PORTLAND, Ore. -- Diesel emissions are putting 90 percent of Oregonians at an increased risk of getting cancer, according to a new study by the Oregon Environmental Council.

"Our front porch... we can go out and wipe off the glass table every day and the cloth comes away just black," said Southeast Portland resident Lance Wright.

Wright was talking about the soot that comes not only from the trains, but also the dozens of older diesel trucks that roll through his neighborhood every day.

"It's in the air," he said.

That "it" is pollution that according to a new study, can carry a toxic combination of chemicals and heavy metals.

"There is no safe level of diesel particles," said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis.

Dr. Lewis explained how those particles are easily inhaled and then become lodged deep in our lungs where they increase the risk of premature births, developmental problems in children and more.

"In the long run, heart attacks, strokes and cancer are three of the biggest killers all made worse by diesel exhaust," he said.

"There's estimates that as many as 400 deaths here in Oregon could be attributed each year to diesel pollution," said Jen Coleman with the Oregon Environmental Council, which authored the study.

The group found diesel pollution levels in 90 percent of the state were above the state safety benchmark.
In Multnomah county, those levels were ten times what the state considers safe.

And both Lewis and Coleman say the technology is there to solve the problem.

"New engines are 95 percent cleaner than they used to be," said Coleman. "It's a very clear solution."

Other states are already adopting the cleaner diesel engine standards.

According the study, Washington has invested $58 million to upgrade 14,000 diesel engines on its roads.

Oregon, on the other hand, has invested about $4 million to upgrade 369 diesel engines.

The Oregon Trucking Association claims about 70 percent of the diesel trucks on Oregon's roads have either new or updated engines. It says the problem is gradually getting fixed.