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Make best practices standard practices

North Portland Air Quality joins Neighbors for Clean Air to fight for emission reduction

By Rosemary Peters
On April 20, 2012

Across the Willamette River, Mary Peveto decided to take matters into her hands when she realized how much pollution was in the air her children were breathing at Chapman Elementary, in Northwest Portland.

Chapman was ranked in the second percentile in the USA Today study, with only 1,274 schools in the nation having worse air.

"Basically all of Portland schools are ranked no better than the worst 30 percent of the nation," Peveto said. "You begin to realize this should be dealt with."

In 2009, Peveto co-founded Neighbors for Clean Air, a non-profit organization that fights for reducing industrial pollution.

"If you reside right next to that industry, chances are they are 95 percent of your pie," Peveto said. "We need to have our industrial neighbors work harder on reducing their emissions."

After pushing hard for emission reduction from industry in the Northwest Portland area, Peveto entered into a "good neighbor agreement" in mid-March with Esco, which agreed to cut its air pollution by an estimated 20 percent. Esco, a Northwest Portland company that converts scrap steel into parts for construction, mining and logging, emitted over 21,000 pounds of air pollutants including large amounts of the neurotoxins phenol and manganese in 2010, according to the EPA's TRI report.

Peveto sees the agreement with Esco as a step in the right direction, but she is not done yet.

According to Peveto, a big part of the air pollution problem is that old facilities have high emissions limits since their emission levels were capped at their emissions levels from the 1970's.

"It is a systemic problem of how we regulate air pollution that was statewide. It wasn't something unique to one neighborhood," Peveto said. "And so, if you are going to get progress on this, you can't ask them to change the rules for one facility. They have to have a statewide rule change to address this problem."

A growing number of North Portland residents agree with Peveto and are following in her footsteps.

University Park Neighborhood resident Stacey Schroeder helped found the North Portland Air Quality group. She and her neighbors are concerned about paint fumes they believe to be coming from Daimler Trucks North America, a company with a high emission cap since they are protected under a grandfather clause.

"Their PSEL (Plant Site Emissions Limits) were concocted with a baseline that was established in 1978 or 1979," Peveto said. "That is why the neighbors are suffering so much. They could add probably two to three more (work) shifts before they come close to those limits."

Dave Kauth of the DEQ, the permit writer for Daimler's permit, says that Daimler is not breaking any law or emitting over its limit, but acknowledges it has a high emission limit.

"They have plant site emissions limits around 470 tons," Kauth said.

In November, Schroeder and 17 people from the neighborhood, including UP's Environmental Safety Officer Jeff Rook, met with three DEQ agents, an Oregon Health Authority member and three Daimler representatives on Daimler's property to discuss the issue.

According to a statement from Daimler representative Amy Sills, "Our Western Star Truck Manufacturing plant on Swan Island is in full compliance with the emissions standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Our manufacturing process emissions are well below permitted levels."

However, concerned citizens like Schroeder are not satisfied, as she smells the paint fumes frequently during the day and night.

"It's an overwhelming smell of paint fumes ... I've felt high from the paint fumes," Schroeder said. "I don't think my kids should be smelling it, I don't think that anyone should be smelling it."

Schroeder and fellow members of the North Portland Air Quality group want from Daimler a similar outcome that Peveto achieved with Esco.

"We'd like them to be good neighbors since we're packed into this little city with growth boundaries," Schroeder said.

According to Rook, the University has received complaints about various smells on campus for at least the eight years he has been here.

Rook said there was a concern a few years back that the smells had been coming from a leaky gas line on campus. However, after what he called a "wild goose chase," the University concluded they were not responsible for the smells people were experiencing.

"In the last year, we have experienced a number of cases where people have experienced a strong natural gas and sulfur smell," Rook said. "Fifteen to 20 came from spectators at a soccer game."

Since September, Rook has received 19 official odor complaints, primarily from library staffers.

Rook has had contact with Peveto, Schroeder and other neighborhood residents to see what can be done.

"How do you make a formal complaint? You need data," Rook said. "Compiling all of that information allows you to build a better case."

Schroeder and Peveto agree that more data is needed.

"What you have to create first and foremost is a critical mass," Peveto said.

According to Peveto, there are several ways for citizens to create this critical mass. She encourages people to visit the Neighbors for Clean Air website (whatsinourair.org) every time they smell something out of the ordinary. The location of the smell can then be mapped on the group's homepage and simultaneously an official complaint will be sent to the DEQ.

Additionally, Peveto and the North Portland Air Quality group have a petition calling for the end of grandfather clauses and having the companies commit to pollution reduction programs. The groups plan to present the signatures to Oregon State Legislature at the end of May to rally for legislative support.

Peveto also encourages UP students to visit or volunteer at the Earth Day event on April 22 at PCC's Cascade Campus.

"It's time to make best practices become standard practices," Peveto said. "This is truly going to make us the city of the future if we can get this right."


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