DEQ: Heavy metals are ‘a health concern’ in SE Portland

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Southeast Portland parents and neighbors demanded answers from the state regarding toxic levels of heavy metals in the air during a community meeting at Cleveland High School Tuesday night.

A DEQ report revealed state agencies are investigating possible health risks related to high levels of cadmium and arsenic near SE 22nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard.

All signs point to Bullseye Glass Company, which stopped using both metals last week. But as experts work to determine the severity of the situation, many say they feel the state isn’t doing enough to protect them.

State monitoring done 4 months ago revealed spikes in the levels of heavy metals in the area of SE 22nd and Powell. (KOIN)

“It’s horrifying,” Mary Peveto with Neighbors for Clean Air said.

Portland Public Schools reassured parents at Tuesday’s packed meeting that environmental tests showed no arsenic or cadmium inside PPS buildings or soil.

But high levels of the heavy metals were detected in moss samples from trees in the area collected by the U.S. Forest Service. Officials called it an “alarming hot spot”.

The DEQ, which has known about the situation since last May, installed an air quality monitor near Bullseye Glass Company. Results showed high levels of the metals.

“This is new information and it’s hard to hear. We’ve got a health concern,” David Monro with the DEQ said. “The regulations they’re subject to isn’t designed to address these types of emissions from small glass manufacturers.”

Virginia Maxam tells KOIN 6 News she’s lived in the area for 23 years.

“One of my questions is whether we should be tested [for cancer],” she said.

Health effects related to arsenic and cadmium exposure depend on “how much a person is exposed to and for how long,” the Oregon Health Authority reports. However, officials confirm both metals can cause certain types of cancer.

“The incremental risk we’re talking about is relatively low,” David Farrer with OHA said. “Even a 200 in 1 million risk is much lower than we could consider a low risk.”

For now, the DEQ will continue assessing its data.

“We’re concerned too,” Monro said. “These are levels that we weren’t expecting.”

PPS parents say they hope more testing (specifically soil testing) will be done.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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