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DHS news release

January 12, 2005

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180

Technical contact: Jae Douglas (503) 731-4025

Report calls for full investigation into health effects to former View-Master employees

A new report from the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) underscores the need to further study the effects of high concentrations of trichloroethylene (TCE) on workers at a former View-Master factory in Beaverton.

The DHS report outlines why further research is needed and how to proceed.

Public meetings where former View-Master employees and other interested persons may learn more are scheduled for Jan. 19 in Beaverton. (Details at end of news release.)

"This worksite was clearly a public health hazard," Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist at DHS, said Wednesday. "This document elaborates on our previous findings and compels us to go forward."

Most employees had risk of exposure to TCE, a degreasing agent that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as a probable human carcinogen, through drinking water from an onsite well. Some may have also been exposed as a result of specific work-related duties.

A preliminary mortality study found that although deaths from all cancers were not elevated among either men or women who worked at View-Master, there were elevated levels of some cancers among men and other cancers among women. Meanwhile, some cancers were also found in lower numbers than would have been expected.

Kohn said the new findings need to be interpreted carefully because of significant demographic differences between the View-Master employee population and that of the state.

"The preliminary study was unable to answer the key question about possible health impacts from the exposures among former workers," Kohn said. "Nevertheless, the significantly different levels of various cancers in the View-Master group, as compared with the Oregon population as a whole, is a compelling reason to proceed with formal scientific investigation."

The report shows TCE-contaminated drinking water may have been present in the well for more than 20 years. In 1998, the measured levels of contamination were 300 times the scientifically accepted maximum level for human exposure, Kohn said.

In November, Oregon learned that Congress appropriated $100,000 to begin a study. A full study would help to establish when TCE contamination first reached the well and how the concentrations varied over time. It also would provide a more accurate assessment of whether it affected deaths, cancers, other illnesses associated with TCE exposure, or birth outcomes of those who worked at the plant, according to Kohn.

Kohn said the study would also contribute to general public health understanding of the impact of human exposure to a commonly used solvent that is considered to be a human carcinogen and that is associated with other non-cancerous health effects.

The feasibility investigation was conducted by DHS under a cooperative agreement with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which also funded the work. The full report is available on the DHS "Superfund" Web site.

NOTE: A public meeting will be held on Wednesday, January 19, at Valley Catholic High School, 4275 SW 148th Ave., Beaverton. There will be two Public Availability Sessions--one from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and one from 7 to 8:30 p.m.--where people will have the opportunity to talk individually with experts. A Presentation and Open Forum will occur between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., where DHS staff will present investigation findings and answer questions.