According to Rob Davis of the Oregonian, health officials in Oregon claim a cancer cluster found near Oregon glassmaker. The “small, statistically significant cluster of bladder cancer diagnoses in two North Portland neighborhoods” is the first of its kind discovered.
There were 12 individuals diagnosed with bladder cancer in the area between 1999 and 2003, which is over double what state researchers were expecting. In the 15-year period for which the state has data, that number jumps to 22 people in two Census tracts near Uroboros Glass. During that same time period, the state only expected to find 15 such cases.
The story of the air pollution situation became public on February 3, according to Mr. Davis. Uroboros voluntarily signed an agreement promising the state Department of Environmental Quality that it would install pollution control devices on the furnaces it uses for glassmaking. The agreement also calls for Uroboros to stop using arsenic, cadmium and chromium in its processes.
When the issue was first raised in early February, the company voluntarily halted its use of cadmium and chromium. According to Uroboros’ owner, Eric Lovell, the company hasn’t used arsenic in years due to concerns over its potential toxicity. Oral ingestion of arsenic is commonly linked to bladder cancer. According to Mr. Davis, the exact date that Uroboros stopped its arsenic use is unknown and the company didn’t return a call placed late this past Friday.
In the agreement, Uroboros also promised to cease its use of trivalent chromium. This is typically considered to be a harmless form of the element. The company is waiting for a pending state determination regarding the metal’s potential to convert to hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, in the hot furnaces used in making glass.
Another North Portland glassmaker, Bullseye Glass, via several employees and the company’s lawyer, downplayed any concern about the trivalent to hexavalent chromium conversion, calling it “unfounded,” according to Mr. Davis, in a March 2016 story. Bullseye further stated that a decision to stop using trivalent chromium would destroy the 140-employee business as nearly one-third of its product line depends on the element.
However, despite such protestations, Bullseye did stop using all chromium forms in mid-February. That decision came as the result of some persuasion from Oregon Governor Kate Brown. While federal and state regulators are still unsure of the trivalent-hexavalent conversion, they prefer to err on the side of caution.
A spokesperson for Bullseye, Chris Edmonds, stated that the company would sign an agreement similar to the one Uroboros signed, minus the requirement that it permanently halt using trivalent chromium.
Mr. Edmonds cited a Facebook post from a glass science professor at Alfred University, William LaCourse. Prof. LaCourse stated that the trivalent-hexavalent conversion “generally” does not occur during glassmaking unless the engineer in charge specifically wants such a conversion to happen. According to Mr. Davis, Prof. LaCourse had no comment when contacted in March.
Interestingly, Bullseye has yet been able to produce either peer-reviewed science or air test results from its own smokestacks to support its, and Prof. LaCourse’s, opinion.
While state health officials are concerned, they are also cautioning people to refrain from making conclusions regarding the cancer cluster discovery. State epidemiologist Katrina Hedberg, told Mr. Davis that it is impossible to correctly “attribute the cancers to any specific exposure.” Studying 5,300 individuals in the two Census tracts, she said, is “expected to produce this type of variation.”
Adding to the uncertainty are the facts that state health officials don’t know if the residents in those areas smoke or how long they actually lived in the affected areas. Surprisingly, it doesn’t appear that the state is all that concerned with finding out, either. Despite having the names and phone numbers of those individuals diagnosed with cancer, Ms. Hedberg said the state has no plans to investigate a causal connection. She said, “Even if we call them, we can’t identify what caused their specific cancer.”
Mr. Davis’ story published April 1 shows that this answer is not satisfactory for some people in Portland. One finds oneself in agreement with Mary Peveto, the president of the Portland not-for-profit Neighbors for Clean Air, who believes the state should be conducting a thorough investigation.
Ms. Peveto said, “It’s the state’s obligation to find out what’s at the root of the causes of these illnesses. Who better than your health authority to help corroborate these connections?”
Special thanks to Rob Davis and the Oregonian for the original coverage and the featured video.