Portland’s Dirty Little Secret by Jacob Sherman

 portlands-air-is-toxicPhoto courtesy of Neighbors for Clean Air

Given how "environmentally-friendly" and "green" our city is reputed to be, you might find it hard to believe that Portland has a serious air quality problem -- but it's true. In August 2013, a national study named Precision Castparts Corporation (PCC) as the nation's #1 toxic polluter due to the quantity of the company's emissions, the toxicity of the pollutants, and the proximity of these emissions to the people in neighborhoods around them; neighborhoods like those in SE Portland. From cobalt to nickel and chromium to manganese, the company emits a toxic soup of carcinogens and neurotoxins. As a result of industrial pollution and that the fact that Oregon is becoming a dumping ground for dirty diesel engines that are now outlawed in California and Washington, many of our local schools have some of the most dangerous outdoor air quality in the entire nation.

According to USA Today's special report on "The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America's Schools," many of Portland's schools suffer from extremely unhealthy air quality. For example:

  • Ardenwald ES - Worst 3 percentile in the nation (only 2,858 of 127,809 schools have   worse air)
  • Duniway ES - Worst 3rd percentile (only 3,021 schools have worse air)
  • Lane MS - Worst 9th percentile (only 11,015 schools have worse air)
  • Holy Family - Worst 10th percentile (only 11,687 schools have worse air)
  • Lewis ES - Worst 11th percentile (only 12,790 schools have worse air)
  • Whitman ES - Worst 13th percentile (only 15,191 schools have worse air)
  • Woodstock ES - Worst 13th percentile (only 15,776 schools have worse air)
  • Arleta ES - Worst 13th percentile (only 16,065 schools have worse air)
  • Creston ES - Worst 14th percentile (only 16,518 schools have worse air)
  • Marysville ES - Worst 17th percentile (only 20,618 schools have worse air)
  • Lents ES - Worst 22nd percentile (only 27, 631 schools have worse air)

Many people find these statistic very concerning, particularly when you realize that these schools act as indicators for the air quality in the neighborhoods around them. These rankings are our canaries in the coal mine. Importantly, we are not talking about local air pollution as if it impacts abstract polar bears in the artic. Industrial pollution and dirty diesel emissions are negatively impacting the health of our children and our communities.

ctmap7sm5-1024x590Copyright 2010 by Cascadia Times

Take diesel for example. As clean air advocate, Mary Peveto, explains, "Diesel is particularly problematic because its ultra-fine particles can travel deep into the lungs and can even pass from the lungs into the bloodstream. Long-term exposure to diesel emissions is linked to both lung and bladder cancer. Children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of diesel pollution because their lungs are still developing and they breathe, on average, 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than do adults." This is made even more urgent by a 2013 study in which researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health
found that diesel particulates in the air significantly increased the risk of having a child with autism. Oregon already has the second-highest rate of autism among students in the country, with its average double the national.

Three things that you can do

Number 1: Learn more about Oregon's toxic air and how everyday citizens can help clean it up. The local air-quality advocacy group Neighbors for Clean Air (NCA) has put together useful resources to learn about the Clean Air Act
and other enforcement strategies, and USA Today's Smokestack Effect report offers specific information about air pollution at local schools. Also, don't forget to sign-up for NCA's monthly newsletter to stay updated about local issues and to find out about meetings with experts or industry representatives, legislative advocacy trainings, or how to organize the community.

Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian

Number Two: After learning more about our air quality problems, take action. You can sign this petition
urging Governor Kitzhaber to stop Oregon from being the dumping ground of dirty diesel engines, and then ask a friend to sign it too. You can also talk with your neighbors about "Portland's dirty little secret," and ask your local neighborhood association or parent-teacher association to encourage elected officials to address the issue. You can write your state representative and tell them about your concerns and why clean air matters to you and your family. (If you don't know who your state representative is, click here to find out.)

Number Three: Join the other everyday citizens who are working together to make a difference. In fact, you can join the Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association from 6:30-8pm on Thursday, April 10th, 2014, to meet with representatives from Precision Castparts Corporation, which is hosting an open-house at the Brentwood-Darlington Community Center (7211 SE 62nd Ave, Portland, OR 97206). Citizens are invited to ask the company questions, and talk about things that the community cares about. (Like the fact that Portland is the home to nation's #1 polluter!)

Actually, there is a fourth thing to do: Please remember that it takes time to build a community garden or to change the law, and that it only it happens when dedicated people rally around a cause. For example, our neighborhood recently finished building a new community garden at Errol Heights Park, but it took a little over two years of time, patience, and perseverance. In a very real way, the Clean Air Act became law because of the grassroots advocacy and hard work that happened all around the country before, during, and after the original Earth Day in 1970. When everyday people band together, we can successfully advocate for traffic improvements and to help the Belmont Goats relocate to Outer SE or to build a new grange at Zenger Farms. But none of this is very surprising. After all, as the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead once remarked, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."


