By NECN Staff

Columbia Steel, Google Maps

Two years after the Cleaner Air Oregon law’s passage — mandating the scrutiny of industrial air quality statewide — the first Portland facility is beginning to test its air emissions.

Community organizers say the bureaucracy has been slow to move, but the payoff is stronger regulations on air quality with the potential to impact Portland’s very high rates of air pollution. 

State DEQ officials have a list of companies they have determined as priorities for emissions testing through Cleaner Air Oregon. In North and Northeast Portland, the big polluters include Columbia Steel, the Owens-Brockway glass recycling plant near the Portland Airport, and NW Metals. So far, Columbia Steel is the only one moving forward with emissions tests.

At NW Metals, public comment on proposed new mobile metals shredder has prompted community outcry on the lack of air emissions data; local residents agitated at a public hearing in mid-December, and now the deadline for public comment has been extended to Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Find out more about the process and the facility online at, search for “NW Metals: Columbia Boulevard Location.”

Meanwhile, this year, for the first time, Columbia Steel — at the request of the local community — for a 10-day stretch in December conducted precise testing of all of their emissions, looking for toxic chemicals that are cancerous and hurt human health. 

Also for the first time, they’re looking for greenhouse gases and fine particulate matter that damage health and contribute to global warming. Activists are calling it a groundbreaking moment in Oregon environmental history.

Local residents’ new worry is this: state environmental officials are moving ahead with their old process of issuing an air permit to Columbia Steel that will last for five years — before the actual emissions test results are made public. 

As Hey Neighbor! went to press in mid-December, activists led a letter-writing campaign to the air quality office at the Oregon DEQ urging them not to approve the steel company’s air permit before the public can determine whether there is hexavalent chromium in their emissions — among other things.

Activists are calling for Columbia Steel — and the other companies — to disclose the content of their emissions, and put remediation in place if it is shown to be warranted, including air scrubbers, a thermal oxidizer or bag house system.

For now, activists are gearing up to make sure that the emissions test results are made public in February. 

For more information or to get involved, contact