What You Need to Know About Diesel Particulates and Air Filters

Diesel particulates are a problem in the Eliot neighborhood. There are several organizations, both inside and outside of the neighborhood working to change legislation and business practices, including the Eliot Neighborhood Association’s eACT group and Portland Clean Air. While activists are working to limit pollution in the future, we need to reduce the impact of diesel particulates we currently face to the greatest extent possible. Because Portland Public Schools commissioned research into the air quality at Harriet Tubman, we have data on what sort of changes can make a difference in the air we breathe here in Eliot, especially indoors. Harriet Tubman Middle School relies on an $18 million air filtration system. Most Eliot neighbors aren’t in a position to spend millions of dollars on air filtration systems, but there are air filtering options available at a variety of price points.

Adding an additional filter or two to your home can make sense, but there are several factors to consider. Not all air filtration systems are capable of catching diesel particulates. Air filters are graded the MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) scale, which runs from 1 to 20. MERV ratings are based on the size of the particles that can pass through the filter, with a filter with a rating of 1 stopping relatively large particles like pollen or spray paint dust and a filter with a rating of 20 stopping viruses and smoke particles. Filters rated MERV 16 or higher are typically needed to stop diesel particulates. MERV-rated filters may also be HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters. HEPA filters must pass a test on their ability to stop particles the size of bacteria and paint pigments, corresponding roughly to a MERV rating of 16. That’s also about the size of the diesel particulates we’re trying to stop.

If you have an existing HVAC or furnace system with a built-in filter, make sure you replace filters regularly, as well as clean any prefilter system. They’ll help improve air quality, although they may not be entirely effective on diesel particulates. Many residential systems aren’t equipped to use filters with a MERV above 10, though some homeowners choose to use filters with higher MERV ratings with minimal issues.

Consider adding a portable air filter to your space. The most effective air filters, like the Coway AP1512HH Mighty and the Austin Air HealthMate HM400, range from $125 to $600. There are options at every price point, however: you can even build your own air filter with a box fan and two replacement filters. Popular Mechanics provides a tutorial at https://bit.ly/2Ldtmt1.

Limiting time spent outdoors can be helpful, especially for folks closer to the interstate. For those with health concerns, using a respirator mask (look for an N95 or a P2 rating) will limit exposure to diesel particulates while outside. Increasing the greenery within Eliot is one of the most effective options we have. In the PSU study on Harriet Tubman’s air quality, researchers recommended increasing vegetation around the school by 50 percent. (The full report is available as a PDF at https://bit.ly/2Y6gBG8.) A similar increase throughout the neighborhood could help reduce diesel particulates somewhat.

Plants can help mitigate pollution in the air, without the replacement costs that go along with filters. Trees are particularly helpful — and organizations like Friends of Trees make the process of planting trees simple. Certain plants are especially effective at filtering air indoors: during a NASA study on which plants filtered air most effectively, these plants removed the most particulates from the air.

English ivy (Hedera helix)
Green Spider plant (Chlorophytum elatum)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)
Variegated snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron cordatum)
Selloum philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum)
Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’)
Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)
Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Florist’s chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Aloe vera (Aloe vera)
Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis “Janet Craig”)
Warneckei (Dracaena deremensis “Warneckei”)
Banana (Musa oriana)

Consider adding a few of these plants to your home — NASA suggests adding one plant per 100 square feet.

We may not be able to stop diesel particulates overnight, but we can lessen the impact they have on our community.

Letter from the Chair: Call to Action

As we return from summer vacations or hanging out in the park, beach or backyard, to the routines of our lives and responsibilities, I want to focus on the appalling condition of the air we breathe here in Portland, and more specifically in Eliot.

You’ll read in Greg Bouchet’s article, on the cover page of this issue, that Eliot is in the bullseye of diesel pollution. We breathe air with significantly higher concentrations of diesel particulates than 99% of other communities in America. Not a good statistic and very bad for our health. In fact, this is potentially life-threatening. “Diesel exhaust is 100 times more toxic than gasoline engine exhaust,” according to a 2008 study in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. “Diesel exhaust is 80%-95% ultra-fine particles of carbon ‘soot’ with cancer-causing chemical riders that evade our natural defenses, reach the lungs, pass into the blood-stream, and circulate to our vital organs including the heart and brain.”

This past August, Oregon’s Legislature passed HB 2007 to limit the diesel particulates emitted from diesel engines, but not until 2029. Do we want to continue to breathe this bad air for another 10 years, while the polluters figure out how to comply? Or more realistically, until the economic impact is lessened by the attrition of dirty diesel trucks and construction engines?

The Volkswagen settlement money ($50,000,000) and the money from the Legislature (also millions of dollars) are available to businesses NOW for filtering these dirty engines. Why can’t the cleanup begin NOW?

