough. Keny-Guyer has a long history of health advocacy work, especially for children. She said she would work on a bill to present to the 2015 Legislative Committee proposing higher animism control standards. (The 2014 session is short and full already.)
Another promising statement by the representative is that there is once again a focus on more environmental legislation statewide which means more funding for bureaus like DEQ and the one-man Portland Noise Control department.
Hirsch summarized the meeting with how the crematorium issue would move forward. He said there will be more meetings (see www.facebook.com/groups/montavilla) and to keep reporting to DEQ (www.deq.state.or.us/complaints) and to work towards negotiating a Good Neighbor Agreement with the funeral home.