Portland, OR


Man with respiratory issues fears crematory will affect his health
By Lincoln Graves KATU News Published: Feb 5, 2013 at 11:11 PM


Crematorium fires up in NE Portland
By Kohr Harlan and KOIN 6 News staff
Published: September 11, 2013,


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Some Northeast Portland residents are concerned about what recently began floating over their homes.

A funeral home near NE 80 Avenue and Everett Street is now cremating human remains.

The Gable Funeral Home has been a good neighbor to many people who live in the area — that is, until it recently sold. The new out-of-state corporate owner added cremation services to its offerings.

When the cremations started here at NE 80th and Everett, Bruce Dawson also started seeing smoke from his kitchen window.

“I had the bamboo blind drawn and the window closed,” Dawson said, “and I could see it through the two sets of blinds.”

Bruce Dawson has breathing problems to begin with, and having smoke from burnt human remains floating over his neighborhood is too much.

Dawson said the crematorium burns two to three times a day — six days a week. It’s noisy, it smells, and the smoke pours out of a smokestack right in the middle of his residential neighborhood, just two blocks from Vestal Elementary School.

Dawson compared it to an exhaust pipe from a big diesel truck.

“The big plume of smoke [is] the non-breathable, just nasty … black smoke,” he said.

He’s not the only one mad. Others have complained to DEQ and the city of Portland. So far they’ve gotten nowhere.

“There’s no protection to the community,” said Leslie Byster, against a business that’s “burning bodies and spewing toxics very close to a school and next door to people’s residences.”

Another man living within a block of the crematorium said noise from there drowns out the sound of his wife playing the piano — even when all the doors and windows are closed.

“The main concern for me is not the noise,” Sven Werner said. “It’s the toxic that comes out as black smoke. We have a garden; we don’t know if we can eat our vegetables.”

KOIN 6 News did make contact with the funeral home Wednesday afternoon, offering to give it a chance to address some of the neighbors’ concerns. The funeral home declined that offer.

The city of Portland has received a noise complaint and reports it’s in the process of investigating it. According to the Department of Environmental Quality, the crematorium’s smoke emissions are in compliance with state law.

DEQ responds to Montavilla crematorium
By Sally Showman and KOIN 6 News staff
Published: September 12, 2013


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Neighbors are very worried about black smoke spewing from a new crematorium in northeast Portland. After months of trying to get answers themselves, they turned to KOIN 6 News.

Neighbors said thick black smoke pours out of that smoke stack several times a day — starting a few months back when cremation services were added to an existing funeral home. One neighbor even caught the smoke on video camera.

“I saw this giant plume of black smoke coming out,” said Chuck Spidell, who lives just two doors down from Gable Funeral Home near NE 80th Avenue and E. Burnside.

He shot video from the playground at Vestal Elementary, where his son attends school. As the crow flies, the school is less than a block from the crematorium.

Spidell said he has been calling the Department of Environmental Quality with concerns about what’s in the smoke for a couple of months, only to be frustrated with their response.

“They are very unresponsive to our complaints,” Spidell said. “We literally have been complaining, over the past three months, on a daily basis.”

Spidell said when the incinerator is on he can see it, hear it and smell it. It’s what’s in that smoke that concerns him the most.

“You’ve gotta be really naive to think nothing is landing on our plants or in people’s lungs, or at the school with the kids running around,” he said.

Portland Public Schools also contacted the DEQ this week, after receiving several complaints from concerned parents.

“We immediately took action and called DEQ,” said Christine Miles with Portland Public Schools. On Wednesday the DEQ told the school district it will looking into air quality concerns. The district followed by hiring an independent environmental firm to take soil samples at Vestal Elementary.

On Thursday afternoon, KOIN 6 News headed to the DEQ’s downtown office to get answers from an air quality manager.

An air quality employee in the lobby said black smoke coming from a crematorium is never good.

“Ideally,” said DEQ Air Quality Manager David Monro, “they will operate in way that there are no visible emissions.”

Spidell’s video clearly showed visible emissions. Monro said evidence of black smoke, like this, is the reason he sent inspectors out to the Montavilla funeral home Thursday morning.

Unfortunately for neighbors, at the time of the inspectors’ visit, “there was no visible evidence.”

