Portland, OR—The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA), investigating heavy metal emissions, are using new U.S. Forest Service (USFS) data from moss samples, gathered as part of an air quality study, to prioritize sites around Portland for investigation and action.
“We're committed to working with Multnomah County and DEQ to mitigate any health risks that these metals pose,” said Lynne Saxton, OHA director.
Pete Shepherd, DEQ interim director, said, “The results of the USFS study will help us more quickly and officially identify, and then address, public health concerns arising from elevated levels of metals in our air.”
Joanne Fuller, director of Multnomah County's Health Department, explained that “any tools that can be used to help protect the safety and welfare of children, families and others who live near potential releases of air toxins is a good thing."
"We need to use whatever resources are at our disposal,” she said. “The health of our community is at risk and we will all continue to work to find quick solutions so people can stay healthy."
DEQ will deploy an air toxics metals monitor in the industrial area in northeast Portland, near the Cully neighborhood, as an immediate step. The area was identified as one where the elevated metal concentrations in moss will likely warrant air monitoring.
DEQ, in collaboration with OHA, will continue to collect and analyze data from air toxic monitors already deployed in other top priority areas in Portland. The state agencies will partner closely with Multnomah County Health Department to engage community members and answer health questions.
The data and maps of 22 elements measured in moss collected in 2013 and 2015 were released today by the USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station. DEQ first received the complete moss data late last weekend.
DEQ pursued an opportunity in February 2013 to partner with the USFS as they were developing a potentially innovative and low cost tool (moss sampling) that could be used to inform DEQ and the public about air quality in an urban setting. DEQ requested that the USFS include cadmium and arsenic in their moss study to further develop our understanding of both pollutants in Portland's air.
According to DEQ's preliminary analysis, the USFS moss data identifies four Portland locations with the greatest relative exposure to airborne metals:
Southeast Portland near Bullseye Glass Co.
Northeast Portland industrial area near the Cully neighborhood
Southeast Portland near Precision Castparts Corp.
North Portland near Uroboros Glass
DEQ and OHA are already taking action near Bullseye, Uroboros and Precision Castparts. The agencies have placed air monitors, conducted numerous health risk evaluations, met with community members and performed industrial site inspections in these three areas since February.
Agencies take action in Cully
DEQ and OHA initiated a dialogue with Cully neighborhood representatives about the new moss data, and to seek their input on how best to communicate upcoming and ongoing activities with the larger community.
DEQ will conduct air monitoring in and around Cully. DEQ will first gather data on wind direction patterns and find suitable locations that are secure, have access to electricity for operating the monitoring instruments, and can be safely accessed by DEQ staff members. DEQ is reviewing information about potential sources of airborne metals, as there may be several sources of pollutants in the area.
DEQ and OHA will investigate each moss hotspot and have a plan to prioritize additional locations for follow-up. For more information go to: http://saferair.oregon.gov/Documents/faq-future-ai...
Follow-up actions in other neighborhoods could include additional moss sampling, air monitoring or facilities inspections depending on priority level. The agencies cannot investigate all sites immediately, and the first priority in June is the Cully neighborhood.
Moss data as a screening tool
Moss data tells regulators and health experts the relative concentrations of potentially harmful metals. However, moss samples cannot tell whether those concentrations threaten human health. Using USFS maps generated from moss data, DEQ has deployed air monitoring equipment that enables health experts to determine whether metals pose short-term or long-term risks to people.
“Moss data alone is not enough to tell us about risks to human health, as the existence of metals in the moss can be influenced by so many factors, such as weather, short- and long-term industrial emissions, even nearby traffic patterns,” said Brian Boling, DEQ laboratory program manager.
However, such data can serve as a good screening tool to know where air monitoring is needed, Boling said. “That's why we're quickly gearing up to gather additional information that will help us determine the best locations for placing air monitors.”
“Getting air monitoring data collected over several months and thoroughly analyzing that data are essential to determining whether health risks exist for the nearby community,” David Farrer, Ph.D., toxicologist with OHA's Environmental Public Health Section, said. “When additional air monitoring data become available in additional locations, OHA will evaluate it for health risks and inform the community about any actions they need to take.”
The USFS report includes data for additional metals and elements that DEQ and OHA have not had in the past. Most of these additional elements have much lower toxicity and health risks than the metals that agencies and the public have been focused on in recent months. Many, such as calcium, potassium sodium and others, are essential nutrients and are naturally occurring. These lower-toxicity elements may serve as tracers to help DEQ identify sources of other, more toxic elements.
To sign up for updates and for more information about what we know right now and what happens next with Portland metals emissions, visit the joint agency website:
Safer Air Oregon.
For information about the Cleaner Air Oregon initiative to align industrial air toxics regulations with human health, visit Cleaner Air Oregon.
Jennifer Flynt, DEQ, 503-730-5924, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan Modie, OHA, 971-246-9139, PHD.Communications@state.or.us