PPS checking school near crematory

9-12-13-crematory smoke-viewer video deinterlaced
Dark smoke pours from a smokepipe from a crematorium at the Gable Funeral Home in northeast Portland -- just blocks from an elementary school. (Screenshot from viewer-submitted video)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Public Schools will do its own environmental tests near a Northeast Portland crematory spewing black smoke into the sky in a residential area near a school.

The smoke from the crematory in the Montavilla neighborhood can contain particulate matter, a pollutant that is known to cause respiratory issues and have lasting long-term health effects.

Chuck Spidell, who has a first grader at Vestal Elementary, shot video from the playground that clearly shows black smoke rising from the crematory. The darker the smoke the more particulates in that smoke.

After seeing his video and hearing from several concerned parents, the school district consulted the Department of Environmental Quality. Unsatisfied by the lack of answers, the district decided to hire its own environmentalist to test the soil for dangerous chemicals.

“We didn’t want to wait,” Christine Miles with Portland Public Schools said. “We wanted to take active steps that we could take, which was testing the ground around the school.”

The test results will likely be back within a few days.

“I think it’s really great that [the district] stepped up and recognized this is an issue,” Spidell told KOIN 6 News.

But parents wonder why the district had to pay for the test when the DEQ is the regulatory agency.

The DEQ said they will not be taking air samples. Instead, they observe how dark the smoke is because, as air quality manager David Monro told KOIN 6 News, there is a direct relationship between particulate matter and the color of smoke.

When inspectors went to the crematory last week, they observed transparent heat emissions. But every cremation is different and Monro said the DEQ inspectors would go back.

“We are working with them to get back out there when they will be operating in a way that is more likely to create visible emissions,” he said. “We are actively trying to get back out there for a follow-up inspection. I think we’re probably talking time frames of days or weeks, at most.”

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