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Wyden: Loophole 'The Size Of A Lunar Crater' Allowed Portland Pollution


Sen. Ron Wyden

Sen. Ron Wyden

John Rosman/OPB

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Thursday he’s worried about the regulatory gap that allowed high levels of heavy metals pollution to be released into the air in Portland.

At a press conference Thursday, Wyden joined Sen. Jeff Merkley and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, both Oregon Democrats, to discuss the recent discovery of arsenic and cadmium in the air at levels that raise the risk of cancer.

“These revelations about toxic emissions may fall into a regulatory loophole that’s the size of a lunar crater,” Wyden said. “We want to get on top of that and, in that sense, we still have more questions than answers.”

Wyden said the Environmental Protection Agency is investigating a possible update to federal pollution standards.

Part of the problem may be a regulatory exemption for businesses that run furnaces in batches, rather than running them continuously.

Wyden said he’s also talking with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about studying the human health effects of the exposures.

The cadmium and arsenic pollution in Southeast Portland has been linked to a colored glassmaker, Bullseye Glass, that uses metals in multiple furnaces to make artistic glass. Another hot spot has been detected in North Portland, near Uroboros Glass. Under current rules, the companies aren’t required to add pollution controls to their furnaces.

In light of the news, Bullseye and Uroboros have stopped using some heavy metals in their operations. 

Merkley said he sees a lot of promise in the moss sampling that lead the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to test Portland’s air, and discover levels of cadmium that are about 50 times the state’s benchmark for healthy air. The testing revealed levels of arsenic that are 150 times the benchmark.

“I’m sure the use of moss is going to be expanded in all kinds of ways as a result of this excellent work,” he said.

Blumenauer said he wants to see the state and federal government invest more time and energy into the issue.

“I think this is an area that has not been given the appropriate attention and priority at the federal level,” Blumenauer said. “I think it’s a question at the state level as to what capacity DEQ has to address this.”

Researchers with the U.S. Forest Service, who conducted the study of how toxins in moss correlate to toxins in the air, joined Oregon’s lawmakers.

Geoffrey Donovan said he’s found through his research so far that the metals detected in moss correlate almost exactly with the levels of metals detected by four air monitors.

While he still has more research to do to confirm the correlation, he said, at the levels detected in moss, the metals would be unsafe for human exposure “in a matter of days,” according to standards set by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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