But Monro said every cremation is different, so inspectors will be back to monitor.

“So we are going to coordinate, to try to get out there when they have operations that would be more likely to produce visible emissions,” he said.

“Particulate emissions, that’s the major concern,” said Monro. Particulates are a pollutant regulated by the DEQ. “[Particulates are] a respiratory irritant that can create long term health effects, that’s why we try to manage.”

Monro says particulate emissions tend to be correlated with the color of smoke. The darker the smoke, the more particulate matter in that smoke. He says that’s why inspectors measure the opacity of smoke.

As for the department’s lack of response, “we’ve had a lot of complaints come in,” Monro said. “We are trying to get back to folks. I personally felt it was more important to get inspectors out there this morning than [to] return phone calls.”

Spidell will breathe easier only when he knows his neighborhood has clean air.

— KOIN Reporter Sally Showman contributed information used in this KOIN.com report.

On the Net:

Particulate matter and health side effects – EPA

PPS checking school near crematory
By Sally Showman and KOIN 6 News Staff
Published: September 18, 2013


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Public Schools will do its own environmental tests near a Northeast Portland crematory spewing black smoke into the sky in a residential area near a school.

The smoke from the crematory in the Montavilla neighborhood can contain particulate matter, a pollutant that is known to cause respiratory issues and have lasting long-term health effects.

Chuck Spidell, who has a first grader at Vestal Elementary, shot video from the playground that clearly shows black smoke rising from the crematory. The darker the smoke the more particulates in that smoke.

After seeing his video and hearing from several concerned parents, the school district consulted the Department of Environmental Quality. Unsatisfied by the lack of answers, the district decided to hire its own environmentalist to test the soil for dangerous chemicals.

“We didn’t want to wait,” Christine Miles with Portland Public Schools said. “We wanted to take active steps that we could take, which was testing the ground around the school.”

The test results will likely be back within a few days.

“I think it’s really great that [the district] stepped up and recognized this is an issue,” Spidell told KOIN 6 News.

But parents wonder why the district had to pay for the test when the DEQ is the regulatory agency.

The DEQ said they will not be taking air samples. Instead, they observe how dark the smoke is because, as air quality manager David Monro told KOIN 6 News, there is a direct relationship between particulate matter and the color of smoke.

When inspectors went to the crematory last week, they observed transparent heat emissions. But every cremation is different and Monro said the DEQ inspectors would go back.

“We are working with them to get back out there when they will be operating in a way that is more likely to create visible emissions,” he said. “We are actively trying to get back out there for a follow-up inspection. I think we’re probably talking time frames of days or weeks, at most.”


Montavilla neighbors say they’ll keep fighting crematorium

By Casey Parks | The Oregonian/OregonLive
on September 20, 2013


Smoke from the new crematorium hangs in the air as Chuck Spidell walks his son to Vestal School on Northeast 82nd Avenue each morning.

There’s a note of something like acetone in the dark plume. “Sticky cotton candy and burnt hair,” too, Spidell said. His 6-year-old has asked about the sweet exhaust.

“How do you explain that to your son?” Spidell asked. “Sorry, son, there’s dead bodies being burned over your school.”

The Spidells moved to this quiet Montavilla Street eight years ago. The Farnstrom-Gable Funeral Chapel was there then — had been since 1928 — but the beige building didn’t yet house a crematorium.

The Pennsylvania-based funeral home corporation StoneMor bought the 7,200-square-foot space last year. In May, they brought in an incinerator “big as a diesel truck,” Spidell said. The operators changed the name to Cremation & Burial Care Oregon. The smoke and churn started soon after. Spidell and his neighbors have been trying ever since to shut it down.

“We feel we have the right to clean air,” Spidell said.

Local workers at the funeral home declined to speak with The Oregonian and referred all questions to StoneMor. The parent company did not return calls.

The neighbors have had a few successes in their battle. The city issued a noise violation for the whoosh of the incinerator. Portland Public Schools officials agreed to test the soil at Vestal.

But zoning laws allow the crematorium, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality says the business is in compliance with state law.

Cremation’s popularity

The rate of cremation has grown steadily in the past decade. The share of people who are cremated at death is now about 40 percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America. In Oregon, it’s higher still: About 70 percent of deaths in the state resulted in cremation in 2011. Neighborhoods from Laurelhurst to Sellwood have crematoriums operating close to homes and parks.
DEQ has received some complaints about other crematories, said spokesman David Monro, but complaints are “infrequent,” he said.

