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DHS news release

April 15, 2008

General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Program contact: Jae Douglas, 971-673-1139

Clean-up complete, assessment finds former vermiculite plant is not a health hazard

A health assessment released today by the Oregon Department of Human Services finds that the site of a former vermiculite processing plant in North Portland no longer presents a health hazard to workers and visitors.

For many years Vermiculite Northwest, located at 2302 N. Harding Street, processed vermiculite, an asbestos-containing mineral used to produce insulation products. Since the facility stopped operations in 1997, several small businesses have occupied the building.

The DHS Public Health Division Environmental Health Assessment Program (EHAP) evaluated the historical health risk at the building in 2005. EHAP concluded that workers of the former processing plant and their families were exposed to hazardous levels of asbestos. These individuals were advised to learn more about asbestos and see a doctor with experience in asbestos-related lung disease.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have also conducted studies and clean-up actions at the site beginning in 2000 when asbestos fibers were found in the dust, soil and air. A clean-up order was issued, the work was completed in 2001 and it was determined no further actions were needed.

In 2004, prompted by many advances in the understanding of vermiculite cleanups since the site's initial cleanup as well as new information about asbestos fiber toxicity, the Public Health Division recommended the site be revisited by the USEPA for further limited sampling.

The EPA conducted further sampling, which prompted additional clean-up in 2006. Based on final clearance testing following that clean-up, EHAP has determined:

  • No apparent current health hazard exists for current workers and visitors at the site because final removal and clean-up actions eliminated the adverse health risk from exposure to fibers remaining from historical operations.
  • Workers employed in businesses at the facility prior to the 2006 clean up may have been exposed to asbestos contamination of indoor air and soil in areas surrounding the building. EHAP is unable to determine whether past exposure to asbestos in these areas could harm people's health because the information needed to make that decision does not exist