Uroboros Air Quality Assessment

Air quality issues hit home in Eliot through the news in early February, through a shocking revelation that Uroboros Glass, located on Kirby Ave, was burning cadmium and had been for years to make art glass in Eliot. The irony of the matter was that it was moss in the nearby trees that had helped Forest Service researchers find the Uroboros site’s pollution, not the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). That agency soon revealed that cadmium burning, now indicated in two glass factories including Bullseye in SE, have a monthly average of 49 times the state’s established air safety benchmark level for cadmium and 159 times the safe level for arsenic. Cadmium and arsenic are both known carcinogens connected to serious health effects.

After the discovery of their pollution, Uroboros Art Glass voluntarily agreed to suspend burning these metals. Monitors were installed at Harriet Tubman Middle School to make sure they were in fact doing this and in August, these were removed since air metals concentrations have been consistently low. At present the facility is not using any of the metals of concern in their furnaces, and they would have to notify DEQ and install emissions controls before they could legally do so. The next step for the process in Eliot will be determined by the Environmental Health Assessment Team’s forthcoming Public Health Assessment process, due out in late December 2016.

Public Health Assessments and Future Clean Air Work

This spring, the State tasked the Health Authority, Department of Environmental Quality and the Multnomah County Health to collaborate on new rules so that Oregon could use “human-health based standards” in a Public Health Assessment process (PHA). The PHA process is described by the OHA as a “scientific process for evaluating environmental data and information from the community based on community questions and insight.” (PHA definition) Seven Eliot residents began serving on the Community Advisory Committee of the Health Authority’s leading an assessment due to our pollution.

Eliot’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC) task was to voice concerns and ask questions to inform the Health Assessment team’s analysis. The final of three meeting yielded a list of issues that will be included in the PHA draft, and then there will begin a 60-day public comment period. Eliot residents can also take action on the statewide process, the Cleaner Air Oregon, which began with public comment on the redesign of the air quality regulations in Portland on October 5th.

The Public Health Assessment Process Recommendations

The first step of the PHA was to ask Eliot resident advisers for specific concerns about the risks, history, and practical needs. Some concerns the CAC voiced included questions such as:

  • Concerns about the environmental health risks for kids going to Tubman now and in the future (Faubion uses it now; new middle school to open 2017).
  • Concerns about cumulative impact at the school, Harriet Tubman’s history, issues before 2000, the 2009 EPA study—what are the cumulative impacts of living in Eliot over the decades?What is the state of the indoor air quality and water quality at Tubman and what is PPS doing to be part of this process? How about the freeway too?
  • Concerns about biking, parks and exercise in poor air quality areas.
  • Combined health risks from environmental contaminants and emission from other industrial facilitates, diesel particulates and high traffic corridors (from I-5, and in-neighborhood truck traffic from local industry) and the rail yards.
  • Concerns about availability of data and how local residents find out more about other potential sources of exposure present in the neighborhood and understand how the PHA will improve health and regulation.

The next steps for Environmental Health staff is to work with toxicologists to review available environmental data; comparing soil, air, and water samples, against health-based standards. The EHAP Team will contact government toxicologists to review and certify the science and content of the PHA. The entire PHA process results in conclusion that either detail, or rule out, an increased risk of concern and other health effects. Then, the Eliot neighborhood has 60 days to comment on recommendations. In the meantime, the EHAP team is planning to help residents with questions through SoilSHOP screening.

Stay tuned for further information and contact author, angelahkremer@gmail.com who hopes to plan an Eliot workshop for clean air issues and engagement.

More Ways to Make a Difference

ZRT Labs, a local lab in Beaverton, OR, is offering free urine testing for cadmium and other chemicals to long-term residents living near Uroboros. The test is the most sensitive available. If you are interested in this test, contact Ted Whitney at Eastside Portland Air Coalition, Email: tr_whitney@yahoo.com; 503-318-8037

Cleaner Air Oregon” is a program being rolled out statewide aimed at regulatory overhaul. The program plans to use “human-health based standards” in regulating air quality. It aims to set limits on air emissions that are based on human health risks, define exposure levels that are safe, and create standards that cover a wide range of facilities. You can weigh in as rules are developed between now and December 2017.

Map of permitted industry: You can view a map of Portland’s industries that have DEQ permits.  Our local Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN) is working with Neighbors for Clean Air on a narrative for the map.