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Cars, Combustion, Carbon Monoxide, and a Commitment to Cleaner Air

Amongst all the talk and news about the many environmental challenges we face locally and globally, it’s important to look at Oregon’s recent history for a bit of perspective. While we continue to face a range of environmental threats, the state has made huge strides in cleaning our land, water and air. Generally speaking, we live, work and play in a cleaner, less-polluted environment than our parents and grandparents did.
Take the considerable reductions in carbon monoxide as an example. Carbon monoxide is a clear, odorless gas that binds to the hemoglobin in blood, which reduces the ability of the blood to transport oxygen throughout the body.
In the early 1970s, downtown Portland violated the national health standards for carbon monoxide an average of once every three days. Carbon monoxide concentrations routinely measured nearly 20ppm (parts per million). Today, that number is closer to 2ppm, and Portland has not experienced a single carbon monoxide violation since 1985. We have seen further reductions in recent years, and other areas of the state beyond Portland have seen similar improvements.
A major reason for the considerable reductions in carbon monoxide is federal regulations for cleaner vehicles, as carbon monoxide is a byproduct of inefficient combustion. In Oregon, DEQ’s vehicle inspection program and other pollution-prevention programs aimed at reducing smog also played a role. Those programs have worked in the past and they continue to work today, resulting in cleaner and healthier air.
It’s true we still have much room to improve. In addition to the decades-old challenges, we have new threats to plan for, like new chemicals in products that didn’t even exist 25 years ago. Whether the environmental threat is old or new, Oregon DEQ will continue to protect the quality of life for all Oregonians, making our land, our water, and our air cleaner for everyone.