A study of new data from air and soil samples collected near two glass manufacturing plants in Portland continues to show their emissions pose low health risk to residents living nearby.
An analysis of air monitoring data collected in February around Bullseye Glass Co. in Southeast Portland and Uroboros in North Portland, as well as of soil samples collected in North Portland, reveal there is no immediate or urgent public health risk under current conditions, agency officials say.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Health Authority and Multnomah County Health Department released the analysis today. The interagency groups have been responding to concerns about air monitoring that took place in October 2015 near Bullseye Glass Co. that showed high levels of heavy metals, including cadmium and arsenic. Uroboros Glass in North Portland was later found to have been using cadmium as well.
In response to these readings, DEQ secured understandings with the manufacturers to stop use of the metals in production.
Significant drop in air concentrations of heavy metals
The air sampling readings released today, taken from the vicinity of Bullseye and Uroboros, showed no readings above health benchmarks.
On March 9, an analysis of soil samples taken from the area around Bullseye Glass showed levels of heavy metals were too low to be harmful to people.
“Today’s information marks another important step in understanding the impact heavy metals released by glass companies have had on the surrounding neighborhoods,” Lynne Saxton, OHA Director, said. “We will continue to test and analyze environmental data.”
Joni Hammond, acting director of the DEQ, said she recognizes Portland residents and businesses have been anxiously awaiting today’s soil testing results from North Portland area surrounding Uroboros, and air monitoring results in the area surrounding Bullseye. And there’s more work ahead, she said.
“I want the public to know that while we are focused on these two Portland areas today, DEQ and OHA are committed to working with Oregonians to address air toxics from industrial sources across the state,” Hammond said.
In early and mid-February, DEQ began operating air monitors at four sites around Bullseye Glass and one site near Uroboros Glass. In Southeast Portland, they were deployed at Winterhaven Elementary; Southeast Haig Street and 20th Avenue; the Children’s Creative Learning Center (CCLC); and just south of Southeast Powell Boulevard and 22nd Avenue, in the Fred Meyer corporate headquarters parking lot. In North Portland, the air monitor was placed at the Tubman Building, formerly Harriet Tubman Middle School.
Health experts: Air concentrations pose minimal health risk
The air monitors initially operated for 12 hours a day—from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to capture the period of exposure for children at CCLC—but were switched to 24-hour monitoring on March 1. On February 12, Bullseye stopped using cadmium, arsenic and chromium in its manufacturing processes, and Uroboros, which did not use arsenic in its manufacturing processes, stopped using cadmium and chromium.
To better understand concentrations of heavy metals in air samples, toxicologists developed a list of 24-hour screening levels from municipalities in Texas, New Hampshire, Canada and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). They also looked at urban background concentrations of metals reported by cities around the country.
David Farrer, Ph.D., toxicologist in the Environmental Public Health Section at the OHA Public Health Division, said none of the air concentrations collected by DEQ’s monitors approached the 24-hour screening levels gathered from around the country.
“This means that current air concentrations monitored are not posing an urgent or immediate public health risk,” Farrer said.
DEQ also collected 21 soil samples in three areas near Uroboros: seven came from the Albina Community Garden and nine were from Lillis Albina Park, both northeast of the glass company; and five were from Grandma’s Place Daycare, southeast of Uroboros.
All samples were taken at the surface or slightly under the sod, and in mulch in children’s play areas. All were tested for arsenic, cadmium, total chromium, chromium +6, lead, cobalt and other metals. All but two of the samples were below background levels for cadmium, and 14 had no detectable levels of chromium +6.
“As with soil samples from around Bullseye, soil samples collected from the vicinity of Uroboros Glass are mostly within the expected background range for the Portland area,” Farrer said. “Analysis has shown that levels of metals in soil are too low to harm the health of children at the daycare or gardeners using the Albina Community Garden.”
In addition, as of March 11, OHA has analyzed 316 urinary cadmium test results received since the agency began requiring Oregon laboratories to report urine cadmium test samples. Ten of the samples, including two from children, had detectable cadmium in their urine. Of these, four results were at levels requiring clinical follow-up. OHA is contacting the individuals for further investigation.
Continuous monitoring and reporting
Saxton said the new data analysis results, while encouraging, don’t mark the end of the agencies’ work. Rather, they establish a baseline against which to measure changes in conditions over time.
“We’ll report this information every week,” Saxton said. “The community can view it on our website, SaferAir.Oregon.gov.”
The agencies will continue to collect samples from the air monitors and will report updates on air quality—and what the data mean for people’s immediate health—on the SaferAir website each Thursday.
By fall of this year, the agencies expect to complete two comprehensive public health assessments that incorporate air and soil data available now, and any additional data collected.
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