Oregon delegates demanding EPA changes after pollution scare - KPTV - FOX 12

Oregon delegates demanding EPA changes after pollution scare

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Oregon’s congressional delegates are calling for more testing and big changes by the EPA after dangerous levels of heavy metals showed up in Portland neighborhoods.

On Thursday, Congressman Earl Blumenaur joined Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to discuss concerns over toxic pollution in North and Southeast Portland.

“My own view is that these revelations about toxic emissions may fall into a regulatory loophole that’s the size of a lunar crater,” said Senator Wyden.

All three delegates met with the scientists behind the U.S. Forest Service’s moss study – the one that revealed levels of cadmium and arsenic in Portland, dozens of times above state benchmarks.

The areas of concentration are around Uroboros Glass in North Portland and Bullseye Glass in Southeast. Because these are small or “batch” productions instead of continuous operation furnaces, Merkley says they have blanket exemptions from pollution standards.

“I think there’s going to be urgent examination of whether those exemptions are warranted,” said Senator Merkley. “Certainly this is a poster child saying perhaps not.”

The three delegates have demanded change from the EPA and as a result, they say EPA officials have started investigating an overhaul of federal pollution standards.

A meeting was held Thursday night at the Tubman Building to address public concerns.

The Oregon Health Authority announced that preliminary results of their testing shows there is no increase in rates of either lung, or bladder cancer among people who live near Bullseye glass.  They will perform a similar test in North Portland and report those results when they become available. 

The DEQ says recent revelations about toxic metal emissions in Portland's air have opened their eyes to loopholes in their regulatory systems. DEQ Director Dick Pederson says they are now focused to fix the glass manufacturing industry as fast as they can. 

"We are working with the EPA to understand and see what the impact of this new knowledge here means for the agency nationwide," said Pederson.

But the people of Portland say they want answers now.

"I'm not going to take this lying down," said North Portland resident Joe Rowe.  "I want to know Dick from DEQ how many months is it going to take?"  

Dozens took the opportunity at Thursday's public meeting to put pressure on the DEQ for information about risks to their health and solutions to the long term problem.  

"So many questions remain regarding our health and it's not just about Cancer," said one woman in attendance. 

The DEQ says they’re still waiting on results from recent testing around Bullseye Glass to be analyzed for cadmium, arsenic and chromium and say they plan to collect samples around Uroboros Glass soon.  

In the meantime both glass companies have voluntarily agreed to stop using these three metals, eliminating the immediate risk to the public. 

The Oregon Health Authority says they understand people are growing impatient,  and are even hiring third party companies to test their own soil.  

But, OHA Director Lynne Saxton stressed to trust the system and their process.

"Our public health staff is the most committed group of people I've ever worked with," said Saxton. "They are very focused on the public getting the right information, and it's important that they get right information, not just supposition or guesses."

The OHA says arsenic and chromium leave the body quickly, so it’s tough to test for.  But, a urine test for cadmium can measure long term exposures and they’re working on a funding plan to make sure that testing is available for people who live near either hot spot. 

They’re also advising people who live and garden around both glass facilities, to not eat any produce grown in the soil until further notice.   

The DEQ says they’re currently working to draft up new regulatory rules and hope to have that draft ready to present to the Environmental Quality Commission by March.

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