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Air quality near two glass plants has improved.



State officials released some reassuring soil sample and air quality data Thursday, in an ongoing effort to assess health risks from toxic heavy metals emissions by two colored glass plants in Southeast and North Portland.

Soil samples collected from three sites near North Portland’s Uroboros glass-making plant revealed no worrisome health risks for neighbors, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality also released data Thursday from air monitoring near Uroboros and Bullseye Glass in Southeast Portland. The air samples were taken in February — after the companies halted emissions of toxic metals. Those results showed a “significant drop in air concentrations of heavy metals,” according to a joint report by the state health and environmental agencies in conjunction with the Multnomah County Health Department.

"This means that current air concentrations monitored are not posing an urgent or immediate public health risk," said David Farrer, toxicologist with the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division.

Concerns about toxic air emissions by Bullseye and Uroboros emerged last month, based on the U.S. Forest Service's studies of moss samples. The moss samples revealed dangerous levels of cadmium and arsenic. Subsequent air monitoring showed high levels of toxic metals were being emitted legally by Bullseye and Uroboros. Both glass companies agreed on Feb. 12 to halt emissions of the toxic metals, including chromium, arsenic and cadmium, though Uroboros wasn’t emitting arsenic.

Results released Thursday included DEQ findings from 21 different soil samples in three areas near Uroboros: the Albina Community Garden, Lillis Albina Park and Grandma’s Place Daycare.

The soil sampling results were consistent with results released March 9 from the area near Bullseye Glass in Southeast Portland. Those showed toxic metals at levels too low to be considered harmful to people.

"As with soil samples from around Bullseye, soil samples collected from the vicinity of Uroboros Glass are mostly within the expected background range for the Portland area," Farrer said. "Analysis has shown that levels of metals in soil are too low to harm the health of children at the daycare or gardeners using the Albina Community Garden."

State officials aren’t sure why there’d be such higher accumulations of arsenic and cadmium in moss than in soil, but they say the science around soil samples is more settled and reliable.

The health impact from years of toxic air emissions by the two glass plants remains to be determined.

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission, which sets state environmental regulations enforced by the DEQ, is working on new interim rules that would sharply reduce allowable emissions from the glass industry. Those will be discussed by the commission at its next round of meetings on April 20 and 21.

DEQ announced a cooperative agreement with Uroboros on Wednesday to restrict use of the chemicals to protective levels determined by the Oregon Health Authority. Uroboros also agreed to install emission-control devices on glass furnaces that use arsenic, cadmium, chromium and nickel.

The state continues to monitor health concerns, and is posting information to a new website, saferair.oregon.gov/Pages/index.aspx.

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@SteveLaw/Trib

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