I think that media and politics are always plagued with questions about which is the most of something or the worst of something. I think that the relevant question is not about whether Portland is the "green-ist city" or if it is the "third most toxic city" in America. These assignments are based on definitions and statistics that are very context dependent. The important questions rather, are "what is Portland (or any other city, county, country, whatever) doing to make it a nice, safe and overall great place to live?" and "what more can it do to make it better?"
Rankings are alway sketchy - I always think of the stereotypical 'frat boy' from all the various universities talking about how their school is the number 1 party school. There are far more important questions to ask rather than worrying about rankings.
I feel that statistics are what you make of them. I can gather statistics that may indicate Portland is the most toxic city in the world, and on the other hand gather statistics that show it is the cleanest city in the world. The paradigm you search under will almost certainly give you the results you desire. In my opinion, Portland is a clean city. It has a lot of natural beauty, great parks, and a population that is slanted toward environmentally friendly activities. Of course there are some ugly areas, ugly parks, and non-environmentally people as well, but taken as an average, I'd say Portland is more pro-environment.
With that said, I believe almost all of Oregon's waterways (rivers, streams, and other bodies of water) are quite poor. I live in Salem, and the Willamette River is disgusting. I will say on the other hand that it has been much worse in decades past, according to my research.
I love Kevin Emerson's comparison to college party rankings, it's so true.
I think you guys are right.
We shouldn't focus on who's higher or lower on a list--what we should focus on is:
1) Identifying the environmental challenges in/around Portland
2) Informing/educating the masses of the challenges
3) Fixing them permanently
What is blatantly obvious here in Portland is that we DO have MAJOR environmental contamination, and that most people are completely unaware of it.
So please don't get hung up on the title of the story...You can't see the forest for the trees.
We can certainly build a nice green park over contaminated soil, but it sure doesn't clean up the ground water.
Portland has many nice green parks, and it has eco-minded folks driving hybrid's and recycling their water-bottles.
Yet under the nice, shiny, biodegradable, organic surface, Portland has a dark side.
Look up the Superfund sites located within city limits.
Look up the McCormick & Baxter Creosote Superfund Site.
Research Willamette water quality.
Research the toxic waste dump leaking PLUTONIUM into the ground water upstream on the Columbia. It's called Hanford. Portland (among others) will pay the heaviest price...
I for one do not question AT ALL that Portland is polluted. Sixteen months ago I was diagnosed with severe asthma which went into pneumonia. My naturopathic doctor has people calling her night and day with respiratory afflictions. People in the library come to me and ask if i have TB or worse...no, its just the eco-friendly air of Portland.
When I called the EPA to ask why they think I cannot breathe, they answered me glibly, oh, you're the first person to call about bad air....then after calling some friends they told me they experienced the same denial.
the fact that Bush allows his auto industry buddies to sell cars requiring less filtering of toxic emissions is responsible for much of the dirt and black particulates raining down on my southwest home from the I-5. Children on the next block have to be carried up the stairs...they cannot breathe. The auto transgressions have been written up often by WW.
When i go to hang up my clothes the lines are black with guck and when i see this i think i do not want to eat whatever i would plant in my garden...having been planted for the past 53 years.
In speaking to people in NW portland I believe they are more concerned with their property values, than with their capacity to breathe...we have come to a sorry state when we insist in living where the poisons emitted by ESCO are less important to us than the resale value of our homes.
The doubts in the comments here posted are testimony to the unwillingness to take this bull by the horns and do something for the quality of the air we breathe.
who thinks that Ron Wyden stood under the Burnside Bridge for his health in order to broadcast that the benzene levels are FORTY times higher than safe...he would never have publicized that without substantial proof.
If there is a place where citizens/victims can vent and volunteer to clean up this mess, let me know ASAP.....so I can share the info with my friends, and we can all breathe better.
gail in southwest portland
I absolutely believe that Oregon is a "toxic state" and it will remain that way until our legislature gives DEQ the authority, funding and resources to investigate and clean up contaminated UST(Underground Storage Tanks) sites and hold polluters accountable.
I speak from experience. In march 07 we were told that our neighbor had contaminated our property, home and drinking well with gasoline and diesel. USTs (Underground Storage Tanks) had been removed from their property in 1990 and they were given an NFA (No Further Action)letter from DEQ. These tanks were located at the property line, 25 ft from my house and 40 ft from my drinking water well. DEQ never inspected the tanks or the site. There had also been a 600 gallon heating oil release on the property. That release was reported to DEQ and a file started. However DEQ failed to follow up and the homeowner never fully remediated the release. We have recently been told told that there were three additional leaking tanks removed from the property in the mid 80's. No reporting or clean up occured.
In Dec 07 955 tons of contaminated soil and 6000 gallons of contaminated groundwater were removed 10 ft from my house. We have been forced to connect to city water for our drinking water supply. We have gasoline, benzene and ethanol vapors in our home. We are living a financial, emotional and physical nightmare. We still have contamination in the groundwater under our house and in our backyard. DEQ does not require the responsible party to clean all contaminants from a site.
