Glass company suspends arsenic & cadmium use after high levels found near schools
After high levels of potentially dangerous substances were found in the air near two schools, a Southeast Portland business announced what it described as a voluntary move Thursday.
Bullseye Glass Company, located on the 3700 block of Southeast 21st Avenue, said it's suspended its use of cadmium and arsenic, which can potentially cause cancer. The company said it stopped using the substances on Wednesday.
Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) says high levels of cadmium and arsenic were detected by a monitoring device about 100 meters from Bullseye Glass during a nearly 30-day test of the air in October.
David Monro, a manager for DEQ's air quality program, said the agency got results back on Jan. 20 and that the delay is normal.
He said they double-checked them, notified the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and told the public about the results on Wednesday.
"The testing was part of a longer term project," Monro said. "We're looking to compare concentrations of metals in moss to concentrations of metals in the air."
Monro said the test, the first of its kind by the state near Bullseye, showed the amount of cadmium and arsenic in the air was much higher than what's accepted by the government.
Jessica Madsen, the mother of a third grader at the nearby Winterhaven K-8 school, was alarmed by the news.
"A little scary," Madsen said. "We live really close by. I know a lot of parents kind of concerned just to even bring their kids to school."
Winterhaven and Cleveland High School sit within about a half-mile of Bullseye Glass.
"The numbers that they measured were higher than any of us expected," said David Farrer, a state public health toxicologist. "The health effects depend on how much you were exposed to and for how long. Arsenic and cadmium both can increase the risk of certain cancers. Arsenic can also increase the risk that brain development will be impaired in children."
Farrer said OHA is still assessing the risk to people in the area and waiting for the DEQ to figure out how much of an area is impacted.
"The amount that's measured was significantly over our health benchmark," Farrer said. "That's based on a one in a million excess cancer risk."
Farrer said if you were standing where the monitor was placed in October for a year or more with the same levels present your cancer risk would be one in 10,000.
"It's really about about increasing risk," Farrer said, "so just because someone is exposed even at the concentration that could cause cancer that doesn't mean that the person will (get it)."
Monro said Bullseye has no previous environmental or air pollution violations.
It's been operating in Portland for more than 40 years.
Christine Miles, spokeswoman for Portland Public Schools, says the district first learned of the release of toxins on Wednesday.
Miles said the district has hired its own consultants to test air quality at schools on Friday.
Monro said DEQ is still working on a map showing affected areas.
The latest information from the DEQ can be found here.
Bullseye Glass Company put out the following news release on Thursday:
Bullseye has learned of a recent report from Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). In 2015, the DEQ performed air monitoring tests in a parking lot near Bullseye Glass. On February 1, 2016, staff from the DEQ shared some test results with Bullseye. It was newly discovered that there were higher levels of arsenic and cadmium in the parking lot than in some other areas of the city. Additional samples were taken from different sites, but all the analysis for these other locations is not complete yet.
We have engaged an environmental consulting firm to help us evaluate the data and conduct further testing and monitoring. Based on what we learn, although we are in full compliance with our air permit, Bullseye will take additional action based on any new findings that show corrective action is warranted.
While the DEQ has not required any action on our part, we decided to take action on our own. As of yesterday we suspended the use of cadmium and arsenic.
The owners and employees of Bullseye Glass care about the environment and our neighborhood and take this matter seriously.
The following email was sent out to parents of school children in the area on Wednesday:
Cleveland High School and Winterhaven School Families:
PPS has partnered for several years with the DEQ to monitor air quality in our city by allowing their monitoring equipment to be placed on some school buildings throughout the district. PPS was notified this morning that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) air monitoring data recently showed potentially dangerous levels of unspecified toxins near two SE Portland area schools. We were not informed of which schools, but were told we would receive more details in the next few days.
Today, The Portland Mercury newspaper reported that the two impacted schools are Winterhaven K-8 and Cleveland High School. We are communicating with both DEQ and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to confirm this information as quickly as possible.
Additionally we are taking the following actions:
1. We will be working with DEQ to send representatives to both schools to speak with staff and students about the air quality reports.
2. We will hire our own environmental consultant to test the air quality inside Cleveland and Winterhaven. We will inform staff, students and families of those results as soon as we are able.
3. We will provide DEQ the use of Cleveland High School to hold a community information session. We will inform you about the details of that session as soon as we DEQ announces them.
We will continue to stay in close communication with both DEQ and OHA in the next few days and will share more important information with you as we are able. The health and safety of our students and staff continues to be one of our top priorities.
Thank you for your support for Portland Public Schools.
Chief Operating Officer
Portland Public Schools