The power to change this is in the hands of the State Legislature; but only local leaders attended

DAVID F. ASHTON - As Beven Byrnes moderated, the panel of state Senator Kathleen Taylor, State Representative Rob Nosse, Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, Metro President-elect Lynn Peterson, Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, and City Council Candidate Jo Ann Hardesty, responded to questions from the audience. At the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the Brooklyn neighborhood, on the evening of September 26, some 110 people attended what organizers called a "Town Hall Forum on Diesel Pollution".

"The purpose of this forum, hosted by the Brooklyn Action Corps [neighborhood association], is raising public awareness about the dangers of diesel pollution,"remarked one of its organizers, Joe Hovey, who said he is with "Portland Neighbors Addressing Diesel Pollution".

"Unless there's a crisis people usually don't react; so, with the messages presented by our speakers this evening, giving those who attend the opportunity to ask questions of some elected officials here tonight, we're hoping to get honest answers from the politicians about diesel pollution," Hovey said.

While he acknowledged that this issue wouldn't be resolved that evening, Hovey remarked, "We're looking at this as the beginning of a conversation, a dialogue; a way for us to all get on the same page, and talk."

The program's moderator, Beven Byrnes, revealed that she is the Principal/Executive Director at Bridges Middle School and, as a mother and educator "serving students with learning differences", has an interest in the topic.

The first speaker, Dr. Patrick O'Herron, MD, Board President of a group called "Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility" began his presentation with, "I have way more slides than I have time to talk about in detail."

In one of his first graphics, "Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)", O'Herron mentioned that it is these PAHs in diesel pollution that contain a large family of organic chemicals including benzo(a)pyrene, dioxins, and naphthalene; and many are carcinogenic, estrogen receptors or genotoxic he opined. "These often enter the body in particulates."

Speaking quickly as he flashed through his PowerPoint images, O'Herron pointed out that National Air Toxic Assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency is a study done every three years. "A lot of this information is based on modeling, and on known sources, and a few monitoring stations.

"There is potential for inaccuracy when you are relying on a lot of modeling, unless it's based on air-testing stations," O'Herron said as he pointed to a Multnomah County "Toxic Exposure Map" image dated 1996.

One of O'Herron's major references was pollution benchmarks in California, commenting "It's not good to breathe any of these particulates."

The next speaker, Oregon Thoracic Society president and ICU doctor Erika Moseson, MD, began by saying, "The lungs are designed to take in air [and what's contained in the air] from the outside world, and put it into our bloodstream – to take oxygen in, and release carbon dioxide out.

"Whatever we breathe and is going to get into our bloodstream. So, if you don't want to ingest diesel exhaust into your veins, you shouldn't breathe it."

Moseson suggested that diesel pollution can be a cause of dementia and ADHD "because it's in your brain, kidneys, other organs – in your entire body.

"In addition to causing diseases, the other thing to think about is how much all of [medical care] cost," Moseson commented. "Although we don't want to slow down the trucks or the construction, because that means jobs, I take care of a lot of people who are construction workers, and they are really suffering, including truck drivers."

Making her message upbeat, Moseson continued, "It sounds dire, but there is good evidence of medical literature that we can make a difference – if we decrease the amount of carbon particles in the air."

She went on, telling about studies in Washington and California in which school students became healthier when levels of pollution were reduced.

"Some people say that states like California and Washington can afford to reduce pollution, because they have stronger economies; but perhaps, they have stronger economies because they have cleaner air," Moseson suggested.

The last speaker, "Northwest Environmental Defense Center" Executive Director Mark Riskedahl, began with the observation that there is an "incredible complexity in regulating" diesel pollution.

"There are several tricky categories; in 'mobile sources', 60,000 diesel vehicles are moving in Portland every single day; and 14,000 trucks are moving along the Interstate 5 corridor every day. That's a lot of trucks spewing diesel exhaust."

He praised the "legislative rigor" of California and Washington in getting the dirtiest and oldest vehicles off their roads. "[Oregon] is where these older, dirtier vehicles move, to 'retire' and live out their lives," said Riskedahl.

What can help, Riskedahl said, was reduction in four key diesel emissions reduction categories:

· Emissions reductions from existing heavy duty diesel vehicles

· Emissions reductions from non-road diesel engines

· Aggregate emissions reductions from indirect sources

· Emissions reductions from the use and movement of vehicles

Elaborating on the last category, Riskedahl offered several suggestions, including limiting the hours that diesel delivery vehicles could operate within the Portland city limits.

Afterward, during the question-and-answer period, while seated at the head table, State Senator Kathleen Taylor, State Representative Rob Nosse, Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, Metro President-Elect Lynn Peterson, Metro Councilor Bob Stacey, and City Council Candidate Jo Ann Hardesty all seemed in agreement that diesel pollution is harmful and stated that they wanted it reduced.

During the presentations and the discussion, the presenters and politicians present spoke in generalities about diesel pollution throughout the greater Portland metropolitan area as a whole.

While the Eastmoreland, Reed, Brooklyn, Sellwood-Moreland, Creston-Kenilworth, and Hosford-Abernethy neighborhoods frame the Union Pacific Rail Yards, there seemed to be little local perspective concerning the amount or types of pollution resulting from railroad operations  nor how any might, locally, be alleviated. That may be on the agenda for a future meeting.

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