Meeting informs southeast Portland residents about arsenic, cadm - KPTV - FOX 12

Meeting informs southeast Portland residents about arsenic, cadmium found in air

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Portland residents at the first public meeting to discuss  high levels of arsenic and cadmium found in air. (Photo credit: KPTV) Portland residents at the first public meeting to discuss high levels of arsenic and cadmium found in air. (Photo credit: KPTV)
DEQ preliminary map of heavy metal emissions. (Photo credit: DEQ) DEQ preliminary map of heavy metal emissions. (Photo credit: DEQ)
PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

Hundreds of southeast Portland residents packed the Cleveland High School auditorium Tuesday night for the first public meeting to discuss high levels of arsenic and cadmium recently found in the air near the Bullseye Glass plant.

The meeting, hosted jointly by Portland Public Schools, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the Oregon Health Authority, offered residents an opportunity to ask health and environmental experts questions for the first time since the elevated levels of pollutants was announced last week.

Rebecca Esau, who has been living three blocks from the factory for 18 years, wondered about the long-term health impacts.

“What I understand from the research that I’ve done is that your risk increases the longer you’ve been exposed, and a couple decades there, I have concerns,” said Esau.

Both cadmium and arsenic are listed by the EPA as known carcinogens.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, the risk to the public is relatively low overall, with roughly 50 people per one million having an elevated risk of contracting cancer if exposed to the levels of cadmium found by recent air monitoring over a full lifetime.

Still, even a low risk raised concerns among residents.

Since the findings, Bullseye Glass has voluntarily suspended the use of both arsenic and cadmium in its production.

Both metals are used to add color to glass.

In advance of Tuesday night’s meeting, Portland Public Schools announced tests inside the schools around the plant showed no detectable levels of arsenic or cadmium.

Many people want to know, can something be done to change that manufacturing process for good? Experts say it all comes down to how this is regulated.

The DEQ says these regulations are generally designed for much larger companies, but also apply to smaller companies like Bullseye glass.

So in a sense, it's much like a one-size-fits all regulation.

According to a 2011 DEQ permit review report for Bullseye glass, the company is allowed to emit 10 tons of any single air pollutant in a year. That report goes onto say that Bullseye glass only used 6,000 pounds of hazardous materials in the year reviewed.  

That's nowhere close to the maximum, which means the company is legally in the clear.

But, experts say that's still a lot when you consider that material is being pumped out into a neighborhood. Especially, when the DEQ says levels of both arsenic and cadmium in the neighborhood are alarming high.               

"When I heard they were in compliance I was somewhat shocked to think in this day and age, someone could be emitting carcinogens at an unsafe level and still be in compliance with the law," said Lawyer Keith Dubanevich of Stoll Berne.

Dubanevich believes current regulations do not work for different sized companies.

He says it's like having the same restrictions for your neighborhood gas station as the big oil refinery that gas came from.

"If the standard is designed to apply to the refiner, then the gas station has no problem meeting with that standard," said Dubanevich. "It doesn't mean they are being a safe member of our society and doing whats right for the neighborhood."

The DEQ says all of the rules are handed down by the federal government  and all they can do right now is enforce them.

If you have any questions about air toxics in Portland, visit a FAQ page by the DEQ. You can also view a timeline of events here.

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