US Forest Service Research Finally Reveals Source Of Mysterious Portland Heavy Metals Hotspots–And Residents Are Not Happy
Along with Berkeley, California, and Boulder, Colorado, Portland has long been known as a haven for all things progressive and environmental. The Oregon city has such a reputation in fact there is even a satirical show about its kooky residents, “Portlandia,” in which restaurant servers are interrogated about the joy experienced in the lives of its chickens, and artisanal shell-art makers compete with one another.
But a recent discovery by the US Forest Service has the city reeling. It has long been known that there were hotspots above the city containing heavy metal toxins, specifically arsenic, cadmium and chromium. But it was only recently that the Forest Service was finally able to pinpoint the source: artisanal glass manufacturers.
It turns out that old methods, quaint and quirky though they may be, may well come with an environmental price. Glass companies incorporate metals into their manufacturing methods in order to make certain colors. Cadmium, for instance, is required to make reds and yellows, whereas chromium is what brings out a blue-green tint.
One company, Bullseye Glass immediately suspended the use of cadmium and arsenic once the news came out. Another, Uroboros Glass also quit using cadmium, and agreed to have a new filter installed on their furnaces.
Interestingly, neither company was in violation of Oregon’s air quality requirements. One immediate consequence of the story breaking was that the state’s environmental official resigned, and the Forest Service has been asking a lot of questions about the ways the state regulates small industry like the glass-blowers.
The state has actually known for a decade or more that there were elevated levels of cadmium in the air over Portland, but until now they did not know why.
“I thought, we’ll probably see some industries emit different things, we’ll see some hotspots around permitted [industries],” said Sarah Jovan, one of the researchers from the US Forest Service. “But instead we found this unregulated industry. It was crazy, We first got the data back and looking at it was like…these hotspots don’t match up remotely with any of the known emitters of cadmium.”
The state has tested 513 Oregonians and found cadmium in approximately 5 percent. Ongoing testing of the air has shown lower levels of metals since the glass manufacturers stopped using some of the metals. But there is also a cancer cluster in one area of North Portland, near Uroboros Glass, which the state has described as a “small, statistically significant” increase in the rate of bladder cancer.
At least the city has realized the error of its ways and is attempting to make it right for its citizens. But Portland’s experience ought to be a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that the old ways are always, invariably the best ways.