A glass-making plant on the southeastern side of Portland, Oregon, is under serious pressure to do something about all the pollution that’s reportedly billowing into the sky and down its rooftop into the ground and nearby waterways. Reports indicate that, despite increased regulatory oversight and escalating community outrage over the issue, little has changed at Bullseye Glass, which continues to release toxic heavy metals that now threaten the area’s groundwater resources.
Data obtained by The Portland Mercury shows that stormwater runoff from Bullseye’s rooftop contains upwards of 33 times the federal maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) of at least five different toxic heavy metals. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) investigated a structure on the site of the plant called a drywall, which basically captures water in an underground chamber, to come up with an assessment, which it says looks bleak.
Speaking to the Mercury, the DEQ’s Matthew Kohlbecker, a senior hydrogeologist at the agency, explained that, even though nobody is actually drinking the water that collects in this particular cavern, its pollutant levels are suggestive of what is likely taking place at other nearby water resources. Pending the results of additional testing at other sites, the consensus seems to be that Bullseye’s manufacturing activities are having a negative impact that is more far-reaching than just the immediate property.
“When stormwater exceeds MCLs, the potential to endanger groundwater exists,” Kohlbecker says.
Bullseye Glass: Cadmium levels 42,600 times higher than EPA legal limits
Also in Bullseye’s underground cavern are impacted layers of sediment that have been accumulating there for at least the past 24 years, which experts say provide an even clearer picture as to the amount of contamination coming from the plant. Testing on this sediment shows that heavy metal levels are quite literally off the charts, indicating that a whole lot more needs to be done to address how to properly dispose of such waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already established legal thresholds for determining whether or not tainted sediment should be treated as “hazardous waste” rather than just dumped in a landfill, a factor that depends on the amount of contamination present. But these protocols aren’t being followed at Bullseye, where contaminant levels are far beyond the point of simply being hauled away and forgotten.
The potent neurotoxin cadmium, which the EPA says can be safely discarded in sediment up to a level of 5 micrograms per liter (ug/L), was detected in Bullseye sediment at a level of 213,000 ug/L – this is 42,600 times the MCL established by the EPA.
For lead, the MCL is 15 ug/L, but in Bullseye sediment it was detected at a level of 70,000 ug/L, or 4,667 times higher than the MCL.
Elevated levels were also found for chromium, selenium and arsenic, which were detected at levels 2.7 times, 32 times and 419 times higher than the established MCL, respectively.
The cavern itself is capped, but the presence of these toxic metals at such high levels continues to be a concern among officials as to the safety of other nearby water sources where similar seepage has more than likely occurred. Experts warn that metals tend to accumulate and concentrate under such conditions, and that the problem could be more widespread than people believe.
“I would expect to see movement of these metals to the groundwater … It wouldn’t be a big surprise,” stated Mark Dilley, an ecological consultant with the Ohio-based group MAD Scientist Associates, to the Mercury. “It is the concentrations in environmental media (soil, sediment, surface water, groundwater) beyond the facility, in areas accessible to the public, that present the potential threat to public health.”
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