OHA explains Precision Castparts 'safe' analysis
As reported in the December issue of THE BEE, the Oregon Health Authority released its draft "Health Assessment" resulting from its study of the area surrounding the Precision Castparts Structural Large Parts Campus (PCS) along Johnson Creek Boulevard.
The facility, established six decades ago on S.E. Harney Road, situated between the Brentwood-Darlington and Ardenwald-Johnson Creek neighborhoods, has been suspected by neighbors in recent years of polluting the air and soil nearby, and Johnson Creek, with heavy metals. The draft report found no evidence of that.
Following up the release of the Health Assessment draft report, OHA staff, joined by others from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) held several meetings in the area, the first of which was in the Lane Middle School library on November 29.
"The community asked if we should be concerned about the health risks; and the South Portland Air Quality group made an official request to OHA to look into this and to help understand any health risks," OHA public health toxicologist Susanna Wegner, Ph.D. said, recalling how the project began.
Public Health Assessment evaluates risks
"Our response was to perform this 'Public Health Assessment' which is the type of tool we have to help answer such questions," Wegner told THE BEE.
She said that part of this project included a Community Advisory Committee made up of neighbors that live in close proximity to the plant.
"We looked at environmental monitoring data; information air monitoring from 2016 and 2017 done by the Oregon DEQ; and also soil monitoring, and monitoring the sediment water and crayfish in Johnson Creek nearby," Wegner summarized. "From that monitoring data we're looking for chemicals in the environment – and also, considering the toxicity of those chemicals and then evaluating the health risks."
The conclusions were based on that information concerning the levels of metals in the air in 2016 and 2017. "I wouldn't say that our findings are 'below background' – there is a distinction between 'background levels' and the level that we think is going to harm health, Wegner explained. "They're definitely above background levels, for some metals. So I would say that these metals are 'detectable', but not at levels that would harm health.
"Recently, we got information that we incorporated into this draft concerning levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and metals in crayfish that are living in Johnson Creek.
"After hearing that some community members fish for, and eat, crayfish in the Johnson Creek, we did calculations; and, based on how much we detected in the crayfish tissue, we can calculate people can safely eat up to five meals of crayfish each month – each 30 days – without be concerned about health risks."
Looking for comments
OHA and ODEQ scheduled the follow-up meetings to hear about the public's concerns about the process, the conclusions, or assumptions that were made.
"We encourage those who are interested to read the report, then e-mail, write, or call us to let us know that there are ways we can improve the report and make it more accurate and useful for them," Wegner suggested.
The most useful comments, she said, will help her team identify inappropriate assumptions, information that they didn't consider that could make the report stronger, errors in the report – or any other information that they might have missed.
"There is a limit to what we can change; we have to stay within the scope of what the project is," Wegner added.
Pamela Hodge said she's a long-term resident of Brentwood-Darlington, living about a half-mile from the plant. "I am the 'poster girl' for a person living in the area; in that I was born in the neighborhood, in the year that Precision Castparts started their operations."
Having intermittent exposure over the decades, and now caring for her 93-year-old mother, led her to serve on the project's Citizens Advisory Committee.
"This assessment was based on seven months of monitoring data; with one month of monitoring data before the company put in their bag houses to reduce the level of omissions – and then six months of monitoring data afterwards," Hodge pointed out. "The biggest concern is for people who are long-term residents like me, is about the cumulative effects to exposure to pollutants – this report says nothing about the cumulative, historic exposure.
"Cumulative health risks and effects should be identified; Precision Castparts has a duty to those in the local population to, in some way, remediate the adverse effects it may have had."
Wegner said those who couldn't get to a meeting are still invited to comment on the health assessment report – but do so before January 15th.
- Phone comments by calling 971/673-0475
- Mail written comments to:
Environmental Public Health Assessment Program
800 N.E. Oregon Street, Suite 640
Portland, OR 97232