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Intel must be accountable to public

The recent editorial “Intel’s contribution more than emissions,” (Portland Tribune, Nov. 7 issue) makes the editorial board look like an apologist for Intel. Given numerous articles on this subject in Pamplin Media Group newspapers, this is a surprise.

The claim that “there is no evidence at this point that airborne emissions from Intel” have harmed any of its neighbors in Washington County is highly problematic at best.

Given Intel’s acknowledgement to having vented unreported fluorides, toxic chemicals, over 30 years is an admission the public health may have been put at risk. Additionally, the record shows Intel’s emissions don’t stop with fluorides.

There are no independent measures of Intel’s emissions by DEQ, so the public has no way of knowing the risk factors from those emissions. This is a serious public policy question — DEQ is not living up to its mission.

Fluoride toxicity is illustrated by an incident at Intel’s Chandler, Ariz., FAB plant June 29, where 12 workers were sent to the hospital and 31 others were sickened. This was caused by a leak of toxic nitrogen trifluoride.

Nitrogen trifluoride can be toxic to humans. It’s one of more than 50 federally-classified chemicals termed “hazardous air pollutants” that may be released at plants owned by Intel.

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration describes nitrogen trifluoride as “very toxic by inhalation” because it is “corrosive to tissue,” and “vapors from [this] liquefied gas are initially heavier than air and spread along [the] ground.”

In the Arizona incident, reported health effects from the June 29 leak included difficulty breathing, nausea and skin and eye irritation. Those hospitalized were said to be in stable condition soon after treatment.

What would be the cumulative effect of more than 30 years of unreported emissions? We don’t know because DEQ and other state agencies don’t independently monitor emissions from Intel or other firms.

We’ve all learned that “banks too big to fail” can’t be trusted to self-monitor; neither can Oregon’s largest corporation. Their job is to make chips. DEQ’s job is to protect the public.

The fact that Intel has a huge economic impact on Washington County and Oregon is not the point. Nobody is trying to run them out of the county or out of Oregon. But the public has the right to transparent emission monitoring.

If Oregon has the “strictest standards in the United States for fluoride emissions,” how could Intel not disclose fluoride emissions for 30 years? Clearly, Intel and DEQ have both been asleep at the switch. That’s got to change!

Had public comments during two DEQ hearings not taken place, no one at Intel or DEQ would have realized the problem. And Intel would have been granted permits to keep doing business as usual.

Yes, this is very confusing. But Intel has a chance to be a good corporate citizen by addressing these issues, and DEQ has learned they have to be more proactive and not be a rubber stamp of an industry they regulate.

At the end of the day, the problem will be resolved by the public demanding that our local officials, our county board, our governor and our legislators give DEQ and other state agencies the tools to protect the public health.

Yes, Intel needs to be competitive. We are confident they can do so while being good stewards of the environment and the public’s health once Oregon’s regulatory system is up and running as it should have been all along.

When corporations get millions in taxpayer money, they are accountable to verify their job creation claims and to make sure they are not polluting the environment and endangering the public health.

Russ Dondero is a senior policy analyst for Washington County Citizen Action Network (WCCAN). Dale Feik is chairman of WCCAN’s air quality committee.




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