This US wildfire season is among the worst: Here's why (copy)

Smoke clouds from the Eagle Creek Fire obscure the sun above Multnomah Falls, Wednesday, Sept 6, 2017, near Troutdale, Ore (Genna Martin/seattlepi.com via AP)

Genna Martin

As I write, the sun and its light are orange; thankfully the sky is white, not brown or gray. Many fires are affecting our health.

Even without a perceptible breeze, dinner time brings the sickening smell of tar until after bedtime, even though we live about 5 air miles from the paving mixing area for the repaving of Highway 20 to the coast.

Air moves easily — from varying directions, and the reverse. We can do nothing to stop the flow of air from near and far.

Now is the time to talk about air quality in Oregon. We have a chance to lessen industrial and possibly background air emissions.

I have followed meetings on Oregon’s proposed new statewide air quality rules since June 2016. People tired of breathing dirty Oregon air were overjoyed to hear Gov. Brown’s promise to enact new air regulations based on health. The new initiative is called Cleaner Air Oregon. I suspect few of you have heard about it, since we lost our Portland TV channel connection, and downstate papers didn’t pick up stories about the progress. The Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Health Authority are facilitating the overhaul of regulations.

At legislative hearings, I learned about the dangers of particulate matter (PM), especially the dangers of diesel particulates. These are dangerous because they are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, and easily inhaled deep into the lungs. A human hair is 50-70 microns. Even though Oregon has lots of diesel pollution along major road corridors, the Oregon Legislature failed to enact controls on it. I learned that multiple new studies show a high correlation between breathing any source of PM 2.5 or smaller and a host of ailments, none of which you want to have.

At Cleaner Air Oregon technical and regulatory advisory committee hearings I learned more about air quality regulation. Now I find that health-based Cleaner Air Oregon proposed regulations were extremely watered down at final meetings in June, July and August. Some examples: For an existing facility, cancer risk (new terminology for the risk is “risk action level”) was raised from 10 in 1 million people to 100 in 1 million (100/million). Now the director of the Department of Environmental Quality alone can make a “director’s decision” about whether an existing source can emit more than 100/million.

There are many other proposed changes outlined in a visuals document found on the Cleaner Air Oregon website under Meeting Materials. One file is titled, CAO-RAC-all-presentation-6-20-2017.pdf.

The Cleaner Air Oregon draft rules will be finalized in early October. If you want to learn more about what is proposed in the new air quality rules that will affect your health, be on the lookout for possible Corvallis informational meetings.

You can comment in person and in writing directly to the Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Health Authority during the public comment period from Oct. 13 through Dec. 15. Please Google the Cleaner Air Oregon website for a host of informative material.

Marilyn Koenitzer lives in Corvallis. 

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