Portland Neighbors Addressing Diesel Pollution

The stretch of I5 interstate highway running through the Eliot Neighborhood was measured by ODOT using a rubber strip sensor to be among the busiest truck routes in Oregon. This is due to in-city short-haul trucks that pace back and forth through Eliot making Portland freight deliveries. Our research into ODOT and DMV data found 75% of these in-city short-haul trucks are unfiltered. Unfiltered trucks are illegal to manufacture and are banned from all of California because they produce ten times as much diesel particulate as a filtered truck.

According to the most recent three-year national assessment modeling study from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all of Eliot Neighborhood ranks in the worst 2% of precincts in the nation for diesel particulate exposure.

Motor vehicle exhaust is dangerous. A 1997 study by Dr. Bert Brunekreef et al published in Epidemiology of 1,191 children in Holland attending 20 schools near freeways found traffic intensity near schools were significantly associated with chronic respiratory symptoms. Lung function testing of the children found that a cough, wheeze, runny nose, and asthma were reported significantly more often for children living within 2.25 city blocks of a freeway, more so for girls than in boys.

Vehicle exhaust contains nitrogen dioxide (NO2). According to the EPA…

“Breathing air with a high concentration of NO2 can irritate airways in the human respiratory system. Such exposures over short periods can aggravate respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, leading to respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing, hospital admissions and visits to emergency rooms. Longer exposures to elevated concentrations of NO2 may contribute to the development of asthma and potentially increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.”

Vehicle exhaust also includes carbon monoxide which can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Vehicle exhaust contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and some metals which can cause cancer. A 2008 study by Irina Krivoshto et al in Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that diesel exhaust is 100 times more toxic than gasoline engine exhaust.

Clean Air Task Force in Boston calculated diesel exposure in Portland cause more than five times as many cancers as all other inhaled carcinogens combined by using EPA data and State of California risk modeling. While diesel-powered vehicles are only 6% of vehicles on the road, they emit 60-70% of all particulate emissions from all vehicles, according to Oregon DEQ. In 2015 DEQ reported that 80-95% of diesel exhaust is ultra-fine particulate “easily inhaled and left in the lower area of the lungs… capable of entering the bloodstream, allowing them to be circulated to all parts of the body.”

The EPA reported that diesel exhaust can cause eye, throat, and bronchial irritation, lightheadedness, nausea, as well as coughing and phlegm. In 2015 the Oregonian reported that other health effects of diesel exhaust include “heart attacks, pre-term and low-weight births, and asthma.”

The World Health Organization classifies diesel exhaust as a carcinogen, causing lung and bladder cancer. A 2012 study by Susan Peters et al of 1,256 families published in International Journal of Cancer reported an association between childhood brain tumors and prenatal exposure to diesel exhaust.

We have heard but not yet confirmed that Harriet Tubman Middle School will install an air filter in their HVAC that goes down to .1 micron, which effectively removes diesel particulate, and tell the kids not to go outside. Please contact me for our air filter research – HVAC and stand-alone systems use an electrostatic charge to cling diesel particulate to HEPA filters which normally only filter down to .3 microns.

Portland Clean Air works closely with 2,200 local members and 35 Portland Neighborhood Associations who keep in regular contact with over 50,000 Portland residents. The State legislature is corrupt, accepting unlimited corporate donations, and Oregon is one of only five states where this is legal. Portland and Multnomah County are largely preempted by the Oregon legislature from regulating industrial stack and truck emissions. The State Legislature shot down diesel filter legislation similar to California’s in 2017. So instead of relying on lobbying, we work to assist neighbors to negotiate directly with industrial consumers of trucking. That has worked well with stack emitters of which Eliot Neighborhood also has many.

By Greg Bourget

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