Air at SE Portland schools to be tested Friday after toxins detected

Testing underway after toxins detected near schools

PORTLAND, Ore. -- High levels of cadmium and arsenic have been detected in Southeast Portland, in the area of 22nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The heavy metals have been linked to serious health problems including cancer. The findings were first reported by the Portland Mercury.

The DEQ said the agency is working with the Oregon Health Authority and the Multnomah County Health Department to determine the risk to the public. The DEQ created this website on the issue.

“These concentrations for arsenic is about 150 time higher than the ambient benchmark concentration that we look to as the basic screening level," said David Farrer, a public health toxicologist with Oregon Health Authority.

The emissions are just blocks from schools and a city park. In a letter sent to families, Portland Public Schools said the air at Abernethy School, Cleveland High School, Grout Elementary School, Hosford Middle School and Winterhaven School would be tested on Friday. Results of the tests are expected next week and would be shared with families.

The letter also said there will be a public meeting Feb. 9 from 7-9 p.m. at the Cleveland High School cafeteria to discuss the issue.

 DEQ officials said it's too early to tell if kids at those schools face any increased risk of exposure.

"The Oregon Health Authority reports the health effects of exposure to arsenic and cadmium depends on how much a person is exposed to and for how long," the DEQ said in a prepared statement. "The agencies need, and are working to collect, more monitoring data and analysis to supply the community with accurate and specific health-related information. The agencies also are working to produce maps that will outline the potentially affected area."

Testing began last October. The DEQ made its efforts public as the Mercury was about to publish its story.

DEQ officials said they're confident the source of the chemicals is Bullseye Glass on Southeast 21st Avenue. Bullseye makes colored glass for artists. It's a process that produces both the of chemicals in question.

According to the DEQ, the glass company is not breaking any rules and is in compliance with its permits. Oregon laws are geared toward large-scale glass plants rather than smaller operations like Bullseye.

"The regulations that DEQ permitting program implements aren't designed to address situations like this where there's localized concentrations of these kinds of pollutants," said David Monro, DEQ air quality manager.

Bullseye founder and co-owner Daniel Schwoerer told the Mercury “we were not aware of potential emissions. All I can say is we're a good citizen. We're concerned.”

He also told the Mercury “I know we're in compliance with DEQ and other agencies. We've done everything within the law to work with these materials.”

The company later issued a statement via Facebook acknowledging the tests and problems. The company also has stopped use of arsenic and cadmium.

Mary Peveto with the watchdog group, “Neighbors For Clean Air,” said residents have every right to be concerned.

"They've been investigating this specific area for about three years... monitoring levels which are horrific," said Peveto.

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