Toxic Emissions Impact People Living in West Eugene

A survey conducted by the Oregon Toxics Alliance finds that residents can detect air pollution which is causing respiratory and cardiovascular problems
Dec. 1, 2010 -- Oregon Toxics Alliance (OTA), a Eugene-based environmental health advocacy organization, recently surveyed 329 families, of whom 11 percent were Latino, about the health effects of living in a heavily industrial area of Eugene.
The data shows for the first time the health concerns and problems affecting the population, and the possible health effects of the West Eugene Industrial Corridor, which has  numerous industrial companies that produce telephone poles, railroad ties, paint, chemical resins and other substances. Those surveyed also included disabled, elderly and low-income residents.
According to the fire marshal’s office, which tracks toxic emissions, 97 percent of toxic air pollution in Eugene is emitted in that area.
Data from the survey showed 58 percent of those surveyed detected air pollution through smell; 52 percent indicated they had respiratory problems; 12 percent had cardiovascular problems, and 34 percent saw their symptoms get worse when they detected pollution.
“A lot of families are seeing children come down with asthma,” said Lisa Arkin, OTA’s executive director. “We do have a population whose symptoms get worse.”
Other health problems cited included nausea, headaches, coughing, chest pains, fatigue and irregular heartbeats.
“When you go door-to-door, they’re saying things like, ‘no one had asthma before we moved here,’” said Alison Guzman, the project’s manager and an outreach worker with Centro Latino Americano, a service agency for Latinos.
“It's so egregious that people are aware of the actual chemical in some cases,” Arkin said. “Residents specifically mentioned creosote and ammonia as being particularly aggravating.”
The data was collected in a survey conducted by bilingual canvassers who went door to door in September and October. They asked people if they could identify air pollution in their area, whether they had any respiratory diseases, and whether the symptoms of those diseases had worsened since they had begun living in the Industrial Corridor.
Approximately 30,000 people live in the area. Many are poor, elderly, disabled or ethnic minorities. Many of the Latino families recently moved to this country and work manual labor jobs. All speak Spanish as a first language; not all could speak English.
A $25,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency funded the project, and OTA partnered with Centro Latino Americano.

Data will continue to be analyzed to further understand the correlation between the health problems and living near the Industrial Corridor, while OTA has begun working with Lane County’s Public Health Department, and hopes to survey more families.
“Three hundred-plus families is not enough yet,” Arkin said.
A community advisory committee is being formed to educate the people on how they can self-treat for asthma and seek medical care, and also to make recommendations to the city of Eugene and Lane County.
Arkin is determined to generate solutions. “This will increase public awareness.”

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To learn more about the work of the Oregon Toxics Alliance, visit


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