Mapping Demographics and Air Pollution in the Portland Area


Portland, Oregon has a long history of environmental justice issues concerning heightened exposure to toxins for certain demographics. One of the most current, pressing issues is air pollution with its various causes and levels of risk. Oregon’s DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) ran a PATA (Portland Air Toxics Solutions) study to model risks associated with air pollutants, who is most at risk, and which sources of air pollution are most prominent in the Portland metro area. According to DEQ’s study, the number one issue is air pollution from residential wood burning. Hispanic neighborhoods near Hillsboro are especially at risk due to the unfortunate combination of wood burning and sheltering topography that keeps pollutants from escaping. In this lab, we created maps to illustrate and substantiate these conclusions.


Upon reading the PATA study and isolating residential wood burning as Portland’s #1 environmental justice issue, we downloaded two zip files containing data related to this problem. One zip file contained 2012 air toxics data and the other contained 2013 census data of Portland’s demographics. We then created two new maps on Arc GIS, one displaying the air toxics data and one displaying socioeconomic characteristics of the 2013 census data. To make the maps more understandable, we added background layers like major rivers or highways of the Portland area. This was done by downloading shapefiles from data. After completing these steps, we saved and embedded the maps.


Fig. 1

[iframe width=”1000″ height=”800″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” marginheight=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ title=”Hispanic population Portland” src=”//,45.3024,-122.3715,45.673&zoom=true&previewImage=false&scale=true&legendlayers=true&disable_scroll=true&theme=light”]

The map above shows the relative concentrations of hispanic/latinos in neighborhoods across Portland. The orange circles on this map visually represent hispanic demographic data from the 2013 census. As can be seen in the drop-down legend viewable in the top left corner, the larger the circle, the higher the number of hispanic people in that area. According to this map of census data, neighborhoods near PDX International Airport, Mill Park, and immediately west of Beaverton contain the greatest hispanic populations in the Portland area.

Fig. 2

[iframe title=”Portland woodburning pollution” src=”//,45.3193,-122.3846,45.6898&zoom=true&previewImage=false&scale=true&legendlayers=true&disable_scroll=true&theme=light” width=”1000″ height=”800″ frameborder=”0″ marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ scrolling=”no”]

Figure 2 displays levels of butadeine toxicity across the Portland metro area. Butadeine is an industrial chemical used to make plastics, synthetic rubber for tires and other products. Areas of greatest toxicity include neighborhoods just west of Beaverton, PDX international airport and neighborhoods due north of Gresham. As can be seen in the drop down legend on the top left corner, areas that appear darker blue have higher butadeine levels while lighter areas have lower levels of butadeine air pollution. Neighborhoods due west of Beaverton exhibit a correlation between increased butadeine toxicity and greater hispanic population. Such is also true for areas immediately west of Gresham.


There is a clear correlation between heightened concentrations of air toxins like butadeine and locations of hispanic neighborhoods in Portland. Residents of these neighborhoods are at greater risk of health problems from air toxins. This is due to a variety of factors including where people of hispanic or latin descent have historically resided and heat inversion. Heat inversion is especially predominant in neighborhoods due west of Beaverton as the surrounding hilly topography blocks winds from dispersing the toxins. Although a correlation between increased toxicity and hispanic populations can also be seen near the airport, this isn’t the case for neighborhoods due north of Gresham. This indicates that there isn’t always a direct connection between areas of higher toxicity and numbers of hispanic or latino residents. Heightened exposure to toxins for those living in the areas listed above can lead to greater risk of health issues that stem from such exposure. Although devices have been installed in these areas to monitor air pollution, the issue of heightened air toxicity in hispanic neighborhoods remains a major trend in the Portland metro area.

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