You might think our situation is unique in Oregon. But it's not! It was DEQ's standard procedure in the 80's and early 90's to allow anyone to install any number of USTs on their property and or remove/decommission USTs with no oversight what so ever. Tank owners could remove tanks themselves and report to DEQ that no contamination was found and that the tanks had never leaked. DEQ would not inspect the site/tanks nor ensure that proper environmental testing or documents were provided. With nothing more than the assurance from the tank owners, DEQ would issue an NFA letter. Keep in mind, these are only the tanks we know about (some registered with DEQ, some not).
DEQ admits there are probably hundreds of USTs in our state that are currently rusty and leaking, leaching contaminants into the soil and groundwater. These contaminants vaporize and are put into the air we breathe and contaminate the water we drink. Many UST owners who know that their tanks had leaked, simply abandoned them or removed them, never reporting the release, hoping no one would ever discover the mess. They know that they will never be prosected for deliberately covering up the contamination.
Currently, when a property is being sold, a developer/real estate agent and his environmental consultant must investigate any potential contamination that might exist on that property and clean it up. However, if they see that DEQ has issued an NFA letter for previously installed USTs they are not required to investigate any further. DEQ knows that this is common practice for developers. Contaminated sites that were wrongfully given an NFA in the 80's and 90's will not be investigated. Houses will be built over the contamination. Homeowners will be lead to believe all is safe, not knowing that the soil in their backyard is filled with carcinogens or that the air they breathe in the house is filled with benzene vapors. The legislature needs to pass laws requiring developers/environmental consultants conducting Phase I and II investigations to investigate historic tank locations despite previously issued NFA letters. This might help close a loop hole.
Over the past year we have discoverd, much to our disappointment, that the Oregon DEQ is not the "environmental police" for our state. They are unable to protect the innocent from polluters or even seek out potentially contaminated sites. Our state environmental laws and funding are greatly inadequate. If our laws are not changed more and more homeowners, like my family, will be faced with potential health risks and devalued property.
Most other states have had, and currently have, very strong environmental laws and give their DEQ authority, funding and resources to investigate and respond to contaminated sites. I believe that our state does not wish to open the "pandora's box" by investigating DEQ files from the 80' and 90's to ensure that any NFA letter that was issued was based on proper environmental testing and documentation. Until our state deals agressively with polluters and their contaminated sites, we will remain a "toxic state".
1. If you believe that DEQ is the "environmental police" you are wrong. They have no financial resources to enforce regulations. In our case, it took a lawyer and an environmental consultant (our expense) just to get DEQ to assign responsible parties and force a clean up of the site.
Hi UST Victim -
This sounds like a grueling ordeal. Where do you live? Were local authorities helpful at all?
I'm also curious how it came to light. Who initially told you about the contamination?
Thanks for posting.
We live in Tigard, surrounded by housing developments and older homes on larger lots. Local authorities have been no help. Health Dept does not get involved in contaminated sites where a single family is effected. We are always told this is a DEQ issue only. We have 5 families, within a block of my home, that use drinking water wells. MTBE, a gasoline additive that travels rapidly in groundwater and can be found 3/4 of a mile from it's source, has been found on my property. The watermaster, City water supply mgr, health dept. and DEQ state they have no authority to reqire responsible party to test those wells to ensure they have not been impacted by MTBE from the leaking USTs. It is left to the homeowner to hire a lawyer and environmental consultant and test their wells at their own expense (lab fees - $800.00) DEQ states even if contaminants are found in the wells there is no proof that it came from my neighbors leaking USTs. Basically, "abcense of proof is proof of abscense".
We were told about the contamination by the envrionmental consultant hired by the developer who was trying to purchase the neighbors property. Due to the diligent investigation by Dave Samples, Evergreen Envrionmental, the contamination was discovered. Mr. Samples did not find proper documentation in the DEQ file to support an NFA and took it upon himself to investigate the property further, unlike other environmental consultants. He notified the property owners and the developer and told them to contact us immediately. He reported the release to DEQ. DEQ nor the neighbors contacted us. Dave Samples came to us and told us about the contamination. We contacted DEQ.
For the Willamette River when one thinks of toxics, it is easy to focus on areas that are active Superfund sites. The federal CERCLA law recognizes such areas like Portland Harbor as highly contaminated sites, and sets in motion a major effort to clean them up. I think it is important that this is recognized in your report. The cleanup, going on since 2001, and before in some cases, is forcing many private companies to gather data where needed, and develop a plan to clean their sites up. This is being overseen by the US EPA in the in water areas of the Willamette, and DEQ, with EPA oversight, in the upland areas.
The big question in relation to the final few miles of the Willamette River is to what degree will companies agree with DEQ and EPA requirements to actually take responsibility and clean their sites to the appropriate level? The hope is that we will avoid significant legal challenges by those who are reponsonsible. We are just beginning to get to that BIG question in this cleanup. Given the many smaller sites that make up this Superfund site, we need the EPA to provide real leadership to ensure that these sites are cleaned up to levels safe for human and aquatic health.
Cleanup of this area is also critical to the many spring chinook that pass through, making their way far upriver where millions of dollars have been spent, and will continue to be spent to improve Habitat.
