June 23rd, 2010 5:33 pm | by Sarah Jacoby News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Multnomah County, Environment

If Something Smells Rotten in Northwest Portland ...

Neighbors For Clean Air

Mary Peveto calls herself an “accidental activist.” She had no plans to be an environmentalist until a year ago when she saw a USA Today article that used EPA data to map the industrial pollution near schools across the nation. The data placed the Northwest Portland school that Peveto's three children attend, Chapman Elementary, in the worst 2 percent in the country in terms of air quality.

“It's just not what I thought we would look like on a national scale,” she says. Peveto gathered other parents in the neighborhood and discovered most of the air pollution in their area is coming from the nearby ESCO Corp. site.

The parent group, Neighbors For Clean Air, now has a new web site that lets users map and log the locations of suspicious odors. (The group also has this blog, Twitter account and Facebook page.)

Here's some more background on the group's efforts and what it hopes to achieve with the web site.

Parents formed the Neighbors for Clean Air project last year after contacts with the state Department of Environmental Quality left them feeling like they were getting little help in sorting out their air problem.

“The Neighbors for Clean Air was a group of parents who have slowly become more organized,” Peveto says. “The closer we looked at the regulatory process, the less sure we were that it was safeguarding public health.”

Aubrey Baldwin, a Lewis & Clark College law professor who has been working with the parent group, agrees that the permitting process for factories like ESCO could improve a lot. She says Title V permits, like the one ESCO has, are the most common type of permit for industrial factories. DEQ has the authority to write the permit and to regulate the facility's pollution, she says, but the state agency doesn't go far enough to protect public health and welfare.

If the parent group, however, can prove the existence of a persistent public nuisance (like smells or dust), Baldwin says the DEQ can and should use its power. That's where the new web site comes in —to help document those smells by letting anyone in Portland document when and where they smelled something likely to be the result of industrial pollution.

The site also allows you to see where schools and factories are or if anyone has made a complaint about a particular smell. The next step, Peveto says, will be to add another layer allowing users to track smells across the city.

Meantime, a "Good Neighbor Agreement" is in the works between the neighborhood and ESCO.
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