That said, I hope you will do #1 and #2, and I look forward to seeing you at #3 and talking with you more about #4.

Jacob Sherman is the current chairman of the Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association, where, amongst other things, he has helped create a community garden, successfully advocated for the installation of traffic calming measures, and increased community-engagement. A fifth generation Portlander, Jacob enjoys backpacking, gardening, running, and playing board games with his wife, son, and (soon to be) newborn baby... alright, the baby doesn't play board games. Not yet, anyway!


Meet your Neighbors: Foster Row

1486757_1438208816393362_662153319_aMeet the folks behind Foster Row, coming to our fine road in 2014.

Who are you?
Mark Pendergrass is a Woodworker from Kansas. He moved to Portland in 2006 to pursue a career in furniture design and manufacturing. Jennifer Erickson is a textile weaver. She moved to Portland in 2007 from Minneapolis, MN.

What do you do?
Foster Row is a place for creative entrepreneurs to work alongside each other and be a source of inspiration and collaboration. Based in the historic YMCA building, Foster Row includes a full woodshop, textile studio, and retail showroom. As the neighborhood moves through a period of redevelopment Foster Row aims to serve as a hub for community events.

What is your inspiration? (Why do you do what you do?)
Our goal is to create a communal working environment for our businesses and other small businesses to grow together. Rather than hiring employees, we will collaborate with other skilled entrepreneurs to create our unique line of home furnishings. We will also host events to draw attention to our businesses and establish Foster Row as a permanent fixture in the community.

What brought you and/or your business to this fine community?
We are excited about the direction we see this neighborhood moving in, and appreciate how down-to-earth everyone is here. There is a strong sense of pride that folks feel for the Foster neighborhood and the dedication to continue to build community.

3 Ways to unite the Fine Folks of Foster and it’s neighboring communities
1. We want to offer our 5,000 square foot space for hosting community events
2. We really like the idea of a Foster Card system to tie together local businesses.
3. Beautify the neighborhoods and encourage pedestrian traffic

How do you envision the future of your neighborhood?
We see our neighborhood drawing in more community and family-oriented businesses/organizations.


Join us

FUbadge03When Foster United started in the summer of 2012, we were mostly sure that our readership would consist of us four, so when the numbers started to increase, we were beyond pleasantly surprised and we adjusted accordingly. As we gear up for 2014, we find ourselves in a similar position, only this time there are far more stories to tell, events/meetings to attend, and neighborhood champions to applaud; hence, expansion.

If you are a community-minded writer, artist, or planner-extraordinaire seeking to share your stories in a medium such as this, we’d love to hear from you.

E: info@fosterunited.org


The future of FAN, fun stuff

Foster Art Night  needs your help in 2014. What began as a simple stroll down Foster road in 2012 has now become a night of neighbors making friends amid live music, libations, and art.


fanIn the great fashion of supporting one another and promoting our Foster district community, we have decided to take FAN up a notch in 2014. If you would like to assist in coordination, idea making, fundraising, and/or art making, we’d love to hear from you. Planning is underway now. Please contact us here at info@fosterunited.org for more details. (more…)

Meet James Layton and Ne Si’ka, it’s a Journey worth taking

James Layton
Ne Si’ka – Food from the Heart

Ne Si'ka - Food from the Heart_997753159_a

Who are you?

We’re a group of regular folks mostly with pasts in the service industry who can identify with, and have had experience with, food insecurities and hunger issues at some point. We identified an issue and a need and discovered an amazing way to help put a dent in that issue and help some people.

What do you do?

We are in the process of raising funds and developing a pay what you can restaurant. This model is popping up all over the country in different forms, each a little different. Some are cafes and some even move around, ours will be a full service restaurant servers and table seating. There will be a suggested price for any given meal and there will be those who can afford to pay the suggested price, those who have can pay it forward and pay a little bit extra, and those who need to pay less or nothing at all. No one will be turned away, but there will also be volunteer opportunities to pay for a meal in that way and learn some job skills and gain some work experience.

What is your inspiration? (Why do you do what you do?)

So many inspirations! Locally, Sisters of the Road is a great model and provides a great service, but their primary goal is in helping with homelessness, of which hunger is only one part. Funny enough, we first discovered the concept through Jon Bon Jovi, who has a pay what you can restaurant called Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, New Jersey. We contacted them and they led us to Denise Carreta where they got the idea. She started with One World Cafe in Salt Lake City and now has a non-profit foundation called One World Everybody Eats that guides others through the process. She has been a major inspiration and invaluable resource. Our primary inspiration right now, may actually just be the people we talk to in the community. There is such support and love from everyone we talk to about the concept it really keeps us going when the whole non-profit process gets frustrating!

Ne Si'ka - Food from the Heart
What brought you and/or your business to this fine community?

