Change Is In The Air: New toxic air regulations coming to Oregon
Aug 16, 2016
Ken Fellows, PE
Ken Fellows, PE
Principal Environmental Engineer

Recent high-profile environmental scares like the lead groundwater contamination in Flint, Michigan demonstrate the importance of monitoring and preventing these dangers. Everyone wants and expects to be safe from exposure to environmental contaminants in their homes and neighborhoods. Air quality is a leading concern. Right now Oregon is facing the issue head-on with new legislation to monitor and regulate the state’s air.

The quality of our air should be important to the general public and to industries, energy producers and other potential sources of contamination. State governments take many different approaches to air pollution, but in Oregon many toxic air pollutants have not been strictly regulated. Now this is likely changing, and the new regulations could affect a variety of industries and businesses across the state.

While outdoor air quality concerns have traditionally focused on combustion related pollutants like carbon monoxide and particulate matter, potential risks to health don’t end there. Thousands of toxic air pollutants are emitted by a wide variety of industrial and other sources and have the potential to cause localized air quality “hot spots.”

Existing laws require the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to monitor air quality in urban areas to identify areas with higher levels of toxic air pollutants and then work with the sources to reduce emissions of toxic air contaminants. This ad-hoc approach to air testing and regulation may soon be coming to an end.

The Forest Service recently discovered high levels of heavy metals during routine moss sampling in a Portland neighborhood. The DEQ confirmed a hot spot and traced the airborne heavy metals to two art glass manufacturers. Although the DEQ worked with the sources to reduce their use of heavy metals, this demonstrated that the existing air toxics regulatory program is not working well, and the governor initiated a task force to craft new, more comprehensive, air toxics regulations.

These regulations are still in the process of being developed, but one proposed approach would require all industrial sources in Oregon to complete comprehensive assessments of air toxic pollutant emissions and their estimated health risks. No matter what the final regulations are, there are a number of steps that Oregon businesses can take now to get out in front of the new laws.

  • Get involved with your state’s process. Oregon is just beginning the rule-making process, and there are opportunities for potentially affected businesses to be involved. Make your voice heard and help find solutions that will keep our air clean while minimizing impact on industry.
  • Act early. Don’t wait until Oregon’s new rules are in the books to strategize. Monitor the process and start planning now to avoid permitting delays later.
  • Ask the experts. Although stricter air regulations are new to Oregon, many other states have gone through a similar process. GeoEngineers and other environmental consultants can provide guidance that efficiently prepares affected industries for compliance.

GeoEngineers has been tracking this issue closely and we are ready to help Oregon industry engage in the rulemaking process, identify potential areas of risk, and document toxic air pollutant emissions under whatever regulatory program is ultimately adopted. We specialize in making sense of the sometimes conflicting array of federal and state air quality programs. The Oregon toxic air pollutant regulations will be just one more facet of the already complex air quality regulatory arena.

Although the final form of the new regulations is not clear, we urge you to be proactive in assessing your emissions of toxic air pollutants so that you are ready to respond, and have time to make changes where appropriate. Waiting until the last minute to understand your situation will dramatically limit your options and you may fall under onerous regulatory requirements that might otherwise have been avoided.

Contact me for more information on the evolving Oregon air compliance regulations, and to discuss how we can assist you with all of your industrial regulatory compliance concerns.

"Waiting until the last minute to understand your situation will dramatically limit your options and you may fall under onerous regulatory requirements that might otherwise have been avoided."

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