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Portland Air Testing Continues To Show Elevated Toxics Levels


A summary out Friday shows there are still elevated levels of hexavalent chromium in Southeast Portland — and Department of Environmental Quality investigators still don’t know where it’s coming from.  

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has been checking the air quality in four locations in Southeast Portland since February.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has been checking the air quality in four locations in Southeast Portland since February.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality/DEQ

State health officials say the emission levels don’t pose an immediate health risk, but Health Authority spokesman Jonathan Modie said risks can go up, the longer people are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.  

“If we find a source — a specific source — for this hexavalent chromium, we want to work with that source to eliminate or dramatically reduce that hexavalent chromium,” Modie said. “We want to limit it in the environment for sure. Ultimately, that is the goal. And the same for selenium.”     

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has been monitoring the air around the Harriett Tubman school building in North Portland since February 20.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has been monitoring the air around the Harriett Tubman school building in North Portland since February 20.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality/DEQ

Friday’s emissions report shows a big jump in selenium starting two weeks ago. Selenium isn’t carcinogenic, but it can lead to respiratory difficulties when it occurs at levels above what Portland has.  

State officials said Bullseye Glass, a colored glass-maker originally linked to heavy metal air pollution, started using more selenium. But a Bullseye executive said their use of selenium is consistent with past practice. 

“We have not increased our traditional use of selenium,” said Bullseye Vice President Jim Jones in an email to OPB.

Modie said state officials are working with the company to reduce emissions. Jones noted that the company has already taken steps and is taking more.

“We have already installed emission controls (a baghouse) and we are in the the process of engineering and installing additional baghouses,” Jones wrote.

DEQ also posted new results from the air monitoring station near the Harriett Tubman school building in North Portland. They show levels within typical urban air concentrations for emissions such as hexavalent chromium and selenium.

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