Eliot Neighborhood Association is joining local neighborhood and advocacy group efforts to take action. For this effort, we need committed people of any skill level. We are looking for residents or anyone working in Eliot. Our Board needs you to help us form a strong, inclusive, passionate team to advocate for stronger, sooner regulations. Also we need to help local businesses gain access to the $50,000,000 ODOT, which is available for small under-represented trucking owners. Eliot Neighborhood Association has created a new committee, eACT, Eliot Advocacy for Clean-air Team. If you want to join us contact me at chair@eliotneighborhood.org

Eliot Neighborhood Association’s Eliot Advocacy for Clean Air Team, eACT, needs YOU!

The Eliot Neighborhood Association general meeting on October 21 will host Portland Clean Air. Come hear more about this problem, weigh in with your thoughts and find out how you can help make the air we breathe cleaner and less dangerous.

Also, at the October meeting, we will hold the annual elections of board members for the 2020 term. We hope to see you there and that you consider signing up to help with eACT or becoming a board member or simply get involved with other neighborhood association activities and events.

Support Portland Clean Air and Breathe Easier in the Future

By Greg Bourget

Diesel particulate is the worst airborne carcinogen according to State of California risk assessments. In Portland it comes primarily from industrial unfiltered trucks making in-city deliveries. Currently Portland is ranked in the worst 1.3% of counties in the nation for airborne diesel particulate according to the most recent EPA three-year assessment. Airborne diesel particulate affects the Eliot Neighborhood more than most Portland neighborhoods. California banned unfiltered diesel trucks statewide and by 2015 there were virtually none left. Diesel particulate filters remove 90% of diesel particulate emissions. In contrast, three-quarters of the trucks in the three-county Portland area have no filter according to ODOT and DMV records. The in-city stretch of I5, including the part that runs through Eliot neighborhood, has the 24-hour highest truck counts in Portland according to ODOT monitoring studies.

DEQ reported diesel-powered vehicles are only 6% of Oregon vehicles on the road yet emit 60 – 70% of all particulate emissions from all on-road vehicles combined. The State of California reported that currently diesel particulate is still “responsible for about 70% of California’s estimated known cancer risk attributable to toxic air contaminants.” DEQ reported in 2015 that diesel exhaust causes lung and bladder cancer, certain heart attacks and other blood clotting diseases, coronary artery disease, malignant childhood brain tumors, decreased cognitive functioning, increased incidence of Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), acute bronchitis, and asthma. A study by Bishop et al. found diesel particulate causes dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Immediate symptoms include eye and throat irritation, coughing and phlegm, swollen airway, bronchial irritation, nausea, headache, lightheadedness, and fatigue.

Portland Clean Air believes negotiation with unfiltered trucking companies is the solution. The Oregon diesel bill HB 2007 which passed June 30, 2019, was gutted by industry. It allows a ten-year phase-out. California did a seven-year phase-out starting nine years ago! Numerous loopholes allow trucking companies to avoid even that deadline. The Oregon legislature accepts unlimited corporate campaign donations. This is illegal in 45 states. Since we can’t count on the Oregon Legislature, neighbors have been directly negotiating with industrial polluters instead. Since the
Bullseye scandal, eight Portland area industries have installed a smokestack scrubber at a cost of $70 K to $20 M due solely to
negotiations with neighbors.

Judging by model year, XPO Logistics has 8,604 unfiltered trucks – by far the largest unfiltered truck fleet in the Portland area. XPO Logistics, Consolidated Freightways, and USF Reddaway combined have 12,036 unfiltered trucks – more than TriMet and the next largest 24 unfiltered Portland area fleets combined. As the state of Oregon barely regulates them, I think they require a response from us, their neighbors.

Portland Clean Air is working with 41 Portland Neighborhood Association boards, the North East Coalition of Neighborhoods, and 24 Portland-area churches and synagogues to address this airborne diesel particulate through negotiation with unfiltered industrial truck fleets. We are also looking at companies who contract with these unfiltered fleets.

Portland Clean Air appreciates the Eliot Neighborhood Association (ENA) who has taken a leadership role to address this with us. ENA has formed a committee to take action. If you have questions about how you can help with this committee, or about monitoring, home air filters, or any other questions, please contact me at greg@portlandcleanair.org or for more information go to portlandcleanair.org/ diesel.

Come hear a presentation by Portland Clean Air at the Eliot
Neighborhood Association general assembly meeting on Monday, October 21 at 6:30pm at St Philip the Deacon Church, 120 NE Knott St (the corner of Knott and Rodney).

Please Celebrate Clean Air Work With Us

Please Celebrate Clean Air Work With Us!
Thursday, April 4th, 6 to 9pm, Lagunitas Taproom, 237 NE Broadway

Raise your glass, raise your voice, raise money, for clean air. Join Neighbors for Clean Air to learn more about our work to clear the
air in Oregon and how you can get involved.

Event space and beer fueled by Lagunitas Brewing Company, featuring music by Asheigh Flynn.

For tickets and more information: Liz Hartge with Neighbors for Clean Air