Oregon Aviation Watch Urges Oregon Department of Justice to Investigate Aviation Lead Emissions

Miki Barnes, LCSW
President, Oregon Aviation Watch
July 7, 2016

In a letter dated June 29, 2016, Oregon Aviation Watch requested that the Oregon Department of Justice conduct an investigation of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Port of Portland (Port) regarding aviation lead emissions generated by the Hillsboro Airport and other airports located in Washington County. The rationale for taking this action is summarized below. The full text of the petition is available at Oregon Department of Justice Petition to Investigate Lead Emissions.


A review of Port and DEQ documents reveals major discrepancies and inconsistencies in the airborne lead concentrations estimated by these agencies. There are also indications that the amount of lead released into the air by aviation activity was underestimated. The bulleted items below summarize the reasons Oregon Aviation Watch submitted this petition. Please see the individual subheadings in the full text of the document on these topics for more detailed information and citations.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified the Hillsboro Airport (HIO) as the largest facility source of lead emissions in Oregon.
  • HIO ranks 21st in the nation among nearly 20,000 airports in lead emissions. According to Port estimates, HIO released 0.7 tons per year (tpy) of lead into the air in 2007 during the Landing and Take-Off (LTO) mode of flight. The Port forecasts that these emissions will increase to 0.8 tpy by 2016 and 0.9 tpy by 2021.
  • HIO came into existence as a grassy airstrip in 1928. Forty years later, the Port of Portland assumed ownership, yet in the nearly half century it has operated this facility it has never measured lead in the soil or air in the vicinity of this airport.
  • Neither the Port nor DEQ has ever actually measured lead air levels at HIO or any other airport in Washington County. The emissions reported by these agencies are based solely on estimates.
  • The evidence suggests that HIO air lead levels may be higher than current estimates reflect.
  • There is a significant discrepancy in the time the Port factored in for the Landing and Take-Off (LTO) mode of flight. The Port estimated 10 minutes whereas the EPA factors in 16 minutes. The Port offered no explanation for why it chose a shorter LTO phase.
  • Neither the Port nor DEQ factored in pre-flight engine run-ups in their estimates even though the EPA has described run-ups as "the most important contributor to peak air Pb [lead] concentrations" at and in the vicinity of an airport.
  • DEQ did not factor cruise phase lead emissions into their Portland Air Toxics Solutions (PATS) study model. According to the EPA, based on 2008 estimates, an additional 5.3 tons of lead was released in Oregon when aircraft were flying above 3,000 feet. In light of the significant amount of flight activity that occurs in Washington County, there is a high likelihood that much of the cruise phase lead emissions are impacting Washington County residents.
  • In 2005 DEQ concluded that air concentrations of lead in the vicinity of the Hillsboro Airport exceeded the Clean Air Act's National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). Subsequently, the Port, which owns HIO, commissioned a study (CDM Study) that concluded air concentrations of lead in the vicinity of HIO did not exceed the NAAQS. Oregon Aviation Watch (OAW) questions why DEQ estimates were discarded and replaced by the airport owner's estimates. OAW is also concerned about the exclusion of public participation and input in the CDM study as well as the lack of peer review. It is worth noting that the study does not include the names of the CDM consultants who performed and carried out the study. Moreover, no specific authors were identified in the CDM study.
  • Following the Port's CDM study, DEQ withdrew its initial findings and removed lead from DEQ's Portland Air Toxics Solution (PATS) list of toxins. Notably the CDM Study did not include ground "run-up" lead emissions. The Port explained that the EDMS model used for the CDM Study estimates "is not enabled to calculate run-up emissions." An EPA methodology for estimating lead emissions during the run-up mode was available prior to the completion of the CDM study, yet the Port evidently chose to ignore this information.
  • The 2005 DEQ PATS lead study only included 13 airports even though the EPA identified more than 65 airports listed as facility sources of lead in the 3-county study area (Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas Counties) and an additional 26 in two of the bordering jurisdictions (Columbia and Clark Counties). Data from the neighboring jurisdictions is included because the DEQ factored in airports from Columbia County (Scappoose Industrial Airpark) and Clark County (Pearson Field and Grove Field Airport) in the PATS study. Per the EPA, Scappoose and Pearson are the top facility sources of lead emissions in their respective counties. Grove Field is the second largest source of lead emissions in Clark County.
  • Given the deficiencies inherent in the way the Port and DEQ arrived at their lead estimates, Oregon Aviation Watch believes there are credible reasons to seek a third party objective analysis based on actual monitoring as opposed to agency estimates.
  • The EPA is currently engaged in a study of 17 airports in an effort to determine the concentration of lead emissions at general aviation airports. Evidence obtained from the EPA suggests that the FAA is relocating run-up activities away from EPA monitors in an attempt to downplay the contribution of run-ups at airports. The inconsistencies in how and where monitors were placed at the various airports brings into question the validity and reliability of the study.

Oregon Aviation Watch is shocked by U.S. Department of Justice, FAA and Port assertions that these agencies are under no obligation to address HIO lead emissions unless and until emission levels reach a de minimis threshhold of 25 tons. The agencies point to EPA regulations to justify their rationale. Lead is known to be toxic at miniscule levels. The Centers for Disease Control has determined that there is no safe level of lead in a child's blood. These findings suggest that it is morally and ethically imperative that government agencies immediately cease their cavalier policy of relying on inhumane, inadequate and antiquated regulations in the interest of promoting aviation interests while willfully compromising the health, well-being, and livability of area residents.

Oregon Aviation Watch also questions Port and DEQ support for reliance on conventional industry practices as opposed to environmental standards for measuring lead emissions. It has become abundantly clear in recent months that DEQ's policy of tacitly accepting industry conventions on behalf of major polluters has led to frighteningly high levels of exposure to lead and other toxic pollutants throughout the Portland metropolitan region.

Because of the serious and dire nature of this situation, Oregon Aviation Watch is seeking an Oregon Department of Justice investigation into this matter.

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