You might consider a show about the Willamette River's overall health.
We the PEOPLE are the culprits because we do not speak out when we see wrongdoing. We do not speak out against our employers as well as our weak government enforcers. People just don't want to get involved and think someone else will do it for them.
Kinder Morgan agreed to plead guilty to felonious ocean
dumping 5 years ago by paying a $240,000 fine to the USDOJ. But the
settlement contained no exposure of the attempts to cover up essential
elements that would incriminate others who were involved in the case.
The agreement between Kinder Morgan and the government pins the felony
on one unidentified KM employee, which strains credulity when
considering the number of longshoremen, river pilots, tugboat operators,
and other terminal employees who facilitated this load of potash to be
shipped downriver and out to sea. As the whistleblower who brought this
to the EPA's attention, I can attest to the fact that everyone
remained silent for months. The corporate, government and union
officials involved actively tried to cover it up for 5 years. And its
final conclusion is just more of the same, when a fine can buy silence,
not true exposure to correct not only corporate practices but also union
and government practices as well. This case shows that it will remain
business as usual on the waterfront, and the integrity at our ports can
be bought with a fat checkbook. For more information about this case
please contact Senator Wyden's office in Washington, D.C.
We do have serious toxics problems in Portland. But, as a City, we're also being proactive. I was the City of Portland's Science, Fish and Wildlife Division Manager for more than six years. We did original research on how salmon, lampreys and other fish and wildlife use the Lower Willamette River. In doing so, we proved that we needed more stringent toxics source control and cleanup measures.
Portland also is pursuing a creative mitigation banking program to help put more money into restoration projects in Portland Harbor and less on lawyers and permits.
Portland also is working in partnership with tribal governments, the state and federal agencies to hold polluters accountable and to fix the City's own problems by virtually ending sewer overflows and building more stormwater facilities that use vegetation and other mechanisms to clean the rain before it reaches our rivers and streams.
Portland's leadership in responding to these challenges is helping create new expertise in environmental cleanup that will be helpful to city's across the nation. That means more jobs for Portlanders.
Finally, Portland is working hard to integrate its response to a variety of state and federal laws to ensure that every dollar we spend helps advance our response to multiple mandates.
We shouldn't be proud of our contaminated river but we I believe we can be proud of the City's work to be innovative and proactive in getting the contamination in the Portland Harbor and elsewhere cleaned up.
And, we need to be vigilant in preventing more contamination and in enforcing penalties against those who pollute. There's more work to do on that front.
In January 2008 the EPA has expanded the outer limits of Portland Harbor Superfund.
It now includes the skate area and baseball area of Pier Park in Portland's St. John's neighborhood.
Are these kids at risk? Should I be concerned about my children playing in the yard, digging in the dirt, eating fruits and veggies grown just feet away from the Superfund?
Thank you for the opportunity to post observations about what has happened to our family since we moved to the Portland area from the Midwest in 2000.
Initially we were well pleased with the move and have enjoyed the obvious beauty and proximity that the area offers so naturally. Over the years, however, we have all gradually become sicker with respitory illness that we attribute to a rising level of air pollution. Our symptoms include chronic coughing, headaches, mucous and fatigue...sometimes the symptoms last for the entire winter! We are now seriously rethinking about what the quality of life now means for us since we are still here.
We are interested in the physical symptoms of others who have moved here and how their bodies are coping with the air quality. If there is a way to get involved and become active in raising awareness, please let us know and we would participate. Oregon is very visually beautiful, but there are some invisible qualities that are becoming more and more less so...let's see if all of us can do something about it!
The Hayes family lives in the Robinwood area of West Linn.
Forget about being proactive...the EPA dumped the director because the business and industry lobby made it impossible to crack down on the polluters...check out the long article in the Tribune a few months ago. Now that Stephanie Hallock is no longer chief officer she might give the dope on her release.
I have called both EPA and DEQ and they were astounded to hear me ask why I cannot breathe...are they kidding? they need better screeners...all those huge salaries to tell me I am the first person who has called to complain? sounds like the DEQ needs some reshuffling.
The Monday program was a terrible letdown...only Paul from New Jersey seemed to have his finger on the pulse....there was not one word about the pollution wafting in from China every single day, and not just in Oregon, from BC down to Baja, and the Hermiston dump, the detonation of bombs that will last acc to NPR until 2014...thanks, State of Oregon....and the east wind that brings in enormous amounts of mercury....no wonder we are the number one state in the USA for autism, and second only to the southern states for STROKE....maybe we need more people coming down with deadly afflictions to shed some light on how toxic Oregon really is....time to get your heads out of the sand, people.
It has been years since Oregon was beautiful and green, and now that people are shortcutting what they eat so they can spend every spare minute in their cars.....notice how many cars have no one except the driver...bad policies with deadly consequences, and no end in sight...just more denial...this is only the beginning.
Hi Peters - thanks for this passionate post! In this show we were trying to focus on toxic sites like the Superfund and underground tanks, but clearly there are a lot of other issues to address and we'll be looking into them. If it's possible to prioritize, which do you feel most impacts you?
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