Portland often finds itself on lists of the nation’s – or the world’s – most livable cities. But such rankings rarely take into account the deadly toxics that are dumped into Portland’s air by cars or factories. The Environmental Protection Agency has developed a model that allows people to compare the risk of breathing air in Portland with the risk of breathing air in all other urban neighborhoods across the country, based on industrial sources of pollution only. The model does not consider pollution from traffic.
The model, known as “risk screening environmental indicators,” is based on the toxicity of airborne heavy metals such as lead or manganese and volatile organic compounds like benzene or acrolein. Many of the toxics in Portland’s air occur at levels that can potentially cause excessive numbers of extra cancers, and come from factories like ESCO in the Northwest neighborhood. The EPA’s goal is to limit the number of extra cancers potentially caused by toxic air to just 1 in 1 million. But in Portland, the air is so toxic it could potentially cause 72 extra cancers — twice the national average.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is concerned, and has assembled a special committee, known as the Portland Air Toxics Solutions Advisory Committee, or PATSAC, to devise a solution to Portland’s toxic air pollution problem.
There are 19 deadly compounds in Portland’s air at levels that the exceed the EPA’s health-safety goals. Many of these compounds can also cause other health problems, such as asthma, which is also found at elevated levels among Portlanders, especially those who live near Interstate 5 in North and Northeast Portland.
This map, produced by Cascadia Times, shows that almost a third of Portland neighborhoods are breathing air that ranks among the worst 5 percent in the country. Residents of several neighborhoods breathe air that ranks among the worst 1 percent nationally.All Portland neighborhoods rank among the worst 37 percent nationally.