EPA says poisonous gas repeatedly detected on Hayden Island

Hayden Island

NORTH PORTLAND, Ore. - The Environmental Protection Agency says hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas, has repeatedly been detected by air monitors on Hayden Island.

People who live there have complained of a nasty smell for several months.

Suzanne Skadowski, an EPA spokeswoman, told KATU via email, "We do not expect serious health effects from the levels and duration of hydrogen sulfide detected to date, though those levels could cause short term transient health effects and very unpleasant odors. "

"It's almost a burnt oil, used motor oil smell," said Joanna Panza, who lives in a houseboat near Hayden Island. "It can give you a headache. Thankfully, I'm not there very long for it but, yeah, it starts to get to you a little bit. When I wait for the MAX train in the morning near the Expo Center. Usually, in the mornings it's the worst."

Panza's not alone.

Since last summer dozens of people who live on and around the island have held meetings and repeatedly complained about the stench.

"I have two little girls that I would like to grow up without health problems," Lataya Cayley told KATU during a community meeting in March.

"We're really worried about it. We know they're worried about it," Nina DeConcini, the northwest region administrator for Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality, told KATU.

DeConcini said the EPA ran air tests on Hayden Island last November and December.

The EPA says those tests discovered "approximately eight short term detections of hydrogen sulfide."

The gas can kill in large doses but DeConcini said in this case there are only reversible, short term health impacts.

"People that have, like headaches or they're dizzy or they have nausea," DeConcini said.

So far, regulators say they haven't found the source of the gas.

The EPA and the DEQ are investigating two companies that refine oil in the area, American Petroleum Environmental Services Inc. and Oil Re-Refining Company Inc.

Leaders of both companies told KATU emphatically that they're following the law and cooperating with regulators.

"We don't have any data back yet," DeConcini said. "We have asked the companies for information. We have done these fuel samples. We're waiting for the analysis and we're about to deploy monitors."

Skadowski says a more detailed report will be released on Monday.

A community meeting will be held at the Red Lion Hotel on Jantzen Beach on the evening of May 9.

The following is a lengthy statement Skadowski sent KATU on behalf of the EPA:

"In direct response to odor complaints from residents of floating homes and other communities and businesses along the Columbia River, last fall the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began helping the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality investigate air quality concerns near Jantzen Beach and Hayden Island in north Portland. EPA conducted an initial screening level air monitoring and sampling effort at several times and locations in the area.

We have been in regular communication with concerned community members throughout the process. EPA is analyzing the air monitoring results now and expects to release a report on Monday. We have a public meeting scheduled for the evening of re at the Red Lion Motel on Hayden Island to share the data with the community and discuss next steps.

While EPA's air monitoring report is being finalized, we are analyzing the preliminary data in detail to assess any potential public health risks in consultation with toxicologists from EPA and from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a sister agency to the Centers for Disease Control). Based on those consultations, we do not expect serious health effects from the levels and duration of hydrogen sulfide detected to date, though those levels could cause short term transient health effects and very unpleasant odors. These are consistent with the complaints from local residents.

What we know at this time is that during 60-days of continuous air monitoring there were approximately eight short term detections of hydrogen sulfide. Most of these detections lasted a few minutes, though one lasted longer and we are working to verify how long. The levels of hydrogen sulfide detected can cause short term transient health effects such as headaches and shortness of breath.

The detections appear to be from a number of different sources. This type of screening level data is used to assess situations and determine next steps. In this case, the preliminary data suggest we need to gather additional air monitoring information and we are already working with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to gather this information. We are taking action with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to conduct additional monitoring in the area this weekend and have already conducted several facility inspections. We are also requiring potential sources to do their own air quality and odor monitoring and report to EPA on their operations, processes and emissions."

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