What’s In Our Air?

House Speaker Tina Kotek

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Earlier this year, the discovery of dangerously high concentrations of toxic heavy metals in Portland neighborhoods launched the city and our state into an urgent and serious conversation about air quality.  People are worried and they are demanding action.

Many residents in North and Northeast Portland have been deeply engaged in air quality issues for years. One of my ongoing priorities since being elected to the House has been to work on these concerns. Progress has been slow, however. Now, momentum has shifted.

Because there has been a lot going on, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a detailed air quality update about some of the issues specific to our community as well as to highlight some of the work being done to protect public health and promote clean air more broadly.

Please mark your calendars and join me for a North Portland air quality community meeting on Monday, June 20 at 7 p.m. in the Buckley Center Auditorium at the University of Portland. Read below for more information.

North Portland Air Quality Monitoring

In 2014, at my request, the legislature funded the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to conduct air quality monitoring in North Portland. The monitoring resources included:  meteorology stations to provide information regarding temperature, wind direction and speed; a full spectrum air toxics monitor capable of detecting a wide range of toxic pollutants; and a particulate monitor to detect levels of metals at concentrations above health benchmarks. Data was collected from late 2014 through early 2016, with the goal of providing a year’s worth of air samples and weather information to provide a comprehensive look at air quality in the Swan Island area of North Portland.

On Monday, June 20, I will be hosting a community meeting to discuss the results.  You can read a summary of the project results here.  While more analysis is needed, particularly on potential sources of some specific pollutants, the key takeaways are these:

  • There are pollutants in our air regularly above accepted health benchmarks.
  • Cars and trucks are the main source of these pollutants.
  • The data is in line with the Portland Air Toxics Solutions study completed in 2011.

Bottom line:  We need to do more to clean up our air. I hope you can join the discussion on June 20th.

Clean Diesel Discussion Underway

The biggest air quality problem we face in the metro area is emissions from diesel engines. The particulates emitted by older diesel engines can create serious health risks.

According to a new report released by the Oregon Environmental Council, diesel exhaust each year in Oregon causes up to 460 premature deaths, results in up to $274 million in climate damage within the state, and costs Oregonians as much as $3.5 billion in health harm and lost productivity.

In 2015, the legislature created a task force to consider a variety of regulations and financial incentives that could begin moving Oregon away from older diesel engines and toward a cleaner, healthier future.  That task force is now underway as a committee work group chaired by Senator Michael Dembrow (NE Portland).

The work group includes representatives from environmental and public health groups, industry, labor, local governments, and state agencies. They have begun meeting regularly and will be working to create a legislative proposal for the 2017 session.

Nuisance Odor Investigation on Swan Island

The Daimler Trucks North America Western Star custom truck facility on Swan Island has been the alleged source of more nuisance odor complaints since 2010 than any other facility in Oregon, according to a recent story by OPB.

In 2015, the DEQ launched an official nuisance odor investigation into concerns about the paint fumes and possible exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  In March of this year, the DEQ released a staff recommendation concluding that Daimler is not the source of odors that are adversely impacting residents who live near the plant.  On April 5th, I convened a community meeting and asked the DEQ to explain its findings.

During that meeting, we also heard from a researcher at the University of Portland who conducted a separate air quality analysis and concluded that paint odors were in fact coming from Daimler’s facility on Swan Island.  After hearing from him and many concerned community members, I strongly urged the DEQ to reconsider its determination, which you can read more about here: “Oregon House Speaker Criticizes DEQ Investigation of Swan Island Odors.”

I am pleased to report that the DEQ is re-evaluating its research and also considering the data and methodology from the University of Portland analysis.  Most recently, the DEQ has asked Daimler to provide an estimate of how much it would cost to add technology to reduce odors outside its plant.  My office will continue to monitor the status of this investigation.

Remember, you can report an odor any time by filling out the DEQ’s form here: Report a Complaint.  Or, you can call the DEQ odor hotline at 1-888-997-7888. Nuisance odor investigations are a complaint-driven process, so please report!

Jantzen Beach/Hayden Island Air Quality Investigation

Last year, in response to an increasing number of complaints from Hayden Island residents, the DEQ in partnership with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began investigating odors that are affecting community livability and some residents’ health.

Initial monitoring identified several possible sources of the odors, including two oil recycling companies, Oil Re-Refining Company (ORRCO) and American Petroleum Environmental Services (APES), the city sewer system, rail-to-truck fuel and chemical offloading and storage facilities, and transportation sources including car, truck, and boat engines.

The DEQ has met with residents and hosted a community meeting on the island.  Additional monitoring is now underway, and the DEQ has requested information and analysis from APES and ORRCO.  For a complete timeline of events and actions, go to the DEQ’s Jantzen Beach Odors page.  My office will continue to monitor the status of this investigation.

Toxic Metals in Portland

Earlier this year, the DEQ found levels of heavy metals – including cadmium, arsenic, and chromium – significantly above risk thresholds.  The metals were linked to emissions from two local glass factories, Bullseye Glass in Southeast Portland and Uroboros Glass in North Portland, and from Precision Castparts in Southeast Portland.

State and local agencies have been working together to answer questions and keep people informed.  For more information about toxic metals emissions and updates about what the DEQ, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), and Multnomah County are doing to protect the public's health, you can go to SaferAir.Oregon.gov.

Cleaner Air Oregon: Industrial Emissions Reform

In April, Governor Kate Brown announced the launch of Cleaner Air Oregon, an initiative to broadly reform industrial air toxics regulations and align them with public health risks. The DEQ and OHA have started the process of writing these new rules.

As you can see in the graphic below, the rule-making process is complicated and expected to take nearly two years.  During that time, the DEQ and OHA will consider input from a technical work group (an appointed group made up of science, health and air toxics regulation experts), public policy forums, and community members.

Cleaner Air Timeline

You can visit CleanerAir.Oregon.gov to learn more about this process, share your comments or questions, and sign up for email updates.

Please Stay Engaged

We have a great deal of work to do on all of these fronts in order to make sure we have safe, clean air.  Please contact my office if you have questions, concerns, or ideas to share.  We will continue to follow these issues very closely.



Tina Kotek

State Representative
House District 44
Speaker of the House

email: Rep. Rep.TinaKotek@state.or.us I phone: 503-986-1200
address: 900 Court St NE, H-269, Salem, OR 97301
website: http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/kotek