SOUTH PORTLAND — Rally speakers at James Otis Kaler Elementary School on April 23 said that they want South Portland residents to be able to breathe clean, safe air.

The rally, hosted by Protect South Portland and the No Toxic Tanks Coalition, brought residents together to demand clean air in a city that has 120 oil tanks that emit 600 tons of toxic chemicals per year, according to the Protect South Portland website.

Rep. Victoria Morales at Kaler Elementary School on April 23. She is sponsoring a bill that proposes to strengthen requirements for air emissions licensing. Catherine Bart photo

Rachel Burger, a member of Protect South Portland, asked that attendees voice support for a bill Rep. Victoria Morales is sponsoring, which the Environment and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled for a public hearing on May 3.

“We must know if we have clean air or not because we don’t know,” Morales said. “To do that, we must require accurate testing of the VOCs emitted from each tank. My bill, LD-1532, does just that and I’m proud to sponsor it on behalf of our treasured community.”

Burger said companies should be required to monitor emissions.

“The cost of doing business in our community should rightly be that emissions are tested and treated responsibly,” Burger said. “This can be done. Given that so many tanks operate so close to where thousands of us live, these toxic emissions pose very serious health risks that must be addressed by the companies and enforced by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection.”

Sen. Anne Carney at a rally on April 23 spoke in favor of legislation that hopes to better regulate tank emissions and ensure cleaner air. Catherine Bart photo

Senator Anne Carney is working on legislation regarding the issue as well, she said. She referenced a state assessment on toxic emissions released earlier this year that residents said they did not think was satisfactory during a Jan. 25 city council meeting.

“We all received the report from the DEP that came out in mid-December, early January, and I know that you all like me were disappointed in that report,” Carney said. “So I’ll be introducing legislation to address the weakness of our current regulatory structure. So I’ve been working with the Environment and Natural Resources Committee of which I am a member to introduce legislation that will change the DEP regulations to make sure the provide maximum protections, not just for our community but communities around Maine.”

There are still unanswered questions about tank emissions, Morales said.

“We have not been given clear answers,” Morales said. “Unfortunately, we have been told that despite what our senses tell us, the intense smells of the VOCs we all experience often, the visual of smoke from the over 100 tanks we all see and the unseen chemicals, we are told the VOCs being emitted are safe for us and that we don’t need to measure them. This is unacceptable.”

Kaler Elementary School is located next to a tank farm, and speaker Pamela Cragin said she thought of the children who have and do attend school so close to the farm.

“We’re embedded here next to the tank farm, and all I can think about is the generations of children who have gone to this school who have breathed in the hazardous pollutants from these tank farms,” Cragin said. “Some of these are forever chemicals and they are lodged in their organs for the rest of their lives.”

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