Oregon Public Broadcasting

Health Officials Find 'Small' Cancer Increase Near Portland Glass Factories

Health officials announced Friday that they have discovered a small but "statistically significant" increase in the number of bladder cancers in North Portland between 1999 and 2003.

The Oregon Health Authority has been looking at cancer rates in neighborhoods around two glass manufacturers in Portland after a notable increase in air pollution was detected earlier this year.

The manufacturers had been using heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic to color glass, and elevated levels were found nearby.

Over a longer term, levels weren't as high. The health authority said most rates of lung and bladder cancers near the companies were “generally consistent with expected rates” over 15 years between 1999 and 2013.

But there was an increase in bladder cancer when narrowing in on the five-year period in North Portland.

State epidemiologist, Dr. Katrina Helberg, cautioned that the small number of cancers involved mean even a slight increase can result in a statistically significant outcome.

“At this point, we don’t have any evidence that the exposures that have been happening in these neighborhoods are resulting in any increases in cancer,” Helberg said.

She also said the increase was not sustained in subsequent years.

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State: Portland's Toxic Health Risk Low, Despite High Arsenic Levels

Oregon regulators said Thursday air and soil samples continue to show low health risks for Portland residents. But the level of arsenic in some areas is elevated.

A new test for arsenic around Uroboros Glass in North Portland showed levels several times higher than the state guideline.

But David Farrer with the Oregon Health Authority said people needn’t be concerned.

“When there’s an exceedance of a screening level found, that does not automatically mean that there’s a public health risk," Farrer said. "But it does mean that we need to do additional analysis, and found that the risk was low.”

Farrer said the test seemed high because Oregon’s guidelines are too conservative. It assumes 100 percent of the arsenic in a contaminated soil will be absorbed by the body. Farrer said some studies show absorption rates can be as low as 10 percent.

Concerns about toxic air started last month after high levels of heavy metals were found around glass manufacturers in the city.

Since then, Uroboros has signed an agreement not to use the heavy metals without a filter. Bullseye Glass remains in negotiations.

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Portland To Join Suit Against Monsanto

The Portland City Council voted unanimously to file a lawsuit against agrochemical giant Monsanto.

Portland plans to join six other West Coast cities — Seattle, Spokane, Berkley, Oakland, San Diego and San Jose — that have sued the company over toxic pollutants it produced.

Portland To Join Suit Against Monsanto

The Portland City Council voted unanimously to file a lawsuit against agrochemical giant Monsanto.

Portland plans to join six other West Coast cities — Seattle, Spokane, Berkley, Oakland, San Diego and San Jose — that have sued the company over toxic pollutants it produced.

Monsanto was the only company in the US that made Polychlorinated biphenals, or PCBs. The chemicals were once used as coolant fluids. Federal regulators banned PCBs in 1979. But the chemicals linger in the environment.

In Portland, PCBs still contaminate the Willamette River and the Columbia Slough. And they're found in fish in the area.

Attorneys pitching the Monsanto #pollution suit say that by 1969, the company knew PCBs were found in shrimp, fish, oysters, and birds.

— Amelia Templeton (@ameliaOPB) March 16, 2016

The attorneys pitching the case allege that Monsanto promoted its PCBs even though it knew they were contaminating food & wildlife.

— Amelia Templeton (@ameliaOPB) March 16, 2016

Mayor Charlie Hales said the city has spent more than $1 billion cleaning up the Willamette.

"The citizens of Portland dug deep in order to pay for cleaning up our mess, and other businesses should be held to that standard,” Hales said.

In a written statement, a spokesman said Monsanto is not responsible for the costs associated with PCBs.

"Monsanto today, and for the last decade, has been focused solely on agriculture, but we share a name with a company that dates back to 1901,” the statement read.

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State Says Health Risks Around Portland Glass Manufacturers Is Low

Government agencies announced Wednesday that the health risk around Portland glass manufacturers is low.

The DEQ said Wednesday that it took 67 soil samples from the area around Bullseye Glass in southeast Portland. Samples were taken from a Fred Meyer parking lot, a day care center and Powell Park.

The samples were tested for arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and several other elements.

They found that most heavy metals were at background levels. But there were a few samples that showed elevated levels.

Lynne Saxton, the director of the Oregon Health Authority said overall, the findings are encouraging.

“We’re not seeing evidence of health problems caused by metal emissions,” Saxton said.

Authorities announced that it's now okay to eat produce grown in backyards again, although they did recommend gardeners wash their produce and their hands.

The state has also been collecting results from anyone tested for cadmium. Out of 247 tests, it found seven people in Multnomah County with detectable levels.

Two were children, and three had levels that require some kind of clinical follow up.

There can be several reasons a person might have high cadmium levels, other than pollution. For example, if they smoke or engage in a hobby associated with cadmium.

The Oregon Health Authority also reviewed rates of lung and bladder cancers — the two kinds of cancer associated with cadmium and arsenic exposure.

