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DHS news release

May 23, 2006

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180
Technical contact: Amanda Guay (503) 731-4025

Study finds asbestos exposure to former Portland-area vermiculite plant workers

A new report issued Tuesday by the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) concludes that employees of a former Portland-area vermiculate processing plant were exposed to asbestos.

The report, called a public health consultation, said employees working at Vermiculite Northwest from 1967 to 1994 were exposed to asbestos in vermiculite mined at Libby, Mont. The Portland plant at 2302 N. Harding St. processed more than 193,000 tons of the mineral, used in attic-insulation manufacture and as a soil additive.

The public health consultation concludes that employees at the plant were exposed to elevated levels of asbestos from Libby vermiculite while working in and around the facility. Employees' 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 a higher risk for developing asbestos-related disease," 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."

Former workers, their families and others who are concerned about potential exposure to asbestos from the facility may call DHS at (503) 731-4025.

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 health consultation is part of a larger federal effort to assess 28 former Libby 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. DHS also advises people on steps they can take to prevent or reduce exposure to health hazards from these sites.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the site for further investigation after sampling found asbestos contamination in the facility. Cleanup was completed in 2001. At the request of DHS, EPA recently revisited the building to assess whether further cleanup is needed.

The complete public health consultation is available on the DHS Supe​rfund Web site.