Regional governments join to improve air quality; City of Portland and Multnomah County fund study to identify options

June 7, 2017

Regional governments worried about air quality have been working for the past year to identify concerns and to discover local actions that could be taken to improve air quality.

Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington Counties, Metro, the cities of Portland, Milwaukie, and Hillsboro have been meeting regularly with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Health Authority on pollution and its impact on human health.

“We need the Legislature to fully fund the Governor’s Cleaner Air Oregon efforts and take steps to reduce air pollution from diesel emissions, industry and woodsmoke,’’ said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. “In addition, we need to understand what local regulatory options are available to protect people’s health.’’

Toward that end, the City of Portland and Multnomah County announced they will spend $120,000 to study local options that would improve air quality. Chair Deborah Kafoury and Mayor Ted Wheeler announced the investment today. Current Oregon rules only comply with federal minimum standards but don’t set limits on the hundreds of potential industrial air pollutants known as air toxics. In most cases, only the largest polluters are required to install pollution controls -- with no regard to health impacts. The issue came to a head in 2016 when air toxins from small glass manufacturers were discovered at potentially harmful levels in several central Portland neighborhoods.

“Our air is not as clean as people would be led to believe by looking at our beautiful surroundings,’’ said Tom Hughes, Metro Council President. “More needs to be done if we are going to deliver on the promise of clean air.’’

While Gov. Kate Brown launched Cleaner Air Oregon to close the gaps, the Mayor and Chair say that effort must be adequately funded and staffed to prevent further toxic hot spots and potential harm.

“I made a pledge during the election that I would do what it took to protect the health of Portland residents from toxic air pollution,’’ said Mayor Ted Wheeler. “We need to explore all the tools that are available to us for protecting the health of our residents, particularly the most vulnerable.”

“At a time when the Environmental Protection Agency faces significant reductions it is more important than ever for us to step up to protect our environment,’’ Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said, “Oregonians deserve a statewide solution. When the health of our community is at stake, we can’t afford to wait and hope others will act on our behalf.’’

“We need to know what is in the air our children are breathing,” Chair Kafoury said. “No one is served by an underfunded regulatory system.’’

The region has a successful track record of complying with federal standards for ozone and carbon monoxide. But the federal government does not set limits on air toxics such as arsenic, cadmium, and other toxic metals discovered in a U.S. Forest Service moss study released in 2016. The EPA leaves it up to states to set their own rules. In addition to pollution from industrial sources, the region has unhealthy levels of diesel particulate emissions from trucks and construction equipment and toxins from burning wood.

“Individuals have no control over the air they breathe outside of their homes, so strong public policy is needed to ensure that poor air quality is not harming our health,’’ said Jim Bernard, Clackamas County Chair.