The city of South Portland will consider installing air quality monitors closer to petroleum tank farms to more accurately measure any emissions.

Adding the monitors was among the recommendations, first broached in 2021, in a report from the Clean Air Advisory Committee, which the City Council formally adopted Tuesday. The move by the council does not commit the city to put the recommendations into place, but it does allow city staff to pursue them with an eye toward future action and ordinances, according to City Manager Scott Morelli.

Monitors closer to the tank farms than existing air monitors in the city are especially needed, the Clean Air committee said. Those monitors could measure “burst emissions,” the vapors resulting when a tank is being filled, to provide the city with better data on the sporadic impact of burst emissions on air quality.

The committee also recommends requiring tank farm owners to give advance notice of when tanks will be filled.

Odors from the more than 100 oil tanks in South Portland have been an issue in the city for decades, but concerns about their potential toxicity came to the forefront in 2019. Residents cited the tanks’ proximity to neighborhoods and schools, including Kaler Elementary School, South Portland High School and Lighthouse Christian School and Childcare Center.

Monitoring stations set up since 2019 provide only “a broad window into air quality across the city,” according to the report, and the air quality specifically around the tanks is unknown.


Monitors are needed on Pearl Street and Front Street to assess the air quality of the Pleasantdale and Ferry Village neighborhoods, which border tank farms, the report said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which administers the program, has said it does not have the staffing to put monitors in the neighborhoods, and the report says the city “should consider using city funds or applying for grant funding.”

“I think that is really essential,” said Councilor Jocelyn Leighton. “That is exactly what we should be spending our dollars on: to make sure people are safe.”

The committee also urged the council to partner with researchers on health studies, arguing that while current data does not suggest there are more cancer cases in South Portland compared to the rest of Cumberland County, it does not take proximity to tank farms and their emissions into account. In addition, uncovering data on other health issues caused by low air quality ought to be pursued, the report said.

The council voted 6-1 to adopt the report, with Councilor Linda Cohen in opposition. Cohen stressed that her vote was not in opposition to clean air quality, the committee or its report, but the act of “adopting” a report in general.

“Once you accept it, you own it,” she said Tuesday, stating that it can lead to a “slippery slope” where the current council, or future councils, feel bound to follow every recommendation provided in a report.


Mayor Katherine Lewis said the Clean Air committee’s report is worthy of strong support.

“We’re talking about clean air,” Lewis said. “When I look at all these recommendations and understand what we’ve heard about the history of clean air studies, and lack of clean air that we have here in South Portland, the group recommendations make a ton of sense to me.”

Councilors also praised the report for providing direction for the council without tying them to specific strategies or goals.

“It still leaves us with good discretion on whether or not, or how far or not, we want to move forward (on the recommendations),” said Councilor Richard Matthews.

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