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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

Clean air in all of Portland

I was horrified when we first heard about very high levels of cadmium and arsenic in north and southeast Portland, but sadly, perhaps I should not have been surprised. As the City Club summarized in their 2013 report Invisible Enemies: Reducing Air Toxics in the Portland Airshed, “Portland’s metro area endures toxic air pollutants at concentrations that negatively affect the public’s overall health and increase the rate of disease. At least 52 air toxics are present in Oregon, and between six and ten [pollutants] are at unhealthy concentrations in Portland.”  The contamination of Portland’s air is a big problem, and one that disproportionately affects children in poor and minority populations. 

Mayor Hales and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury sent this letter to Governor Brown on behalf of both the City and County regarding the recent news and the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) response. 

As the Governor suggested in her February 15 statement on this topic, our state air quality regulations require a comprehensive review to ensure Portlanders’ health isn’t adversely affected by what’s in our air. For example, diesel exhaust from trucks and construction equipment is another major air quality problem in Portland. Diesel exhaust is toxic to humans because particulate matter in the exhaust is so small it can cross through our lungs directly into the bloodstream causing cancer, asthma, strokes and heart attacks. In Portland, pollution from diesel exhaust is most likely to be concentrated in neighborhoods where low income communities and people of color live, work, and go to school.

Moreover, there’s a ready solution to this problem: new filter technology can be installed on many existing diesel vehicles and equipment to reduce particulate matter emissions by 50-90%. Washington and California have already implemented much tougher rules, and Oregon risks becoming a dumping ground for outdated dirty equipment. At the City, we’ve retrofitted our own fleet of diesel construction equipment as part of a federal grant project, but we don’t have the authority to require pollution controls on all diesel engines. We need statewide action on this now to protect the health of all Portlanders, and I hope the Governor and Legislature will include this and other sources of toxic air pollution in their comprehensive review of air quality regulation.