Air toxics: Why new lead findings are a big deal

Governor Kate Brown took strong and decisive action to shut down toxics at the source within hours after she learned about high lead levels in the air near Bullseye Glass on May 19, 2016. The decision shows not only bold leadership to protect health, but a clear understanding of the risks at hand.
Shutting down business practices is not a decision to take lightly. But unpredictable levels of toxic heavy metals are not to be taken lightly either—especially when they exceed short-term benchmarks and pose a threat to children’s life-long health and cognitive functioning.
There is a big difference between short- and long-term benchmarks.
Oregon sets long-term benchmarks based on the risk to health after a lifetime of exposure, day after day, year after year. The levels of arsenic and cadmium in the neighborhood near Bullseye were exceeding these long-term benchmarks. The nickel, arsenic and hexavalent chromium near Precision Castparts is too much to be safe over the long-term. And diesel exhaust, also a potent toxic threat, exceeds the long-term benchmark year after year in areas where 90% of Oregonians live.

But 24-hour benchmarks are different. They were set in March of this year by DEQ and OHA based on the risks posed by exposure just this one time, today.  And what DEQ found is that lead levels downwind of Bullseye were above the 24-hour benchmarks that they’ve set for lead. High enough to cause neurological damage to children. Today. Right now. Which means it’s time to shut down that source.

Fortunately, the level lead in the air is not necessarily the same as the lead that actually gets into our kids. That’s why it’s important to see Multnomah County doing screenings for kids to see whether blood-lead levels are affected in individual children.

The Governor showed her mettle in swift and decisive action to protect kids. But equally important was her bold leadership in mobilizing quick and clear communication about the risks. Governor Brown gets it: whether the news is good or bad, Oregonians want to know about how the environment affects their health and to be involved in making fair and effective protections.

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6 Replies to "Air toxics: Why new lead findings are a big deal"

  • Kathy Monti
    May 25, 2016 (3:35 am)

    If it is such a “Big Deal,” why didn’t she call Bullseye and ask them to shut down instead of waiting 12 hours to draw up legal papers , when Bullseye , would have complied with a call. I think I know why, it doesn’t make as good of head lines as a Cease and Desist Order. How about working with people instead of against them? I think we can all agree that clean air and water are important why not help Bullseye become the cleanest manufacturer in the neighborhood ? That would be something to be proud of.

  • Abigail Q Spring
    May 25, 2016 (4:40 am)

    Yes. The lead findings are a very big deal. That is why I have to ask why the DEQ waited 7 hours to inform the source of the air toxic, Bullseye Glass, that the levels were high. If one considers that these levels were established for a 24 hour period, it doesn’t take a mathematician to see 7 hours is a rather large percentage of 24. It is my understanding that in the past when confronted with high toxic readings Bullseye has voluntarily suspended production of the offending product. Would the wiser choice, and better choice for Oregon’s children, not have been to inform Bullseye, get them to stop production, and then organize the press conference, and if still necessary the cease and desist order? Doing it the way the did it makes it look like their first priority isn’t Oregon’s children but rather making themselves and Governor look good. How else can you explain such a delay? I can not understand why the Oregon Environmental Council is applauding the results of this negligence on the part of the DEQ and grandstanding by the governor that is both putting the health of Oregon’s children and the health of Oregon’s world renowned art glass industry and its local employees in jeopardy.

    • Jen Coleman
      May 27, 2016 (2:56 pm)

      Point taken, Abigail. I can only hope that the appointment of the advisory committee to overhaul DEQ’s air toxics program includes well-informed public advocates and meaningful involvement of people who are most affected by the decisions. OEC has submitted our recommendations, as have other health and environmental advocates. I hope others will, too!

  • Melody Roth
    May 25, 2016 (4:45 am)

    What is your source for the comment “evels of toxic heavy metals are not to be taken lightly either—especially when they exceed short-term benchmarks and pose a threat to children’s life-long health and cognitive functioning.” From what I have read long-term effects are from long-term exposure. Did your source say what produces lead in the area? There is diesel exhaust 25 ft from the monitor on that day (heavy equipment), rail yard across the street. It seems like she is taking bold action about something but the wrong thing. We need to work together to have clean air and keep an international treasure going.

    • Jen Coleman
      May 27, 2016 (2:54 pm)

      So, it is well established that lead exposure at any level harms cognitive functioning in children. A few years ago, EPA revised downwards its threshold for action on blood-lead levels…but they also acknowledged that there is no safe level. So EPA is my source on that,. As far as short vs long-term, my source is Oregon DEQ’s benchmarks for ambient levels (long term) and 24-hours (short term). In the case lead, the benchmark level is the same: that is, there is a health risk from exposure in a 24-hour period for lead in the air at that level. As far as the determination that Bullseye is the source, I guess that has to be borne out by whether the cease-and-desist order actually makes a difference in the monitoring readings. I really get your point though: we absolutely need to address multiple sources of pollutants, and diesel is a serious one for which there are very practical solutions!

  • Ray kinney
    May 27, 2016 (1:09 pm)

    The state government needs self examination of serious lead pollution sources that are ongoing water quality impairments. The state fishing regulations encourage the dumping of many tons of pure lead directly into corrosive waters of salmon streams on the Oregon coast, the same streams that they spend many millions of dollars each year attempting to recover salmon populations in. does it make any logical sense to keep poisoning these same waters? The tackle boxes of these same people doing the fishing are most often seriously contaminated by all of the powder produced by sinkers rolling around in the box. Simple lead testing kits can easily demonstrate extreme sources of pollution in these tackle boxes that contaminate hands, sandwiches, lunches, cooler ice, and the mucus on the fish that get taken home to contaminate the family frying pans… And the children they love. There are other materials designed to weight fishing lines, without having to poison what we love. The state needs to get a grip on its own pollution problems from lead, yet they refuse to allow any of their grant money to be used to investigate these pollution sources and dangers to their citizens… Thayer would rather investigate the pollution sources that others cause. IMHO.