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Portlanders want pristine air for all to enjoy.

Section Summary

While some Portlanders appreciate the existing air quality, especially compared to other cities, many believe there is much room for improvement. They see the diminishing fresh, clean air as a detriment to the quality of life in Portland, as the city prides itself on environmentalism. Some people speak specifically about wanting to reverse the negative health implications, such as asthma, that they believe are related to transit emissions. Those who live near freeways and are disproportionately affected by polluted air expressed this feeling particularly strongly. Some suggested that the local government should enforce stricter regulations on industrial and automobile emissions, and that companies should be held accountable to existing environmental protection laws.

Fewer people commented on the burden of noise pollution, but some did request regulations to prohibit unnecessary noise. People also offered many ideas for ways that individuals can help reduce air pollution through the use of alternative fuels. Some envision a carbon-free city for the future, where transit exudes zero emissions.

Summary of Main Ideas

  1. Portland’s air seems to be cleaner than that of many other cities.
  2. More effort needs to be made to prevent deterioration of air quality.
  3. Neighborhoods most affected by pollution need special attention.
  4. Health repercussions from air pollution are a real concern.
  5. Smoking should be limited or eliminated in public spaces.
  6. Industries need to be held accountable to community complaints of air pollution.

Summary of Tensions and Disagreements

  1. Whose responsibility is it to ensure clean air?


  1. Portland’s air seems to be cleaner than that of many other cities.
  • Large numbers of people commented on their appreciation for Portland’s clean air, often stating that Portland has cleaner air than other cities.
  • Respondents view the amount of trees as a major contributor to clean and fresh air. They state their support for trees in a wide range of settings, including:
    • Lining neighborhood streets;
    • In forests surrounding the city;
    • In the many urban parks; and
    • In natural areas inside and outside the city.
  • Portlanders imagine many more trees throughout the city distributed equally among all neighborhoods.
  • Some appreciate the existing restaurants and increasing number of bars that ban smoking.
“…The air quality is a rare gift.”

"I have seen tree trimmers from the power company come out and just mutilate the vegetation. I think if the power lines are getting in the way of the trees, they should be put under the street, not made way for."

“[I value] clean air from the many trees.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Move power lines underground to prevent trees near them from being diminished.

  1. More effort needs to be made to prevent deterioration of air quality.
  • Many Portlanders feel that the air quality in Portland is not as good as it could be, or that it has been deteriorating in recent years.
  • Some want incentives offered to indrustries willing to make changes that improve air quality.
  • There is a sense of urgency among many Portlanders, who feel that if the air quality is not improved soon, it will be too late to reverse the damage.
  • Respondents have many ideas about what needs to change in order to protect the city’s air:
    • City Council needs to listen and respond more proactively to neighborhood concerns of toxins in the air;
    • Public transit should be converted to use alternative energy sources such as biodiesel or electricity;
    • Incentives should be made available that encourage people to purchase environmentally-friendly vehicles;
    • Biking and other alternative modes of transportation should be encouraged;
    • Air quality improvement efforts should target existing causes of pollution; and
    • Regular air testing should be implemented.
“Portland is known as a ‘Green’ city. However, we have terrible air quality in the metropolitan area. I live in NW Portland and am bothered by asthma and allergies to the toxics in our air. In the summer months it is impossible to keep window open due to the air quality.”

“Deal with the air pollution before it becomes impossible.”

“We must do something about the air quality before it becomes too late…”

  1. Neighborhoods most affected by pollution need special attention.
  • Residents of Northwest neighborhoods call for controls of air pollution from the ESCO Corporation.
  • North Portland needs better air quality regulation.
  • People that live near freeways and in lower-income neighborhoods request more regulations of air quality because of the effects of concentrated pollution.
"We need to stop poisoning the air of our poorest neighborhoods and creating an entire generation suffering from asthma or worse.”