“When crematories are operating, generally, their emissions are very low,” Monro said.

The department hasn’t tested emissions coming from the Montavilla business, Monro said, but inspectors have visited the property. They didn’t see black smoke then, though Spidell did show the agency two videos of the dark emissions. According to the cremator’s permit, visible emissions can not last longer than six minutes an hour.

“We’re also scheduling a visit during a cremation that’s more likely to create visibles,” Monro said.

Awaiting test results

After complaints to DEQ went nowhere, Spidell said, the neighbors called Portland Public Schools. The school district didn’t know the business existed, said spokeswoman Christine Miles.

“You look at that video on YouTube, and it looks bad,” she said. “We weren’t sure of DEQ’s timeline, so we wanted to do what we could as soon as possible.”

The district hired PBS Engineering and Environmental, an environmental services firm, to investigate. On Monday, crews took soil samples from around the school and behind the playground and tested for particulate matter. Miles said the district should hear the results soon.

The neighborhood association hasn’t taken an official position yet, said Lew School, the association’s land use and transportation chair. But the group will host a meeting Monday night at the Montavilla Methodist Church with representatives from DEQ and the city.

In the meantime, Cremation & Burial Care has changed its name again. Last week, the company hung a new sign. The business is now Gable Funeral Home & Cremation Service.

“We’re not going to let up ever until they stop the cremations or move,” Spidell said. “We’ve got our fists up.”

DEQ: Montavilla crematorium OK as is
By Kohr Harlan and KOIN 6 News staff
Published: September 23, 2013


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Neighbors living near an East Portland crematorium that’s known for spewing black smoke into the surrounding air received some answers Monday night.

But they’re not happy about what they’re hearing from the Department of Environmental Quality.

KOIN 6 News first exposed the problem at the crematorium on NE 80th and Everett about two weeks ago. It’s near homes — and an elementary school. And that has a lot people worried about what’s in the black smoke filling the air.

On Monday night, DEQ Air Quality manager David Monro responded to neighborhood concerns about the now infamous video — of black smoke from cremated human remains pouring out of a smoke stack at the Gable Funeral Home at NE 80th and Everett Street.

“We do care; we are listening,” said Monro. “When people complain, we are sending inspectors out in the field.”

But DEQ staff also told the crowd that the Gable Funeral Home is abiding by terms of its permit. As it turns out, granting a permit for cremation in the middle of a neighborhood does not require notification to people living in the area. Plus, DEQ reports it can’t use the video of the smoke as a basis for enforcement action against the funeral home.

“We’ve been sending people out, because of those complaints and because of those videos that show emissions and the potential for non-compliance,” Monro said. But so far, no luck for those sounding the alarm in this East Portland neighborhood.

For many in the Montavilla area, the answers provided by state air quality regulators were less than satisfactory.

“We live in Oregon and we expect it to be a green state,” said Benjamin Kerensa with the Montavilla Neighborhood Association, “and when you have lax regulations like this you can only be disappointed with regulators…”

Sonya Werner teaches piano not far from the crematory and she says the noise from the facility rattles her windows a block away.

“It’s very frustrating,” Werner said. “All the neighbors feel like we’re getting the royal run-around from both the city and the DEQ.”

The city of Portland is in the process of dealing with any noise violations that may be at the funeral home. Representatives from the funeral home were invited to tonight’s neighborhood association meeting — they turned down the offer. We tried to make contact inside the building tonight again to no avail.

Neighbors are still waiting on results from tests the Portland public school district requested on its soil near the crematorium. Robb Cowie with Portland Public Schools said those results are expected to come this week.

School soil samples near crematory clear
By KOHr Harlan and KOIN 6 News Staff
Published: October 4, 2013,


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Soil samples taken by the Portland School District on the grounds of Vestal Elementary provided basically an all-clear result for people worried about mercury contamination from the nearby crematory in Northeast Portland.

Only one of the soil samples taken from the roof of the school came back with a reading “half of background levels,” meaning there is no cause for alarm about mercury contamination.

