SOUTH PORTLAND — Early results of an air-quality monitoring program indicate that people who live and work here are exposed to a wide variety of air pollution linked to the city’s topography and status as a transportation hub.

It’s an unusual circumstance that has the Maine Department of Environmental Protection poised to conduct a first-of-its-kind study of air pollution and its sources, a state official told city councilors Tuesday night.

Culprits include tankers delivering to petroleum terminals on Portland Harbor, trains flowing through Rigby Yard, and traffic on local highways and at Portland International Jetport. And some neighborhoods are under attack.

Danielle Twomey, senior DEP chemist who manages the state’s air lab, said Pleasantdale’s location near the harbor, rail yard, highways and airport means it “gets hit almost constantly” by air pollution.

“It is a mix of everything that’s coming in and out,” Twomey said. “(But) we need longer-term data. All we have now is a snapshot.”

Twomey said her staff is expanding efforts to gather data for wind, weather, petroleum tanker deliveries and other information to make air quality samples more meaningful. She said it would be the first study of its kind in the world, linking air pollution in a focused area directly to the polluters.

State Toxicologist Andrew Smith said early air quality samples showed spikes in volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that are well below so-called “acute health guidelines.” Those compounds include naphthalene, acrolein and benzene, a known carcinogen.

But residents who live near petroleum storage tanks, which were targeted last spring by a federal lawsuit and consent decree, weren’t consoled that their health isn’t at risk.

Julie Falatko provided one of 56 air samples taken across the city from June 10 through Sept. 9 by volunteers using “grab canisters.” She collected her sample in her backyard on Reynolds Street, in the Pleasantdale neighborhood, where she lives with her husband and four children, one of whom has asthma.

She took the sample when she smelled petroleum from nearby tanks, she said. The spikes in VOCs such as naphthalene, acrolein and benzene left her and other residents terrified.

“We love South Portland, but I was heartbroken when I saw the results,” Falatko told the council. “I want to stay where we are, but I feel like a neglectful parent if we do.”

The DEP has spent $117,000 so far on its first community air quality monitoring program, not counting staff time, said Andrew Johnson, DEP director of air quality assessment.

Five VOC monitoring stations have been installed across South Portland, plus two additional stations in neighboring Portland, which already had one of five VOC stations that had been operating across the state.

The DEP agreed to administer the yearlong monitoring program after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit last spring that called attention to air pollution and foul odors emitted by petroleum storage tanks and other sources across the city.

The EPA filed the lawsuit and accompanying consent decree in March charging Global Partners LP with violating the Clean Air Act at its petroleum terminal on the Fore River, off Lincoln Street, in the Pleasantdale area.

City officials and residents were shocked and upset to learn DEP staff members had known since 2011 – but never warned the city – that the EPA was targeting hazardous emissions from Global and Sprague facilities in South Portland.

In particular, the federal agency cracked down on pollution from heated tanks of asphalt and No. 6 heavy residual fuel oil. Global recently announced plans to go beyond the requirements of the consent decree to reduce odors and emissions.

This story was updated at 8:28 a.m. Nov. 27, 2019, to correct pronouns referring to Danielle Twomey.

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