  1. Health repercussions from the air pollution are a real concern.
  • People's health is suffering from the air pollution in Portland.
  • Asthma is prevalent, especially for young people, due to the air pollution in some neighborhoods.
  • The city must prevent health problems for children and other people residing in neighborhoods contending with greater pollution factors by regulating the underlying issue of air quality.
    [Note: For more concerns over air pollution, see Environment: Pollution.}
"Since Portland has placed such a great emphasis on infill and the urban growth boundary, we should also consider the health costs of living in the polluted industrial air. Many studies have been done on the toxics in our air by DEQ (Portland Air Toxics Assessment) and Lewis and Clark…but so far no action has been taken. This should change immediately or we do not deserve the moniker 'Green City.'"

“…I live in NW Portland and am bothered by asthma and allergies to toxics in our air. In the summer months it is impossible to keep windows open due to the air quality.”

  1. Smoking should be limited or eliminated in public spaces.
  • A small yet strong group of respondents want to see Portland become smoke-free.
  • Some people envision all restaurants and bars without smoking.
  • Others just want to see more smoke-free bars, restaurants and no smoking near public doorways or offices, etc.
  • Some would like to see Portland become the first entirely smoke-free city.

  1. Industries need to be held accountable to community complaints about air pollution.
  • Many people agree that corporations need to be held accountable for waste and operations that impact air quality in local neighborhoods.
  • The loudest call for action among respondents was to control the air pollution from the international company ESCO Corporation, headquartered in Northwest Portland.
  • There are differing opinions on how to regulate ESCO, although many people share a concern that ESCO in particular should be responsible for improving local air quality. Specific suggestions include:
    • Relocating ESCO facilities;
    • Closing down the ESCO headquarters;
    • Requiring that the company pay fines for chemical output in the environment; and
    • Halting operations on hot, clean air days because the pollution is too extreme.
“Protecting our environment is paramount to me. We need to protect human health from harm by environmental toxins (ESCO).”

“Cleaner air: I live in NW Portland and between the freeways and the industry to our north, the air is often foul-smelling and unhealthy to breathe. Many mornings with both summer and winter inversions the air smells like a parking lot of trucks with their engines on. This is unfortunate and I think much more attention should be paid to the quality of the air we breathe. The city and state seem to do a better job on water quality (also crucial). Tougher regulations and enforcement on industry such as ESCO so close to dense residential neighborhoods. Though this is the purview of DEQ, is there some way the city government can intervene or apply some pressure on this issue?"

“…Stricter action and enforcement for better urban air quality, including a crack down on air pollution by ESCO, which contaminates large swathes of NW Portland, the Pearl and downtown air...”

“[In the future] pollution is drastically reduced. There are no bad air advisories. Companies will be held legally and economically responsible for their impact on the environment.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. There should be city-wide policy to regulate corporate pollution.
  2. Incentives are needed for companies to be motivated to change their practices.


  1. Whose responsibility is it to ensure clean air?

  2. Some people emphasize the need for certain groups to take full responsibility for keeping the air clean. The majority of people suggest that businesses at risk of air pollution begin to adopt green sustainable practices. Some respondents discuss the idea of encouraging more small business development in pedestrian-friendly neighborhood shopping districts. Others want incentives offered to indrustries willing to make changes that improve air quality.

    Another group of respondents emphasize the role of government and the need for policy to set the precedent for clean air. Many people thought the City should provide incentives to organizations and industries that are willing to follow best practices. They also feel the City should create stronger controls and enforcements that would regulate industrial pollution. Another idea of some respondents is for the government to reward the public by offering savings to regular riders of public transportation, beyond the monthly bus pass, which can be too expensive. Some people want stricter laws on auto registration and emissions, while others ask for more long-range planning changes to create more walkable neighborhoods.

    The third group of respondents is primarily focus on the responsibility of individual Portlanders to keep the air clean. Certain lifestyle practices are touted by some as being the best answer for protecting the Portland’s air quality. These include walking, taking public transit, biking, or buying non-fossil fuel dependent vehicles.

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