This morning a dozen students in classy uniforms and just as many parents gathered around a new installation at Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy on North Flint Ave: a white trailer outfitted with jars, tubes and computers designed to figure out exactly what Portland's students are breathing.

Gregg Lande breathing easy in the new air testing site
  • Gregg Lande breathing easy in the new air testing site
Last month I reported on parents in NW Portland who demanded changes from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) after learning that six Portland's schools ranked in the worst percentile nationwide for air toxins. Those rankings were just based on mathematical models, though. Now Portland will find out exactly how much manganese, benzene and other toxic chemicals we're breathing—and whether we should be worried. The site at Tubman and another testing station near an industrial area in Toldeo, OR, will be up for 60 days as part of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) nationwide effort to measure air toxicity at schools.

After the brief press conference at the site, parents involved with PDX AIR grilled DEQ representative Gregg Lande. Ringleader Mary Peveto asked what the DEQ is going to do about the two "hotspot" toxic air sites models identified in Portland. "Should parents be worried about their kids breathing the air in those areas?" asked Peveto.

"I don't think they should," replied Lande, stressing that this air testing is a first step toward figuring out whether Portland's air is really as bad as the statistician models say it is. "It's important that we get more accurate measurements." While the EPA recommended they place the air testing station near an industrial site, Lande's team chose to put the station at Tubman school which (unlike Jefferson High School or Chapman) isn't near any heavy industry. Deflecting parents' skepticism, Lande explained that the DEQ wants to test the air quality near I-5, which runs just past the small school.