The state’s lone long-term air toxics monitor will be set up in The Dalles soon to take a wide variety of air samples for a year, starting in July.
Also starting next month will be a shorter, more targeted 30-day air sampling, focusing on the AmeriTies West plant.
It is the third round of such sampling, but will be the first summertime sampling since the company, a railroad tie treating plant, changed its wood treating formula to cut the level of naphthalene in half.
Naphthalene is an ingredient in the wood-treating compound creosote that has led to a high rate of odor and health complaints against AmeriTies. The 30-day sampling also tests for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality received enough complaints in 2015 to trigger DEQ’s odor nuisance strategy. Since then, the agency has held several public meetings, done two rounds of air monitoring, and sought the help of a federal agency to create a community health analysis.
Two separate analyses will be done — of air quality levels both before and after the naphthalene was cut in half. The first results are due at the end of this year, and the next results are due in mid-2018, said Greg Svelund, DEQ spokesman.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is conducting the so-called “health consultation.”
The report it produces will estimate exposure and exposure durations, and estimate health risks.
Details have not been finalized, but hopes are to locate the yearlong air quality monitor at The Dalles-Wasco County Library, Svelund said. It will be secured in a fence.
The air toxics monitor will measure over 100 different pollutants, that could come from a variety of sources, including the freeway, railroad, wood burning stoves, and local pollution sources.
It will be positioned to capture the widest range of many different sources of pollution, and is preferably close to where people live, work and play, he said.
The monitor has been in La Grande, Gresham and Portland. “The Dalles rates really high for getting a monitor and that’s why they’re getting it. It’s not directly related to anything happening with AmeriTies,” Svelund said.
Perhaps surprisingly, The Dalles has about 25 sources that have air permits. Those include not only obvious locations like AmeriTies and other industrial locations, but also gas stations, auto body repair shops and dry cleaners.
The yearlong air monitoring will take a sample every six days. The 30-day monitoring focusing on AmeriTies will take a 24-hour sample every third day.
The AmeriTies sampling is purposely being done in summertime, since the most odor complaints come in summer. Heat increases the rate at which naphthalene evaporates.
Earlier testing for naphthalene found the highest concentrations of it were at the Wasco County Planning building, which is located immediately next to the tie plant, on the east end of town.
Asked if county workers had ever complained about odor or health issues from naphthalene, Svelund said, “It’s like everywhere in town. There’s people there who are not affected, there’s people quite a lot, and everywhere in between. There’s people that don’t smell it and there’s people that smell it every day.”
AmeriTies has a permit to emit compounds including naphthalene, and is well below the limits set in the permit. It is allowed to emit 39 tons of volatile organic compounds yearly, and emits 11 tons.
Air quality testing last year found the levels of naphthalene at various locations in town were well below acute levels — only recently established at 200 micrograms per cubic meter — but well above the lifetime exposure level, which is just .03 micrograms per cubic meter.
The lifetime exposure level of .03 micrograms assumes daily, round-the-clock exposure over a 70-year lifespan. It is set at a point low enough that if one million people were exposed to that level, just one person would develop a case of cancer due to the exposure.
Testing results showed naphthalene concentration levels ranged from a low of .006 micrograms per cubic meter to a high of 5.78 micrograms per cubic meter at the county planning office.
The lowest average reading was at Cherry Heights, (.063 micrograms per cubic meter) while the highest average was at the county planning building (2.37 micrograms per cubic meter.)
Kris Cronquist, a critic of AmeriTies, welcomed the testing, which she pushed for. “Past DEQ monitoring efforts, going as far back as 2011, have shown consistently high levels of potentially harmful compounds in our air. I am glad that DEQ is continuing their air monitoring efforts, and I urge our local representatives and the rest of our community to stay abreast of the data and further actions taken.” She said the DEQ is using the year-long toxic monitor “to gauge overall pollution in The Dalles. Which is good, because there are other sources [of pollution], but bad because the full toxics data gathered will not be used to assess emissions from AmeriTies, or any other respective source.”
If numbers are high, she said, “there’s no plan as to how to identify the source or what to do next. So I’m happy that any further monitoring is happening but it’s so convoluted that I am losing hope that any meaningful change can and will happen as a result of what the full toxics monitor tells us.”
Last year, AmeriTies said in a statement that it voluntarily changed its processes to a lower naphthalene formula.
“Our plant has operated at this location in The Dalles since 1922,” the statement said.
“We conscientiously comply with all state and federal environmental and safety regulations. The state is currently raising issues that have not been raised before. We have demonstrated our commitment to health and safety and will continue to maintain this commitment to our workers, to our neighbors and to our community.”