PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An oil recycling plant in North Portland that neighbors say is making them sick is now being required by the Oregon DEQ to install new emission controls later this month. But an environmental consultant told KOIN 6 News the DEQ permit for the facility still allows some pollutants that can pose a health hazard.
Earlier this year, the DEQ conceded a couple nearby oil re-refining companies are likely sources for odors neighbors have complained about for a while.
A recently-released draft of the new pollution permit for one of them leaves little doubt about the health risks from the plant’s emissions.
Environmental consultant John Williams questions the DEQs oversight of American Petroleum Services and how the agency allowed the plant to operate without pollution control equipment for the last 11 years.
Holding documents he obtained, Williams said, “There’s no discussion of whether this is safe or not.”
Williams points out the newest pollution permit allows the plant to burn waste oil containing small amounts of chromium, arsenic, lead, cadmium and PCBs.
“Many of those are cancer-causing,” he told KOIN 6 News, “and they’re all being emitted.”
An infrared video KOIN 6 News obtained earlier this year proves the plant was giving off volatile organic compounds. Neighbors suspect that’s part of the reason they occasionally fall ill.
“You can’t breathe, respiratory problems, bloody sinuses, headaches that last for hours,” neighbor Mary Lou Putnam said. “It’s ridiculous.”
DEQ Air Quality Manager Michael Orman said the agency “has identified that there could be health risks from a number of different facilities based on air toxics.”
Until there the regulation reform initiative called Cleaner Air Oregon kicks in, Orman said the DEQ is limited in further mandating the reduction of emissions like toxic hexavalent chromium — which their permit does not specifically prohibit — by allowing chromium-3 to be burned.
“To me, if you wanted to reduce this to a tweet, you’d say: ‘Mississippi writes tougher air permits than Oregon.'” — Environmental consultant John Williams
“In reality, what we really need is monitors,” Orman said. “In the process of combustion there is the possibility that chromium is converted from chromium-3 to chromium-6, so there is the possibility that chromium-6 is being emitted from the facility.”
That’s what frustrates Williams.
“We don’t know…all these pollutants might be at harmless levels, but we don’t know.”
The DEQ’s new permit requires the new pollution control equipment to be 97% efficient and to be installed by July 25.
KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.