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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Is there change in the air?

Posted by Rick | March 2nd, 2011 | Filed under Environmental Change, Positive Change

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Will smart design put the first step to better air quality—awareness of an invisible problem—in our own hands (or on our chests)? We hope so.

We all know that Portland is a marvelously green city. So green is the haze around here, in fact, that most residents are oblivious to the offensive air quality caused by industrial waste. Two years ago, USA Today published an in-depth article called The Smokestack Effect that looked at the impact of industrial pollution on children, particularly those who attend schools near factories that emit toxic chemicals. The results were shocking: higher rates of cancer, mental problems and respiratory disease seemed to tie directly to a school’s proximity to polluters. And even more shocking was the fact that Northwest Portland is in the lowest 2 percentile of air quality in the nation. (A form on the website allows you to check how your neighborhood ranks.)

Our office is in the Pearl District of Northwest Portland, around a mile from Portland’s worst culprits for air pollution. We have kids who attend school in the neighborhood. So the question is, what can we do?

NCA LogoNeighbors for Clean Air in Portland has been championing this cause since the USA Today article was published, gathering signatures, mapping odor complaints on their website, and working with government officials and local businesses to regulate and reduce emissions. Follow them on Facebook for ways you can get involved.

This may be a little while out, but Intel Labs Berkeley seems to be close to releasing an air quality monitor for mobile phones as part of their Common Sense project that will allow people to do more than simply report odd-smelling odors near factories. It will actually call out toxins and use GPS to map where they are found. The effect of a piece of technology like this would be enormous in helping locate sources of pollution and forcing factories to change their ways.


warning-signs1_fizUZ_24429Finally, a little less-specific air quality sensor comes in the form of “Warning Sign” t-shirts created by two NYU graduates. The shirts, designed with either a heart or set of lungs on the front, detect high carbon monoxide levels and display blue veins in the organs when worn in areas of high pollution.

2 Responses to “Is there change in the air?”

  • March 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Libby says

    My sister was diagnosed with aplastic anemia a couple years ago. It is an extremely rare autoimmune disorder that causes white blood cells to attack bone marrow. The doctors told us that they had no idea how she got this disease but they thought it might have to do with the high levels of benzene in the Oregon air. (http://www.oeconline.org/our-work/kidshealth/toxics/air/benzene) After some research I was blown away by the incredibly high cancer and aplastic anemia rates in Oregon. I had always considered this state to be the epitome of eco-minded pristine living. Fortunately there are some things in motion to clean up our air…..but there are still days when I walk out of the Nau office and can smell the chemical waste from nearby factories.

  • March 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Sattie says

    My little boy was diagnosed with chronic arsenic exposure about a year ago. Since then it seemed to fade and then it came back. Turns out the levels of arsenic in his blood seem to match the seasonal rise and fall of arsenic in our Portland neighborhood as detected by a DEQ monitoring station five blocks from our house (and the monitors show that the truth of our air is even worse than the USA Today Smokestack Report suggests). This isn’t theoretical danger. This is real and it’s affecting every one of us. Portland has some of the worst industrial toxic air in the country. Who’s responsible? Well, every one of us who has been coasting on our green accolades for the past couple decades while the Republican-controlled State legislature systematically and strategically defunded DEQ, making them utterly dependent on permit revenues for their survival. In other words, DEQ hasn’t been working for the people in a long time. They’ve been working for the polluters. Now we all pay. Those who are most sensitive will pay first and pay the most. But none of us get off free. We need to get informed, stand up and DEMAND that the State does something about this and fast.

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