Interview with air quality advocate and B-D neighbor, Andrew Nemec

If you missed the first story about the State of Oregon‘s air quality testing of Precision Castparts Corporation, you can read that here.

I reached out to Andrew Nemec to get his perspective on the issue when I was writing my story, but I didn’t hear back from him until after I published. His up-close perspective on PCC, a manufacturer who’s been located in Brentwood-Darlington for 65 years, and how state officials have decided to regulate them, was eye opening so I thought it was important to publish the high points of our interview.

Nemec is a member of the South Portland Air Quality steering committee and also was a member of Oregon Health Authority‘s PCC public health assessment citizen advisory committee.

In a phone conversation earlier in December, he said the conclusions reached by the OHA was based on a oddly short period of testing. He also said that the airflow of pollution wasn’t taken into account in the positioning of the air pollution sensors.

The facility’s managers were aware that the tests were going on, so he said it was possible for them to limit operations to reduce what was found. The test took a surprisingly long time for what was actually done, he said, and it didn’t meet Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry certification.

Based on the testing, OHA found that PCC’s risk to human health was low.

Since the mid-1970s, the facility has filed data on its pollution output, but he said that data was not considered. He also said that data from the state’s cancer registry wasn’t included either.

Part way through the testing, Nemec said that PCC installed new pollution control equipment. As far as he knows, PCC installed the new equipment voluntarily. There was no commitment to continuing monitoring the facility, because he said state officials told him the monitoring equipment was needed in other parts of the state.

***

As I do with most advocates I interview, I asked Nemec what motivated him to get involved with this issue. He said he got involved because he’s lived within a quarter mile of the facility since 2007.

Though he has no definitive proof of his claims, he said he and his family have been experience health problems since they moved near the facility.

Within a few days of moving into the neighborhood, he said his child was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum, and another child began having symptoms of asthma. Those asthma symptoms ended when she moved, he said. Personally, Nemec said he feels like he’s had premature aging issues like pain in his kidneys.

Hazmat (hazardous material) accidents at the facility have happened over the years, he said, requiring them to tape their windows to avoid exposure. Nemec said he has made contact with a whistle-blower former employee who said that he was fired after reporting frequent OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) violations.

As a neighbor to the facility, Nemec said he would like to have more consistent monitoring and better good neighbor policies. Stronger fines for violations would also be helpful, he said.

Nemec fears that if there was a big earthquake, that there would be a massive release of the toxins he said are stored on site that would be similar to what happened at the Union Carbide plant in India. In 1984, an accident at a plant in Bhopal, India resulted in a release of poison gas that killed at least 3,787.

Clean Air Oregon, a new air quality law signed in the fall of 2018, could help, Nemec said. He said that he is waiting to see how it is implemented, but he’s not optimistic based on what he’s seen from the State and PCC.

For more information and how to get involved, contact Neighbors for Clean Air or South Portland Air Quality.

The Precision Castparts Corp. facility is located near Errol Heights Park and Natural Area.

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