By MONICA SAMAYOA
Oregon Public Broadcasting
PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — Two of Oregon’s most economically disadvantaged and racially diverse communities — one in Portland and the other on the South Coast — are gaining strength in the fight against air pollution.
The air quality challenges faced by “environmental justice communities” are highlighted by EPA grants to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the environmental nonprofit Verde, and the Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Confederated Coos Indian Tribes. The grants are designed to increase air quality monitoring and awareness in communities where many residents are poor, people of color and disproportionately affected by pollution – for example, living near industrial sites or highways.
DEQ spokeswoman Lauren Wirtis said the agency is set to receive nearly $500,000 to be used to work with local communities, universities and local agencies to jointly design a monitoring framework to collect better data that can lead to further action by the state.
“Part of what it looks like is allowing communities to use a library of instruments maintained by DEQ that would monitor (particulate matter) and diesel fuel in their area,” she told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
The agency will also work with Neighbors for Clean Air, an environmental advocacy group. Executive Director Mary Peveto said she was excited to install more air quality monitoring units that would collect real-time data. She said it would allow community members to ask questions about how data is collected, what areas are most affected and what can be done to reduce pollution.
Peveto said the grant money “primarily, I believe, helps to immediately restore that in community empowerment when data is created or collected.”
Community environmental group Verde will receive nearly $120,000 to install air quality monitors in the Cully neighborhood. Monitoring will focus on airborne soot or soot.
Cully is one of Portland’s most racially diverse neighborhoods, with more than half of its residents being people of color. According to DEQ data, the Cully district experienced the second highest levels of arsenic compared to other places in 2018.
Oriana Magnera from Verde said more needs to be done to reduce air pollution in the area.
Magnera said Cully is exposed to air pollution from nearby Portland International Airport. It is also polluted by diesel trucks and trains that pass through the area. And glass recycling plants and asphalt grinders contribute to the pollution of the area.
Magnera said she hoped the air quality monitors would give community members the ability to collect their own data and connect it to their life experiences. She said she also hopes the data will be another way to identify other polluters in the area and ensure they can be held accountable.
“Having real hard data is sometimes the only way state or federal agencies will listen and actually value community feedback,” she said.
The participation of the Coos Tribes in the $500,000 grant will increase community engagement and education on outdoor and indoor quality, and develop a network of air quality monitors, said CEO Lee Ann Wander.
Without proper monitoring of air quality around the Tribal Reservation and Trust Lands, “there is a presumption that coastal air is always clean,” she said.
“Because of this misconception, many members of our at-risk community are spending more time outdoors and suffering from health problems directly related to poor air quality,” said Wander.