One of our board members was born and raised in Foster-Powell/Lents, which helped us take a hard look at the area. Although, we checked out demographics around the city, our final decision to end up in Foster-Powell came due to the fact that it is the largest urban food desert within Portland and contains some of the lowest paid working families. These things all point to exactly where there is the greatest need for our restaurant model. Beyond the logistics, there is already such a solid sense of community that are extremely excited to tie into that and do our part to strengthen that.

Ways to unite the Fine Folks of Foster and it’s neighboring communities?

I’ll put this into a context that relates to us and some of our goals. We would like to be a community “anchor” a hub where everyone feels comfortable regardless of their means. The community table, if you will, where conversations are struck and neighbors can meet neighbors whether they live in Mt Scott/Arleta, Woodstock, Lents, Foster/Powell, or any of the surrounding communities. One of the reasons we are seeking a larger location is so that we can have a space for community meetings, gatherings, and events. Something that is important to us and the sense of community is garnering as many partnerships and sourcing as many resources as we can from within the community itself. This can be as small as helping a community garden out by purchasing resources or as large as using a local contractor for renovations. Sustainability is extremely important to us and one of the best ways to be sustainable is by keeping everything as local as possible. When that happens and people see it happening successfully that circle just grows.

How do you envision the future of your neighborhood?

From what I have seen and the people I have talked to I definitely see a lot of forward motion and collaborative effort moving the neighborhood toward stronger economic growth. The important part of that is the collaborative effort, because it seems a more unified vision exists that is leading to stronger community with more diversified businesses that are desired and needed. We are excited to be a part of that growth and for the positive responses we have already received from the community.

Some top fives to appease the list lovers: Your Top 5 Songs to get you through a life?

Our tastes are just too diversified as a group to come to consensus on this so I’m just going to say “Don’t Stop Believin” because you know…Journey

Join the club

Another great read from Angela Cortal, ND

I like good food.  And I like deals.  What I really like are good deals on great food.  So in my quest for better food at a better value, I bring you the food buying club.

Surely you’ve heard about food buying clubs.  They’re usually organized with one or more homes being the locavore hub.  Others join as members, and everyone goes in on large orders of bulk food.  Usually the kind that costs an arm and a leg in the grocery.  Key words being organic, grass-fed, local, farm-fresh, but that’s no requirement.

What I’d like to do is provide enough information so that if you’ve ever been curious or interested in getting food through these avenues, a few of the “but what about…”s are already taken care of.food_club

First off, the when, where and how much.  There are more than a dozen organized food buying clubs slinging the mega orders of quinoa and collards throughout Portland.  One of the closest to us is Lents Grocery, just blocks off Foster in Lents.  Currently housed in one of its organizers house, all extra funding raised through orders (5% added to purchase cost) goes towards the future creation of a brick-and-mortar Lents Grocery store.

Although I mentioned that food buying clubs are usually run out of someone’s house, a few have now or are planning on transitioning into food co-operatives, such as Know Thy Food (storefront on SE 12th ave in the Brooklyn neighborhood), the Montavilla Food Co-op (in the store planning stages) and Lents Grocery. (more…)

Arleta Playground Makeover: Revitalizing Our Play Space

Please join us in welcoming our newest contributor, Eric Kellon. Eric is one of the many parents on a mission to make our schools fun and safe. 


Over the past few months, Arleta has been collaborating with the nonprofit organization Depave on a very exciting opportunity to give our playground a much needed makeover. Input from Arleta parents and staff, in cooperation with the Boosters organization, has been used to develop a potential site plan which will remove portions of blacktop near the existing play structure. The intent of the plan is to populate these cleared spaces with trees, benches and other elements that will improve the appearance and functionality of the overall space. Arleta parents and staff are working closely with the PPS Facilities Department and Depave to develop a plan that meets the following goals:

  • Providing a fun and safe area for kids to play
  • Maximizing functionality of the existing play area
  • Adding educational elements
  • Increasing shade and seating areas
  • Reducing impervious surface area
  • Establishing easy, long-term maintainability


What’s Your Soap Made Of?

Over the past few months, I’ve been writing about health-promoting events, people and tips for better health. Maybe you try to eat healthy.  Maybe you try to exercise.  One area of healthy living that’s often overlooked are household products and cleaners. Why should you care?  I’m glad you asked (and even if you didn’t, I’m going to answer anyways).


The most common cleaners around the house are soaps- for the body, dishes and laundry.  And believe it or not, the ingredients extend beyond rays of sunshine, flowers and butterflies.  To understand what’s in our products, let’s begin at the beginning.  What’s a soap?  It’s a surfactant, producing micelles to encapsulate soluble materials to be removed from you, your dishes and your clothes. (more…)

Meet Your Local Acupunk

Written by Dr. Angela Cortal

Over these past two months, I’ve been sharing my own experience, knowledge and perspective on keeping healthy in the neighborhood.  This time, I thought I’d turn it over for of the “acupunks” at Working Class Acupuncture (WCA) to tell you a little about their operation.  I figured I would bother him for you, ask a lot of questions that others might not so we can all know more about this community resource. (more…)