PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As Southeast Portland residents work to understand the health effects of high levels of heavy metals in the air, some are being urged to hold off on eating any produce that may be growing on their property.
Officials with DEQ and OHA say those within a 0.5 mile radius of Bullseye Glass Company should refrain from eating any home-grown produce.
Bullseye Glass voluntarily stopped using arsenic and cadmium, but some neighbors said that’s not enough. They want Bullseye to shut down entirely until they feel safe.
Many angry residents are asking how the glass company got away with this. Bullseye President Dan Schwoerer says his company has always operated in compliance with OSHA and DEQ guidelines regarding metal emissions.
But according to the Environmental Protection Agency, Bullseye’s facility is too small to fall under the federal Clean Air Act. The agency is now involved in the investigation.
It may have national implications on businesses considered too small to monitor.
The EPA provided the following statement on Thursday:
EPA has three national standards that potentially apply to glass manufacturing plants. We are gathering information and reviewing facilities to help inform our decision about whether revision of these rules is warranted. We are reviewing similar facilities nationally to determine whether they are covered by the current rules or whether there is a regulatory gap. We are pleased that the facilities have cooperated with Oregon on ceasing use of the cadmium, arsenic and chrome while this review is in process. In the short term, we will continue to support Oregon DEQ and Oregon Health Authority as they take responsive and appropriate action to protect the health of the local community and address air quality concerns.
Health officials responded to residents’ questions and concerns at another meeting at Tubman School Thursday night. They also offered a bit of reassuring news.
“When we looked at the neighborhoods around Bullseye Glass, we found that rates of bladder cancer and lung cancer were not any higher than what would be expected,” Dr. Bruce Gutelius with OHA said.
Now activists say the state and local government should monitor air quality.
“Did the regulation fail us? I think the people in charge of the regulations,” Mary Peveto with Neighbors for Clean Air said. “If you actually look at the statute, they are intended to be very protective. But no, we haven’t had the will or haven’t had the implementation of the full use of the regulations we have.”
So, what steps should Southeast Portlanders take to protect themselves now?
Because the glass manufacturers in question have stopped using arsenic, cadmium and chromium, there is no ongoing risk of exposure through the air, the OHA said.
Health officials say there are currently no threats to children’s health, but kids who play outside should wash their hands more often than they normally would.
Results from additional air and soil tests in Southeast Portland will be available on March 7. Air and soil monitoring will begin in North Portland on February 19.