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Metals in air near Precision Castparts not likely to harm health, report says

October 29, 2018

OHA public health assessment also finds low risk from compounds in soil, water

PORTLAND, Ore.--Measured concentrations of metals and other chemicals in air, soil and water near Precision Castparts Corp. in southeast Portland are not likely to harm health, according to an Oregon Health Authority public health assessment.

The findings, released today by the Environmental Health Assessment Program at the OHA Public Health Division, reflect conditions since 2016, since they are based on environmental samples collected in 2016 and 2017.

The public health assessment found that levels of metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and nickel detected near the metal components manufacturer’s Southeast Harney Drive facility were below levels that would be expected to harm public health.

However, the report found that a quantifiable evaluation of potential health effects from previous exposures to the metals and other chemicals was not possible due to a lack of historical sampling data from before 2016. Other limitations the report cited were uncertainties about how well the available monitoring data represents typical ongoing exposures, uncertainties about potential effects in sensitive populations, and an inability to differentiate between emissions from Precision Castparts and those from other sources.

"Based on currently available science, guidance from federal agencies, and DEQ’s environmental monitoring data, we concluded that the risk to the health of people living and working in the area since 2016 is low," says Susanna Wegner, Ph.D., OHA public health toxicologist who led the Precision Castparts assessment. "What we are unable to say confidently is the extent to which people were exposed, or whether their health may have been harmed, before air, soil and water samples were collected starting that year."

The public health assessment is available on the Public Health Division website.

The Precision Castparts assessment was launched in June 2016 following a request by the community group South Portland Air Quality, whose members were concerned about short- and long-term health effects from the company’s emissions. OHA’s Environmental Health Assessment Program conducted the assessment with input from an advisory committee composed of people living near the facility.

OHA evaluated potential health risks from metals based on air monitoring and soil testing the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality performed in 2016 and 2017. The assessment also looked at results of monitoring for metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PBCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other chemicals in surface water, sediment and crayfish tissue in nearby Johnson Creek that DEQ and Precision Castparts conducted in a series of monitoring efforts performed between 2009 and 2017. Precision Castparts’ testing focused on water and sediment.

OHA toxicologists say people can safely eat up to five meals of crayfish per month (a total of 40 ounces per month for adults) from Johnson Creek.

Concerns about health risks associated with emissions from Precision Castparts and other manufacturing companies, including Bullseye Glass Co. in southeast Portland and Uroboros Glass in north Portland, swelled in February 2016. That’s when results from a U.S. Forest Service study first emerged showing that moss from trees located near these facilities and tested between 2013 and 2015 contained high levels of metals.

The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR), OHA’s federal partner in health assessments, has historically certified such evaluations to ensure they follow national health risk assessment guidelines and respond to a community's health concerns. However, in early 2018 ATSDR updated its criteria for certifying public health assessments, allowing only assessments of Superfund sites to go through the certification process. Precision Castparts is not a Superfund site.

Because the community expected the report would be certified, the OHA Environmental Health Assessment Program allocated $5,000 to hire, in consultation with the community advisory committee, an external consultant who will conduct a third-party review of the assessment in the absence of the ATSDR certification or review.

"We have ensured the Precision Castparts public health assessment follows ATSDR methodologies for health risk assessment, and we have written it as if it were being certified," Wegner said. "The external consultant will help provide an additional measure of technical review and will provide technical assistance to the community as they develop their comments on the draft document."

The OHA Environmental Health Assessment Program will schedule a community meeting the week of Nov. 25 at a location to be determined to discuss the findings of the Precision Castparts public health assessment. Meeting information will be shared publicly when details are confirmed.

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 Media contact

Jonathan Modie

OHA External Relations

971-246-9139

phd.communications@dhsoha.state.or.us

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