2010 April 5: OR Eugene: Air agency sets up west Eugene pollution monitoring station | The equipment will allow officials to compare regions
By Diane Dietz
Appeared in print: Monday, Apr 5, 2010
Wonder if air pollution is worse in the industrial flats of west Eugene, compared with the verdant, hilly south end of town?
Last week, the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency launched a full-fledged air toxics monitoring station in the Bethel region that should provide the answer.
Since 2002, when the agency began measuring and monitoring toxic gases in the air, the agency’s sampling site was in Amazon Park in south Eugene.
But that wasn’t good enough for some.
“We in west Eugene have constant concerns about air quality. It’s an ongoing issue. And it’s hard to reassure the public we’re doing the most we can,” said Eugene City Councilor Andrea Ortiz, who also serves on the LRAPA board.
Air toxics are categories of chemical pollution that can cause cancer, reproduction difficulties and birth defects as well as a host of lesser maladies. Special equipment is needed to detect and record them.
Agency technicians will collect air samples every sixth day for 24 hours at both the Bethel and Amazon stations through the coming year. The Bethel station will be in Petersen Park, near Petersen Barn.
The samples will be processed at a state Department of Environmental Quality laboratory. Results won’t be available for six months, according to the agency.
Neighbors in the Bethel, Trainsong and River Road neighborhoods have worried about air pollution for more than a decade, thanks to a toxic plume spreading underground from an old railyard, and vapors coming from a creosoting plant — and some have fears about an under-construction wood-fired electricity generating plant on Highway 99.
West Eugene neighborhoods are home to seven companies that are considered major sources of air pollutants under the federal Clean Air Act. South Eugene has no such major source polluters. East Springfield has a half-dozen.
The Oregon Toxics Alliance and west side residents have pushed for better air monitoring in Eugene’s industrial neighborhoods.
“Each industry claims they only do just a little bit,” said Lisa Arkin, executive director of the Oregon Toxics Alliance. “They say you can’t point your finger at us. We’re only contributing to, in their words, only 1 percent of the problem. But no one understands the aggregate, cumulative impact of all the pollution that’s in the air in west Eugene.”
In 2008, a state-federal study fanned concern. Researchers analyzed about eight years of health data and found suspicious clusters of brain cancer, acute leukemia and lung cancer in certain areas of the west side neighborhoods.
The state Environmental Health Assessment program could not tie the cancers to outdoor air pollution or industrial releases. But it did recommend looking at existing air monitoring data to try to determine the risk — and researchers said they’d specifically like to see additional air monitoring in west Eugene.
LRAPA won a $93,000 grant to help pay for the west Eugene air monitoring, agency Director Merlyn Hough said.
The federal money was earmarked for projects related to energy development and production facilities, so LRAPA got the money in conjunction with the now-under-construction wood-fired electricity plant at Seneca Sawmill along Highway 99 northwest of the city.
“EPA was well aware of how much public comment and involvement there was on that project, and that helped give us an edge in asking for the money,” Hough said. Some residents tried to get LRAPA to stop the wood-burning project, but the agency said that under federal rules it was obligated to grant the permit.
Residents in the west Eugene industrial areas have complained that air pollution was disproportinately hurting their area of town, where the Trainsong Neighborhood stands out for its concentrations of Hispanic, elderly and poor residents.
Ortiz said she is not prepared to say that west Eugene residents breathe more air pollution than the rest of the city.
“We’re in the industrial corridor there. We’ll be able to track and see what there is. The proof will be in the results — whether we’re being exposed more or worse or less or better.”
Understanding and ad-dressing the level of toxics in Lane County’s air is one of LRAPA’s top priorities, Hough said.
“Benzene is way above what it should be for healthful air quality here,” Hough said. “But other air toxics too — polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and diesel particulate matter.”
Benzene comes from industrial processes, gasoline vapors, internal combustion engines and cigarette smoke. Exposure affects the bone marrow and can cause leukemia, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are the product of incomplete combustion, and they can be found in wood smoke, cigarette smoke, asphalt, roofing tar and creosote. They can reasonably be expected to cause lung, stomach or skin cancer, according to the registry.
Diesel particulate is soot surrounded by a complex of toxic substances. Fine particles filter into the lungs Exposure has been linked with lung cancer.
A National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment that uses the distribution of population and traffic across the nation’s counties predicts that the highest level of risk for toxic-caused cancers in Lane County would be found in west Eugene and the Gateway area of Springfield.
The source for the largest share of air toxics in Lane County, 44 percent, is dispersed sources such as home wood stoves, dry cleaners and auto repair shops, LRAPA estimates. The second-largest source, 33 percent, is from on-road vehicles such as cars and trucks. The third largest, 12 percent, is from industrial factories.
“We in west Eugene have constant concerns about air quality.”
— Andrea Ortiz, Eugene City Councilor