Neighbors of a Daimler Truck manufacturing facility on Swan Island say the plant is putting out noxious odors that are making them sick.

At a public meeting in North Portland last night, they pressed Daimler plant manager Paul Erdy to help reduce the smell of paints and solvents coming from his facility.

“We smell a very overwhelming paint smell,” said North Portland resident Stacey Schroeder. “We smell it in the fall and winter on almost a daily basis. We don’t want to risk losing industry or jobs in Portland, but we do want Daimler and the other industries to be good neighbors to us in North Portland.”

The meeting was hosted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, whose permitting specialists say the Daimler plant is operating within the legal limits of its air pollution permit. However, the agency has to renew that permit soon and invited the public to an informational session as part of the renewal process.

Several people asked Erdy if his company was willing to reduce its air pollution beyond permit requirements by entering a Good Neighbor Agreement with the community surrounding his plant.

“I can’t comment on a good neighbor agreement,” he said. “But we have been taking air samples up on the bluffs. … We’re trying to simulate what you’re experiencing. We want to stay in business and operate responsibly. We’re trying to understand it.”

“It seems to me that there’s more that can be done, and DEQ is not willing or able to force Daimler to clean up our air.”                                          — Dennis Poklikuha, North Portland resident

A community in Northwest Portland has received a lot of attention and accolades for pressuring the nearby ESCO metal foundry to reduce its air emissions beyond what Oregon DEQ requires. Neighbors for Clean Air, the organization that formed through that process, now has a chapter called North Portland Air Quality. Its members would like to replicate ESCO’s Good Neighbor Agreement with Daimler if DEQ can’t do more to reduce air pollution in their neighborhood.

Schroeder told DEQ officials that her community shouldn’t have to devote time and money to developing a Good Neighbor Agreement. She and others asked whether DEQ could do more to tighten air pollution regulations.

David Kauth, environmental engineer for DEQ, said he can only apply current air quality rules to new permits. Current rules require Daimler to use “reasonably available technology” to reduce its air pollution; that includes using paints that have lower levels of volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants in them.

Erdy said the air quality data his company has collected show that using other “feasible control technologies” will not reduce overall air pollution emitted from the plant because they involve burning the more noxious pollutants with natural gas, which would create additional air pollution.

North Portland resident Dennis Poklikuha said he’s been complaining to DEQ about air pollution in his neighborhood for years and wants a better response from the agency.

“It seems to me that there’s more that can be done, and DEQ is not willing or able to force Daimler to clean up our air,” he said. “It sounds like there should be more pressure put on them to keep our environment clean. I feel like DEQ is defending Freightliner, and I feel like DEQ should be defending us.”