We owe it to our children whose schools have among the worst air quality in the nation which has the potential to cause unnecessary cancer deaths
OPINION May 20, 2011 – The Ways and Means Committee agenda in Salem on Monday is a topic of great discussion among many concerned Oregon parents.
With the simple act of putting a DEQ grant request on its agenda, the Ways and Means Committee will help Oregon take a giant step closer to cleaner air for our children. This is a DEQ request for federal dollars to provide additional air quality monitoring. No match from Oregon is required. Toxic air near our schools is an Oregon-wide problem, and it's time for Salem to take actions to protect Oregon's children.
But this simple step did not come easy, and the addition of the grant request on the agenda comes only after industry representatives and concerned Oregon parents alike called and emailed members of the Ways and Means Committee to ask that they consider an urgent request – to put the DEQ air monitoring grant request on the Ways and Means Committee agenda in time to meet the May 23rd EPA application deadline.
I am one of those concerned parents. I am appalled that many of Oregon's schools were identified as having some of the worst air quality in the nation (in a USA Today report on industrial pollutants and air quality around schools). This article shows how Oregon schools were ranked in air quality compared to other American schools.
Schools in Pendleton, Portland, Medford, Junction City, Clackamas, Milwaukie, Eugene, Springfield, Oregon City and Riddle all make the list when it comes to the top 1 to 5 percent of schools in America with the worst air quality. Scrolling down to the top, 6 to 10 percent of schools with the worst air quality in the nation reveals schools in Medford, Riddle, Portland, Pendleton, Milwaukie, Junction City, Klamath Falls, Halsey, Eugene, Albany, Springfield, Winston, Oregon City, Toledo and Clackamas.
I have one daughter who attends Chapman Elementary School in northwest Portland, a few blocks from the boundary of the industrial sanctuary; and two who attend Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women located on top of the busy I-5 freeway near the Rose Quarter. From the strange metallic smells that we are accustomed to in the neighborhood to the 130,000 cars and trucks that pass daily by my daughters' school just on the other side of the Fremont Bridge, the environment that we live, work, play and go to school in is a toxic mix that is nearly inescapable. In fact, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has identified 17 toxicants in our Portland air that are known to cause cancer, and if not reduced, have the potential to cause 76 excess cancer deaths a year.
I beg our Salem representatives to allow DEQ to apply for this federal grant which will improve DEQ’s management of air toxics reduction strategies. As a member of the 30- member Portland Air Toxics Solutions Advisory Committee charged with making recommendations for reduction strategies, I am joined in support for this grant by industry representatives as well, who would like to see more information about the real impacts of toxic air emissions on Oregon communities.
All over Oregon there are families who must focus on sheer survival – families for whom time/energy/access to advocate for clean air for their children is a luxury they do not have. In the list of Portland area schools with toxic air many are in low income areas. For decades, these areas have been air quality sacrifice zones for polluting industries, and heavy freight and transportation infrastructure expansion.
A 2002 study by Bruce Podobnik, PhD, in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lewis and Clark College, confirmed that asthma rates are higher in low income areas that border the transportation corridors in Portland.
Our representatives in Salem can make a difference in the lives of children living in sacrifice zones throughout the state – by approving this DEQ grant request (which will cost Oregon nothing).
Oregon should not be in the shameful position of having so many schools listed on USA Today's report of places where children face some of the highest levels of contaminated air in our country.
I beg our legislators to advocate for the health of Oregon's children.
Mary Peveto, who lives in northwest Portland, is co-founder and president of Neighbors for Clean Air, a Portland-based non-profit dedicated to mitigating the health impacts of toxic air pollution through education and outreach.
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