Potentially unsafe levels of arsenic and cadmium have been detected in the air of Southeast Portland. The primary source was been localized to a glass production facility that has operated there for ~40 years. They have since terminated use of these metals in their process, so there is no current risk of continued airborne exposure from this source. A similar finding has been localized to a glass production facility in North Portland, who has also suspended use of cadmium (they don’t use arsenic).
At the concentrations measured, the primary health concern is for increased risk of skin, lung and bladder cancer, and lung cancer and kidney damage, for arsenic and cadmium, respectively. This concern is heightened, because several schools and residences are located in the Southeast Portland location, and the actual magnitude and duration of exposure to these metals is still being determined. DEQ is in the process of assessing the geographical extent of contamination, which will help identify areas of potential exposure and risk.
I attended a community open house, held February 9th, organized by Oregon Public Health, Oregon DEQ, and Multnomah County, to address public concerns about the situation as it is currently understood. Many thoughtful and intelligent questions and comments were brought forth by community members, and although I felt good about my ability to address the facts, there was little I felt I could do to address the fear expressed by many. Hopefully, as the situation becomes more clearly defined, we will better understand the actual health risk that exists. Stay tuned….this issue will be ongoing for some time.