09 26 2016
  11:59 pm  
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Coffee shop owner Eleza Faison grew up in Northeast Portland and can't imagine ever wanting to leave what she considers one of the most livable, ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the state.

But Faison, who is Black, says she and her 6-year-old daughter Ada are paying a price for staying in an area that, according to a new Associated Press analysis, has some of the worst air in Oregon.

"Ada suffers from asthma, and she didn't go to school on her birthday because she couldn't breathe," Faison, 33, said. "I think a lot of it has to do with the air quality in our neighborhood. We're surrounded by pollution."

The AP analysis shows Oregon's highest levels of air pollution occur in North and Northeast Portland, where most of the state's Blacks reside, meaning they disproportionately are forced to breathe air that could cause asthma and other serious health problems.

One expert calls it a "crescent of pollution" that surrounds North Portland, a traditionally industrialized area where dozens of industries and businesses pump thousands of pounds of toxins into the air each year.

That might come as a surprise to people who think of Oregon in general and Portland in particular as clean, environmentally friendly places, said Bruce Podobnik, assistant professor of environmental studies at Lewis & Clark College.

"We are a clean state for the most part, but even within this so-called ecotopia, there are hot spots of pollution problems," Podobnik said. "Unfortunately, these pollution problems coincide with our African American communities."
In Oregon, Blacks were more than four times as likely as Whites to live in neighborhoods where air pollution likely poses the greatest health dangers, the AP analysis showed.

Nearly five out of every 10 Blacks in Oregon live in high-risk neighborhoods, according to the analysis, which is based on industrial pollution and doesn't include risks from other types of air pollution, such as vehicle exhaust.

Some environmental officials and community activists in North Portland say that diesel exhaust from buses and trucks actually plays a larger role than industries in polluting the air, especially in Northeast Portland, which is bordered by heavily traveled freeways.

Sylvia Evans, a North Portland resident who lives in an apartment complex one block from Interstate 5, said she thinks diesel exhaust pollution is adding to the large amount of industrial pollution and construction-related air problems in the area.

"It's bad," Evans said. "When I moved to this complex back in 1990, my oldest daughter was 3 years old, and she never had asthma before.

"Six months after living here, she came down with a really bad asthma attack that landed her in the hospital," she said.
North Portland became home to large numbers of Blacks who moved to Oregon during World War II to work in shipbuilding and other defense-related industries, then decided to stay after the war ended.

In recent years, though, North Portland has been undergoing "gentrification," with large numbers of young, White families moving in to take advantage of lower housing prices.

That trend seems a little ironic to Jeri Sundvall, head of the Environmental Justice Action Group, which fights pollution in North Portland.

In the 1950s, Sundvall said, there were many who did what they could to keep Blacks in North Portland from moving to other areas of the city.

Sundvall said the White migration to North Portland "shows it's a very desirable neighborhood now," and that she hopes the newcomers will lend their voices to the battle against pollution in the area.

"The reality is, no matter what color you are, we're all breathing the same air," she said.

— The Associated Press

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