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Portlanders Fume Over Paint Vapors

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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In a neighborhood perched above Swan Island in Portland, winds have shifted with the cooler weather, and it's making residents nauseous. Literally.

Paint vapors are apparently to blame, and residents are pinching their noses and pointing their fingers at Daimler Trucks North America. 

Over the last year, 140 complaints have been filed related to odors believed to be coming from Daimler. The vapors are sporadic but intensify when winds shift in the fall and winter, reports said.

Daimler Trucks North America

Residents who live above the Daimler manufacturing plant claim winds blow strong paint odors their way. "It's like living in a paint booth," said one resident.

'Like Living in a Paint Booth'

Daimler operates a heavy-duty truck manufacturing plant and a parts manufacturing plant in Portland. The primary source of emissions at these facilities is the application of surface coatings, says the State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

"It's like living in a paint booth," Linda Nakashima, a resident on the bluff above the plant, told The Oregonian.

The complaints drew more than 100 people to a public Q&A session last week at the University of Portland.

The meeting was hosted by the Oregon DEQ, which says the plant is operating within the legal limits of its air pollution permit.

DEQ held the information session as part of the renewal process for Daimler's Title V air-quality permit.

Daimler's Initiative

Portland's Neighbors for Clean Air (NCA) reported that a group of neighbors from the bluffs above Swan Island were invited to a meeting in September at the plant's headquarters.

Daimler Trucks North America
Portland Business Journal

The company said that it had reformulated one of its clear coats and eliminated a cleaning compound.

Plant manager Paul Erdy extended the invitation to share information collected from air samples. According to NCA, attendees learned that:

  • The company's testing protocol included taking 182 VOC samples in summa canisters and 17 samples with tedlar bags;
  • At least once, Daimler found evidence of 1-methoxy 2-propyl acetate at 229% above detectable odor thresholds. This is a component of the clear coat the company uses, and Daimler has since started using a reformulated coating; and
  • The company has eliminated n-butanol, a highly odorous compound used in cleaners.

Daimler's website states that it is "committed to our environment for future generations." That means "not only producing environmentally friendly vehicles, but also making sure that we manufacture them in an environmentally responsible manner, conserving energy and reducing waste in every way possible," the company said.

Expense and Efficiency

Earlier this year, The Oregonian reported that Daimler considered closing the plant in 2010. Compared to the company's East Coast factories, the remote Northwestern location drives up logistics costs by as much as $4,000 per truck.

"If you would build a (truck) plant today in North America, you would never ever consider Oregon or Washington," said Martin Daum, chief executive and president of Daimler Trucks North America.

In the June article, Daum said the company focused on producing its most complex trucks at the facility and was hopeful that the Swan Island plant would be recognized as the most efficient plant companywide by the end of the year.


Tagged categories: Air quality; Automotive coatings; Environmental Protection; Factory application methods; Health and safety; Paint application

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