Solutions to toxic air pollution
Oregonians are being exposed to dozens of toxic substances in our air at levels that could harm hearts and lungs, interfere with children’s brain development, or raise the risk of cancer. We know that Oregonians are exposed to pollution from smokestacks, tailpipes and businesses large and small. What we don’t know, when we’re walking down the street, is what mix of pollutants we breathe and in what amount. Both national and state regulation of toxic air pollution from industry and business are weak, flawed, or under-funded, putting public health at risk.
It’s time for a better system in Oregon.
If you didn’t know that there is toxic air pollution in many Oregon neighborhoods, that’s no surprise. Oregon’s agencies have fallen short on their responsibility to track the sources of this dangerous pollution, keep our communities informed about what’s in the air, and involve neighbors in decision-making when their health is at stake. We need to act now to protect our families from diesel exhaust and excessive wood smoke. And we need to make sure that Oregonian’s health comes first when setting permits for industry. OEC recommends these changes to improve the way we manage air quality:
Take a health-first approach to regulating business
Oregon issues permits to businesses by setting standards for pollution control technology on their smokestacks. In other words, they look at one business at a time, but not the whole neighborhood. A better solution would consider how pollution from all the businesses in a community, including both tailpipes and smokestacks, might add up to a health hazard. Oregon’s permitting program should consider how far the wind might scatter pollution and what other sources are already releasing toxic air pollution before issuing a permit.
See more about air release permits in Oregon.
Establish strong leadership
With the right leadership and a renewed commitment, Oregon has the authority to put health first and ensure clean air. The state of Oregon must bring new leadership to the Department of Environmental Quality that will stand up for change and put health first. With or without new leadership at DEQ, Portland may require establishing a regional air quality authority.
Communities that live, work, and play near facilities that release toxic air pollution have the right to know what’s in the air they breathe. Agencies like DEQ must not only gather more and better data, but also share it in transparent, timely and culturally competent ways.
See Department of Environmental Quality’s safer air web site
Ensure accountability and build trust
Our state agencies must be more accountable to Oregonians. Oregon’s natural resource agencies are required by the 2008 Environmental Justice law to have a citizen advocate who encourages meaningful public participation from the people who are most affected by agency decisions. Agencies must ensure that those positions are funded and staffed. Agencies, including the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, need to proactively engage communities in toxic air hot spots rather than simply responding once there’s a crisis.
See more about Oregon’s Environmental Justice Task Force
Support good business practices
Oregon has a wealth of green chemistry researchers and innovators, leading the way to replace toxic materials with safer alternatives. Through incentives and other support, Oregon can help businesses assess options for safer alternatives and adopt cleaner processes and products. Businesses can also be good neighbors by installing and maintaining pollution controls.
OEC joins our partners in calling for change.
A number of groups are working to find solutions to our toxic air pollution problems. Among OEC’s allies are Neighbors for Clean Air (NCA), Beyond Toxics, OPAL, Crag Law Center, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Eastside Portland Air Coalition.