Portland’s Toxic Air: A Public Health Crisis

By Scott Fernandez  M.Sc. Biology  chemistry/microbiology

Oregon has the third largest population at risk of excess cancer due to air pollution behind only California & New York. (USEPA National Air Toxics Assessment).

117 Oregon schools fall into the worst 10% nationally for exposure to industrial pollution. (USEPA).

Diesel particulate matter (from trucks, construction equipment and rail yards) is responsible for approximately 460 premature deaths a year in Oregon. That’s more than those who die from homicide and drunk driving, (USEPA) (Neighbors for Clean Air).

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and city officials have known about these toxic and carcinogenic chemicals for over a decade.

It was testified at the Tubman School Town Hall that little had been done by officials to address the issue. State environmental regulators have been criticized since public disclosure of results February 3, eight months after learning about the heavy metal discoveries such as arsenic, then chromium, lead, and nickel in addition to cadmium.

Public health and well-being have been placed at high risk while state and city officials have done little to address these issues.

The most important policies not aggressively pursued by the state were the advancement of stronger air quality regulations. This would have allowed reducing, and eventually eliminating toxic chemicals through permitting and tightening filtration engineering improvements.

The EPA has recognized the “one size fits all” approach is outdated. In 2012 a Federal Register notice to California EPA provided a waiver as part of their State Implementation Plan (SIP) allowing stronger air quality standards; providing cleaner air by moving away from the one size fits all.

Revision of the Oregon State Implementation Plan and help from elected officials can move us into a direction of obtaining a waiver allowing tighter air quality regulations.

For this to happen, elected officials must hear community voices speaking up for healthy air quality.

City of Portland (Comprehensive Plan Update August 2015) and State of Oregon use “ambient benchmark concentration” as their “one size fits all” standard.

All ages of community members comingled together does not adequately provide meaningful individual specific risk assessments. The EPA Safe Drinking Water Act clearly and distinctly acknowledges differences between children and adults.

The state and the city ought to dismiss this “one size fits all” approach. Children are not smaller versions of adults. Children have developing immune, nerve, and bone systems much different than adults. Chemicals such as cadmium, lead, etc. can cross the placenta negatively impacting fetal development milestone processes. Chemicals can also be found in breast milk.

The chemicals chromium, cadmium and lead have been identified as metalloestrogens. These toxic and carcinogenic chemicals interfere with estrogen pathways and can be associated with breast cancer, etc.

The City of Portland and state officials need to stop industrial exposures of the heavy metals, fluorine, Volatile Organic Compounds, petroleum emissions, and other harmful air contaminants.

Residents have had enough of toxic and carcinogenic heavy metal chemical exposures, inadequate air filtration, information withheld from community, along with the uncertainty and deep concern for children’s health in the City of Portland and the State of Oregon.

Thanks to the US Forest Service for their efforts in identifying these toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.

Portland’s Toxic Air: A Public Health Crisis

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