Illustration by Cascadia Times

Illustration by Cascadia Times

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality admitted this week that it knows little about the toxic mercury pollution coming from a hazardous waste plant in Eastern Oregon, despite its many years of regulatory oversight. A leading member of the Oregon Legislature now says the plant's emissions could be a “very serious" threat to public health. FULL STORY


Aug. 28, 2018


Blood under the Tracks


Photographs by SARAH CLARK

May 6, 2018 Part 1

Blood under the Tracks

People in The Dalles, Ore., say their air is being poisoned by a company that uses creosote to make railroad ties. Some say they are crazy, but a bevy of court documents and medical studies back them up. 

Last week, a federal health agency issued a skeptical report casting official doubt on their claims, saying “no apparent public health hazard existed.” But some say its report was marred by outdated and missing data. Plus the agency failed to talk to any of the victims. 

Over the last decade, the courts have ordered the creosote industry to pay billions of dollars for personal injuries and environmental damage, including the biggest bankruptcy settlement in EPA history. But in a simple twist of fate, The Dalles got nothing out of these deals.

Why was The Dalles left out? And why are its residents still being poisoned?


May 14, 2018 Part 2

Trade secrets

Meet the polluter in The Dalles, Ore., who thinks its toxic air emissions data are none of your business.

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May 30, 2018 Part 3


Protecting the environment is a game of numbers.

The state’s new Cleaner Air Oregon program will soon decide such things as how much toxic air pollution each industry should be allowed to emit. It will also decide how much toxic pollution people can inhale harming their health.

Unfortunately, Cleaner Air Oregon is about to dial-in a number that protects industry more than people. This number has been skewed to provide more protection for white people than African-Americans.

July 27, 2018 Part 4


Four Indian nations in the Columbia Basin -- each with treaty rights to Columbia River fish -- are calling on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to launch a “comprehensive investigation” into dioxin contamination at a Union Pacific-owned Superfund site in The Dalles.

In 1991, DEQ scientists found dioxin, industry’s most dangerous pollutant, in the soil at the heavily contaminated site, where railroad ties were treated with creosote and other chemicals. The waste also included high levels of pentachlorophenol, a pesticide laced with dioxin, as well as arsenic and naphthalene.

For 34 years, the plant pumped these untreated toxic wastes directly into the nearby Columbia River, contaminating more than an acre of river sediments as far as 300 feet from shore.

Studies show several species of Columbia River fish caught downstream from The Dalles are contaminated with dioxin. Did dioxin in the fish come from the Union Pacific Superfund site? No one knows.

But we do know that after finding dioxin contamination long ago in just one location near the plant, DEQ never bothered to look for it any further.

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Twenty years ago, Cascadia Times sued the Oregon DEQ for the release of public records showing massive air pollution from oil terminals in Northwest Portland. Seven oil companies joined the DEQ in the fight against our suit. 

In a ruling by the Oregon Attorney General in April 1998, they lost. The public's right to know what's in the air won.

It was a landmark decision that affirmed that industry could no longer claim that pollution records are confidential business secrets. And the fight for clean air in Oregon was born.

Read Bad Air Days, the May 1998 report in Cascadia Times that tells the history of the DEQ's failure to address air pollution in Portland

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