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OHA News Release

Media contact:
Jonathan Modie
OHA Public Health 971-246-9139
Technical contact:
Additional contacts:
Jennifer Flynt
DEQ 503-730-5924
Julie Sullivan-Springhetti
Multnomah County 503-709-9858


New soil, cancer, urine test data show low risk for Portland residents

DEQ, OHA, MCHD release monitoring results, plans for more data collection

Results from analysis of soil samples, cancer rates and urine tests indicate Southeast and North Portland residents are at low risk of health problems from exposure to heavy metals in emissions from two glass manufacturing companies.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s analyses showed that samples of soil from around Bullseye Glass Co. in Southeast Portland were generally below naturally occurring or “background” levels of heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium and chromium 6. Further analysis by toxicologists in The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Public Health Division found that the levels of metals were too low to be harmful to people, including children at a nearby day care, Children’s Creative Learning Center (CCLC).

Representatives of an interagency group that includes DEQ, OHA and Multnomah County Health Department caution that more monitoring and testing are needed—and planned.

“The data released today are very reassuring, but our work is not done,” said Lynne Saxton, OHA Director. “We will continue to gather and report data going forward.”

Joni Hammond, DEQ’s interim director, agreed. “This is only the first round. We will see more soil and air data in the coming weeks.”

Soil tests show low levels of metals

DEQ collected 67 soil samples in three areas around Bullseye: 15 at CCLC; 22 at the employee parking lot at the Fred Meyer corporate headquarters; and 30 at Powell Park. All were taken at the surface or slightly under the sod—some at Powell Park were from the mulch in the children’s play area—and were tested for arsenic, cadmium, total chromium, chromium 6, lead, cobalt and other heavy metals.

DEQ calculated averages for each contaminant over the three areas tested.

Arsenic was at background levels in most samples from the Powell Park and Fred Meyer locations, and averaged below Portland-area background levels. It was found at slightly above background levels at the CCLC day care.

Hexavalent chromium
Levels of hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, varied at the three locations. Concentrations were low at Powell Park and not detected at Fred Meyer, but averaged above DEQ screening levels at CCLC, although they were still below federal screening levels.

Cadmium and lead
While some of the locations showed modest levels of lead and cadmium above background, concentrations averaged below all screening levels. No contamination was detected in Powell Park mulch samples.

“Ongoing emissions from the Bullseye facility are not resulting in harmful impacts to soils around the facility,” said Keith Johnson, manager for the DEQ’s Northwest Region Cleanup Program.

OHA toxicologists examined the soil results and calculated an estimated “dose” that the community would be exposed to based on what is known about how people come in contact with soil. In the case of the community surrounding Bullseye Glass, that would include children at CCLC who daily come into more contact with soil than most adults, and lifelong residents exposed to soil similar to what DEQ collected. The toxicologists then used the calculated dose to estimate health risk.

“Our dose and risk calculations for arsenic and chromium 6 indicate that metals in soil are too low to harm the health of people living and working in the area, including children attending the day care center,” said David Farrer, toxicologist in the OHA Public Health Division’s Environmental Public Health Section.

That means it’s now OK for people to get into their gardens, Farrer explained.

“Gardening in the vicinity of Bullseye Glass, including growing and consuming your own produce in nearby soil, can be done with no significant risk to health,” Farrer said. “Because Portland is an urban environment and all urban soils have heavy metals to some degree, we recommend that people follow at least two guidelines that are already standard practice for most gardeners: washing hands after working in the soil, and thoroughly washing all produce before consuming it.”

Lab tests show few cases of cadmium exposure

OHA also had analyzed 247 urine cadmium test results it received by March 4 after the agency established an emergency rule Feb. 18 that requires laboratories in Oregon to submit urine cadmium test samples. The agency found that seven samples had detectable levels of cadmium—two were in children—and three of them were at levels requiring clinical follow-up.

Katrina Hedberg, M.D., state health officer at the OHA Public Health Division, said OHA also is working closely with the Multnomah County Health Department to reach out to providers and ensure they’re informed about appropriate urine screening procedures.

“On Feb. 29, we sent the fourth in a series of updates to clinicians about testing for heavy metals,” she said. “In addition, we are contacting health care providers for each individual with cadmium levels above the threshold of clinical concern to ensure appropriate follow-up.”

Study finds no elevated rates of metals-related cancers in North Portland

In addition, OHA reviewed rates of lung and bladder cancers—the two cancers tracked by the Oregon State Cancer Registry that are most strongly associated with cadmium and arsenic exposures—in the North Portland area near Uroboros. The agency found that incidence of the disease was no higher than expected. A full report will be published March 15.

A review of cancer rates in Southeast Portland near Bullseye yielded similar results, according to a report published Feb. 18.

Hedberg, who helped analyze the cancer and urine data, said the agency is planning additional analysis to assess lung and bladder cancer rates in the Southeast and North Portland back to 1999. Results will be reported March 31.

Saxton said she understands that many people in the community have been worried about potential health problems due to metal emissions and have been awaiting new data.

“Collecting these data is a process,” she said. “We know people have been eager to see the results. We appreciate the community’s patience as DEQ and OHA scientists have been doing their work to gather reliable data and understand the results.”

Next steps: air monitoring data and policy changes

Saxton said the investigation of air toxics from the glass company over the past several weeks has opened doors to “long overdue changes in public policy.”

Hammond added that bigger plans are afoot for both agencies. She said a full analysis of 30-day air monitoring that began Feb. 12 near Bullseye Glass Co. in North Portland and Uroboros Glass in North Portland, along with analysis of soil samples collected near Uroboros, will be released next week.

In addition, Hammond said, “We are launching a new rule-making process to begin moving Oregon toward a system, like Washington and California, that accounts for public health risk and regulates industry based on those standards,” Hammond said.

For more information, visit www.SaferAirPortland.Oregon.gov or call 211 from any phone.

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