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DHS news release

Sept. 22, 2005


Media contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180

Technical contact: Amanda Guay (503) 731-4025


Study indicates possible asbestos exposure of former Portland-area vermiculite plant workers



Public health officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services have recently concluded a public health consultation report that indicates employees of a former Portland-area vermiculate processing plant may have been exposed to asbestos.


Between 1968 and 1974, Supreme Perlite, located at 4600 N. Suttle Road in Portland, processed more than 600 tons of vermiculite taken from a mine in Libby, Mont. Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral compound that was used to manufacture attic insulation. The vermiculite from Libby was found to contain asbestos.


The public health consultation concludes that employees at the plant may have been exposed to elevated levels of asbestos from Libby vermiculite while working in and around the facility. Additionally, household contacts were likely to have been exposed to asbestos fibers that workers brought home on their clothing and hair.


"Former workers and household members may be at higher risk for certain health effects," said Amanda Guay, superfund health investigation and education program coordinator in DHS. "We recommend that anyone who may have been exposed learn more about asbestos and see a doctor with experience in asbestos-related lung disease."


Guay said the health consultation is part of a larger federal effort to assess 28 former vermiculite processing facilities nationally. DHS, through its cooperative agreement with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), notifies communities when findings and recommendations for sites are completed.


The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found asbestos contamination in an area where vermiculate was unloaded from rail cars. Cleanup was completed in April 2001 and no further action is required by EPA. DHS has recommended that EPA revisit the site for further limited sampling.


Former workers and their families may call DHS at (503) 731-4025 for more information, Guay said.


Exposure to asbestos does not necessarily mean a person will become ill. However, breathing in asbestos fibers may increase a person's likelihood of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma--a cancer of the outer lining of the lung and abdominal cavity -- or other lung abnormalities or breathing disorders, according to Guay. The complete public health consultation is available on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality website.