Washington, DC — U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are urging their colleagues to improve federal air quality programs in the wake of several Portland neighborhoods learning last month that there are high levels of heavy metals in the air.
“The EPA aims to protect air quality but, as we are seeing in Oregon this cannot be done without additional funding to implement air quality programs at a scale that is relevant to defend human health,” Wyden and Merkley wrote the Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding.
The Oregon senators urged increased funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor hazardous air pollutants, and to provide grants and technical assistance to reduce pollution.
In the aftermath of recently discovered hotspots of airborne heavy metals in some southeast and north Portland neighborhoods, the senators also urged the revision of hazardous air pollution emission standards under the Clean Air Act.
“Hazardous air pollutants, such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium, can cause cancer, neurological disorders and other serious health impairments,” they wrote. “While these toxic air pollutants are regulated under the Clean Air Act, existing rules have been inadequate at protecting American citizens.”
“Furthermore, these dangerous shortfalls have been caught only by experimental air quality analysis conducted by non-EPA agencies, indicating that our mainstay national air quality monitoring system is also in need of an upgrade,” the senators wrote.
In a second letter to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the EPA’s funding, Wyden and Merkley also requested increased funding for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The senators cited the air pollution hotspots in Portland, as well as the lead water pollution in Flint, Mich. as reasons for the request to provide more support for the agency providing expert investigation and response to public health emergencies from harmful exposures.
“A number of incidents early in 2016,” they wrote, “have reminded us that dangerous environmental health concerns exist across America.
“More than ever, we need to robustly fund this Agency,” they wrote. “Increased funding for ATSDR will provide necessary support for the scientific and programmatic capabilities that safeguard human health, in all our communities across America.”
The Oregon senators also joined in a Feb. 22 carta with U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer seeking federal agencies’ help responding to the public health risks identified by the hotspots of airborne heavy metals in parts of Portland.