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DEQ to test air quality in The Dalles

The east entrance to Amerities is shown at an industrial yard in The Dalles. The plant that makes railroad ties coated with creosote has come under fire for odors and emissions that some residents say are causing health problems.

Photo by Mark Gibson
The east entrance to Amerities is shown at an industrial yard in The Dalles. The plant that makes railroad ties coated with creosote has come under fire for odors and emissions that some residents say are causing health problems.

This is the second of three stories centered on the controversy over odor and emissions at Amerities West in The Dalles. (READ PART 1);

Air monitors, used to measure naphthalene levels, will arrive to The Dalles by the end of the month, confirmed Brian Boling, a laboratory manager for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

The ambient air monitors have been ordered but will need to be calibrated before being placed at three different locations in the city.

The testing, which will take place over a year, will be the first since Amerities West hired Maul Foster and Alongi, Inc., coordinated with the DEQ, to sample the air on two days, Sept. 7, 2011, and Feb. 7, 2012.

In 2008, the DEQ’s science advisory committee set the benchmark for breathing naphthalene at .03 micrograms per cubic meter, which is based on a one in a million excess cancer risk, exposed over a lifetime.

Oregon Health Authority toxicologist David Farrer explains it this way—take a group of 1 million Americans and a little more than 300,000 will get some type of cancer in their lifetime no matter what. Throw .03 micrograms per cubic meter of naphthalene into the equation over a lifetime, which the Environmental Protection Agency has set at 70 years, and the cancer risk jumps to 300,001.

While the benchmark is .03, Farrer noted the median naphthalene found in urban areas throughout the United States due to freeway emissions is .95.

The Centers for Disease Control also has a benchmark that’s not based on cancer. According to the National Public Health Institute, anyone who is exposed to more than 4 micrograms per cubic meter of naphthalene is at greater risk to get lesions inside their nose. With a safety factor in mind, the CDC came up with that number after rats, who were given 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter of naphthalene, developed lesions.

Naphthalene concentrations measured in residential areas in The Dalles ranged from .88 in 2012 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter in 2011. Levels measured directly adjacent to Amerities’ cooling pad ranged from 53 in 2012 to 290 in 2011.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers 47,000 micrograms per cubic meter enough to shut a plant down for being immediately dangerous to an employee’s health.

DEQ also tested areas far away from the plant and found .72 near St. Mary’s Academy. No odors were observed there.

The tests in The Dalles were both snapshots collected over eight and 24 hours.

No tests have been done since because Oregon had just one air monitor for the entire state until Gov. Kate Brown secured $2.5 million from the state legislature earlier this year.

Farrer said the year-long air monitoring will give a clearer picture of the naphthalene levels in The Dalles.

“There’s always this question whether that 13 micrograms per cubic meter [highest found in residential] is representative of how it usually is and if it’s like that frequently,” Farrer said. “If that 13 was the average over the year, then that would be potentially concerning. If the level is like that a few times a year, then it would be much less concerning.”

After the two tests in 2011 and 2012, which were similar to results from JH Baxter, the wood preserving plant in Eugene — the DEQ launched a Nuisance Odor Strategy in 2013 and asked anyone who was bothered by smells to fill out a form.

If any facility got 10 complaints from 10 different addresses over 60 days, an investigation would begin. In The Dalles, that was triggered in February of 2015.

DEQ received 225 complaints from 49 addresses regarding Amerities in 2015 and has gotten 55 from 11 locations so far this year.

“We still want people to make the complaints but I also want people to understand that the strategy and all of the steps outlined were triggered after we got the 10 that we needed,” DEQ Pubic Affairs Specialist Greg Svelund said.

“Anything more is basically to pinpoint locations and strengthen information.

“It’s not going to do any more or any less to the strategy. That’s all been triggered and we’re moving down that road.”

Last May, DEQ began conducting surveys to track the strength, duration and offensiveness of the odors. So far they’ve gone to 15

different locations and done 14 surveys at each site.

“We need those for one year to capture all four seasons, different times of day and different locations.

That work has been ongoing and still is continuing right now,” Svelund said.

Rachel Najjar, whose two young daughters have gotten sick three times since her family moved to The Dalles less than a year ago, wants more from the state.

“It’s not an odor problem. It’s a public health emergency,” she said. “I’m not concerned about odors or monitors. I’m concerned about my children’s health now.”

According to DEQ, Amerities permit is written in accordance with federal emissions standards set by the Clean Air Act, which allows up to 39 tons of volatile organic compounds to be emitted into the air each year. Amerities is releasing around 11 tons annually.

“The law needs to change,” Najjar said.

Svelund noted permits are based on emissions and said “there are no rules tied to human health for toxins.”

Brown is working on changing that through a program called Cleaner Air Oregon, which over the next 18 months will create new guidelines to allow the DEQ to take into account human health when issuing permits.

For more information, go to

Najjar and others from The Dalles Air Coalition plan to join the East Portland Air Coalition and meet with the governor on May 23 in Salem.


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