The issue arose when the Gable Funeral Home at NE 80th and Everett Street installed a crematorium.

Chuck Spidell, who has a first grader at Vestal Elementary, shot video from the playground that clearly shows black smoke rising from the crematory. The darker the smoke the more particulates in that smoke.

After seeing his video and hearing from several concerned parents, the school district consulted the Department of Environmental Quality. The district also decided to hire its own environmentalist to test the soil for dangerous chemicals.

After these results came in Friday morning, the school district has no plans to do anything.

Previously, the DEQ said they will not be taking air samples. Instead, they observe how dark the smoke is because, as air quality manager David Monro told KOIN 6 News, there is a direct relationship between particulate matter and the color of smoke.

When inspectors went to the crematory, they observed transparent heat emissions. But every cremation is different and Monro said the DEQ inspectors would go back.

(Note from CAN! – Soil samples are a very poor way to test what is being emitted into the air. Mercury vapors continuously re-volatilize as soon as they are exposed to sunlight. The only way to know what is coming out of the crematory stack is to test it as it is being emitted. Mercury vapor emissions vary drastically, and are entirely dependent on the condition of the corpse being cremated, the body burden and number of mercury amalgam fillings.)
see study #3 on this page

Crematory in Portland Oregon

NE Portland crematory in trouble again
By KOIN 6 News staff
Published: February 21, 2014,


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – -The Northeast Portland crematory that drew the ire of neighbors last year for emitting black smoke into a residential area is facing a repeat complaint, this time over noise.

The Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement cited Gable Funeral Home at 225 NE 80th Ave. Tuesday for a noise violation. The violation carried a $300 fine.

According to city documents obtained by KOIN, on Jan. 28, noise control officers measured noise levels from the incineration and crematorium equipment that were twice the legal limit.

This is the second such noise citation for Gable in the past six months, the first coming on Sept. 6, 2013. The newest citation noted that Gable may not have fully rectified equipment issues that were documented in September. The report noted that the noise levels have gotten worse since then, and are higher than they were last year.

Gable was informed Tuesday that if it does bring its equipment into compliance by Feb. 19, it would have to cease operations until it fixes the issue. If it were to violate noise limits again, it could face additional fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per citation.

In response to the residential complaints last year over the black smoke, the Environmental Protection Agency took soil samples from nearby Vestal Elementary School. The EPA released its results in October, finding that the soil’s mercury levels were not dangerous. The EPA, however, did not test air samples.


New bill aimed at regulating crematoriums
Montavilla incinerator shut down over a year ago due to noise complaints

By Jennifer Dowling and KOIN 6 News Staff
Published: March 29, 2015


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — A Northeast Portland funeral home shut down its cremation incinerator more than one year ago. Now, some environmentalists are concerned it may start up again.

New legislation would give the board that licenses funeral homes and crematories more authority to regulate businesses. Without it, one state representative said there isn’t much they can do to stop practices that caused controversy in a local neighborhood.

“Our group was complaining about the smoke and the noise for about two years,” Right to Clean Air spokesperson Chuck Spidell told KOIN 6 News. “They were operating pretty much six days a week.”

Spidell said grey and black smoke was released into Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood from a smokestack at a local crematory.

“One of the toxins that can come out of that crematory is particulate matter,” Spidell said. “Drifting directly over to the playground of the school.”

He said a local elementary school and community garden were right in the line of fire. According to Spidell, operators shut down the incinerator when they were cited for noise violations in February 2014.

But Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer of Portland said there’s always a possibility they could start back up. That’s why she’s pushing for the passage of House Bill 3056.

“This bill is really helping the board be able to regulate its own industry better by saying if there are problems with health or nuisance, we may add that then at the very least we have a conversation with you,” Keny-Guyer said.

With proposed amendments, the new bill would allow the board to limit operations if they posed a risk to kids congregating nearby, and it would also allow them to require operating equipment consistent with national standards.

“We’re really excited about the bill because Oregon is known for really strong environmental regulations,” Spidell said. “What we’ve noticed with the crematory industry, there’s really a lack of it.”

Spidell said he is hopeful the state could be on its way to better regulations if the new bill is passed.

“We’re hoping to see some change,” he said.

Keny-Guyer said a hearing has already been held to discuss the bill, and lawmakers will take another look at it on April 10.

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