Are Portland Residents Being Poisoned by the 'Nation's Worst Industrial Air Polluter'?

Precision Castparts, one of the nation's worst polluters, poisoned the air in South Portland, Ore., with "hot spots" of carcinogenic heavy metals and toxic chemicals, residents say in a class action.

Portland-based Precision Castparts Corp. was found to be the nation's worst industrial air polluter in a 2013 University of Massachusetts study.

Lead plaintiff Kelley Foster claims the engine- and aircraft parts-maker has "created a hotspot of pollution, emitting arsenic and nickel into the air and contaminating homes and businesses."

Exposure to nickel and arsenic can cause a host of health problems, including lung and nerve damage and fetal injuries.

"PCC [Precision Castparts Corp.] has admitted publicly that its South Portland Operations emit thousands of pounds of air pollutants each year. PCC's own records demonstrate that it emits nickel, arsenic, chromium, and other toxic materials and heavy metals into the air from its South Portland Operations," according to the July 8 complaint in Multnomah County Court. Also sued is PCC Structurals, which works with steel and titanium.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in February released studies of air pollution in Portland that showed PCC as a primary culprit.

The agencies tested moss samples taken from trees for toxic materials. Moss is an indicator of air quality, as it absorbs ambient pollutants.

The study has prompted several lawsuits.

class action against Bullseye Glass Co. in March alleged unsafe levels of arsenic, cadmium and chromium.

The new complaint states: "Plaintiffs expect the evidence will show that PCC's South Portland operations are the primary, if not exclusive, source of the pollution hotspots identified in the U.S. Forest Service study. Other than the significant hotspot surrounding the PCC South Portland operations, there were no other nickel hotspots that appeared in the Forest Service's moss study."

The four named plaintiffs say their homes will continue to be contaminated even if PCC stopped operating, and the company is liable for it. They estimate that 5,000 households are members of the same class.

All the named plaintiffs live within a mile of the PCC foundry. Plaintiff Debra Taevs lives just a block from PCC, and says she has "seriously curtailed her use of her garden and yard" since learning of the contamination.

"Taevs used to enjoy opening the windows of her home when the weather was warm, and listening to birds in the nearby trees," the complaint states. "However, now she keeps her windows closed whenever possible and she has purchased an in-home air filter to try to reduce her exposure to the neighborhood toxins generated by PCC."

The plaintiffs seek class certification, preservation of documents, an injunction ordering Precision Castparts to stop polluting and to clean up the neighborhood, damages for nuisance and trespass, and they want PCC ordered to pay for heavy metal testing for class members who want it.

Precision Castparts called a public meeting in May and described the efforts it was taking to control pollution, including filters to remove large particles from its emissions.

The plaintiffs are represented by Daniel Mensher with Keller Rohrback in Seattle.

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