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Soil samples show no adverse health risk from Bullseye toxic air releases

COURTESY PHOTO: KOIN 6 NEWS - A state analysis of soil samples in Southeast Portland found no elevated dangers from emissions of the Bullseye Glass Co. on Southeast 21st Avenue.Portland parents and other residents living and working near Bullseye Glass can breathe more easily — literally — after the state released soil samples Wednesday from three sites near Bullseye, which until recently had been emitting cadmium, arsenic and other toxic heavy metals from its colored glass manufacturing plant in inner Southeast Portland.

“The bottom line is the concentrations of metals are too low to harm anyone’s health living in the community,” said David Farrer, public health toxicologist for the Oregon Health Authority.

“We understand that people have been worried, upset and confused,” said Lynne Saxton, director of the Oregon Health Authority. While more evaluations are needed, “the news is encouraging,” Saxton said.

The state health agency, in tandem with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, released the new data at a press conference at the state office building in the Lloyd District.

Soil samples were taken in mid-February from three sites frequented by the public near the Bullseye Glass plant off Powell Boulevard and Southeast 21st Avenue: the KinderCare Children’s Creative Learning Center, Powell Park and the Fred Meyer corporate headquarters parking lot.

While further testing is being conducted, including air samples, state officials said they are withdrawing their prior advice to refrain from gardening within a half-mile of the Bullseye plant.

“Given these results, we feel that gardening in the vicinity is safe,” Farrer said.

Neighbors grew alarmed by the toxic releases from Bullseye when samples collected on moss revealed cadmium and arsenic concentrations that dozens of times higher than levels considered safe.

State health and environmental officials still don’t understand why moss samples should show such higher concentrations of toxic metals than soil samples, but studying moss is a relatively new field and there is settled science behind sampling soil, which accumulates toxins over time.

“We don’t fully understand” why the moss samples were so high, “given the newness of it,” said Keith Johnson, a DEQ regional manager who oversees contaminated property cleanups. Soil samples “should be fairly conclusive as to what impacts are occurring or not occurring to these soils,” Johnson said.

“The concentrations of metals in moss really tell us nothing about what people are actually exposed to,” Farrer said.

Preliminary analysis of the state’s cancer registry showed no increased incidents from 2009 to 2013 in lung and bladder cancers, the types of cancer one might expect from exposure to highly toxic metals, said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, state health officer for the Oregon Public Health Division. The state looked at residents living near Bullseye and Uroboros Glass Studio in North Portland, another glass manufacturer that had been emitting some of the same toxic metals.

Health authorities plan to take a deeper look into the cancer registry over the 10 years prior to that. However, that may not alleviate some peoples’ worries about getting cancer years from now.

Cancers often show up more than 20 years after heavy exposure to toxic substances, Hedberg said.

After the moss sample data emerged last month, the Oregon Health Authority began requiring laboratories testing human urine samples to notify the agency when cadmium was detected.

Since then, seven of the 207 samples taken from Multnomah County residents show some levels of cadmium, including two in youths under the age of 18. Three of those individuals had levels that warranted the need for follow-up with a clinician, health officials concluded.

There’s no data yet on how those people might have been exposed, and it could have come from a variety of sources, including tobacco smoke.

State health authorities will urge those people to consult their physician to determine if steps should be taken to avoid exposure to cadmium.

Next week the DEQ and health authorities will report results of air sampling done after Bullseye and Uroboros agreed to stop emitting toxic metals.

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