The agency found that the incidence of those diseases was no higher than expected near Bullseye and Uroburos glass.

It’s good news. But so far the testing has focused on the soil.

Results from air sampling are expected next week.

Although the manufacturers have suspended their use of the arsenic, cadmium and chromium used to color glass, some residents might be skeptical of these results. Authorities at the meeting said they'll make an effort to get information out more quickly. They're also sending concerned people to a new webpage.

Saxton said this issue has opened the doors to what she called “long overdue changes."

The DEQ is launching a new rule-making process to move Oregon’s system closer to those in Washington and California, which better account for public health risks.

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OHSU Primate Center Being Investigated For Mistreating Monkeys

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed Thursday it’s investigating the treatment of research monkeys at Oregon Health And Science University.

The feds wouldn’t outline the reason for the investigation.

But over the last two years, OHSU’s Oregon National Primate Research Center has been warned about monkeys being burned by heating pads; one that died under respiratory distress; and 27 that either died in fights or were seriously injured.

Michael Budkie of ‘Stop Animal Exploitation Now!’ says OHSU entered into a settlement with the USDA four years ago, after violating the Animal Welfare Act. And two years ago, got a warning letter,  “There comes a time when you begin to wonder how often a facility will be allowed to break the law," he said. 

"We would like to see the USDA take a meaningful enough penalty against OHSU that either they stop breaking the law, or they move away from using primates in experimentation.”

In a statement, primate center director Nancy Haigwood said her office had not been contacted about any investigation. She said scientists adhere to the "appropriately stringent" Animal Welfare Act.

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Babies Get Wrong Breast Milk After Mix-Up At Oregon’s Only Prison For Women

Imagine you’re the mother of an infant. And you pump breast milk every day to nourish your newborn. Then you discover that, despite your effort, your baby has actually been given someone else’s milk. That’s what happened to inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. That’s Oregon’s only prison for women. The Oregonian’s Laura Gunderson uncovered this story and joined All Things Considered host Kate Davidson to talk about the mix-up. To hear their full conversation, click play in the audio player above.

Q&A with The Oregonian's Laura Gunderson

Kate Davidson: What exactly happened at Coffee Creek?

Laura Gunderson: Well, there were four women in the program right now. These are women who were incarcerated and then gave birth. They don't actually have the babies there at the facility. But they have the babies, and then the babies go to family members or to case workers or to foster families, who care for them. And to try to keep that bond going and do what they can for their babies while they are at Coffee Creek, the women are allowed to breast feed. They each have their own pumps, and they pump several times throughout the day, take the milk to the medical center, and the medical center nurses put them in a freezer.

I heard from one of the inmates, a woman named Trisha Mart, who discovered from her husband on the outside that when he had gone to feed the baby – everything had been fine – he thought he had fed the baby, he came back and saw that the empty bag on the kitchen counter had another inmate's name on it. 

KD: How was it marked? Was it a formal label or a marker?

LG: It really seems to vary. That was a sticker with somebody's name on it. Trisha had always written her name on it, but I don't think the family recognized at that point it was something they should be checking. There didn't seem to be a rule that when you've submitted your bag to medical center that it had to have a name on it. So when the nurses distributed the milk to the families — the families have to come weekly to pick up the milk – they distribute them into ice chests for the family, and it appeared that when that would happen, there was, you know, confusion, and that families were getting anybody's milk.

When I got the letter from Trisha telling me about this, what struck me is that this is kind of the essence of what a prison is supposed to do: be very clear about what comes in and what goes out.

KD: So we're talking about at least four inmates involved in this breast-feeding program. Is there any health risk to the babies that might occur from having another mother's milk?

LG: Well, definitely the women involved in the program were concerned because they knew at least one of the other inmates had self-reported she had Hep C, Hepatitis C. They also had concerns because, of course, there are women who take medications, both that they have been told to take, but others, they say, take them as contraband, and in addition to medications, also drugs.

KD: Have you talked to any doctors who might indicate whether there is an actual health risk to the babies?

LG: The likelihood seems low. It's more likely that a baby would contract Hepatitis C because its mother had it, and it was something that, in bearing the baby, that's why the baby would have Hep C. There is a small chance that it can be contracted through breast milk, and the doctors I spoke to were pretty sure that probably these babies were OK, but they won't know for sure until 18 months when they can do the test that most accurately tells you whether or not that that disease has been passed on.

KD: I think listeners hearing this right now might think it can't be that hard to correctly label a bag of breast milk. Do you have a sense of whether this was just a systems failure or whether it says something deeper about a cultural problem at the prison?

LG: Well, it struck me as both. The Department of Corrections said that they have addressed this, that they now will not take the milk unless there is a name on it, and they have two nurses who will check through the process that they distribute the ice chest to the family. But at least one of the inmates, a woman named Marcie Harris, felt that throughout the process that she was complaining, that she was punished for complaining, and she was told not to talk about it, not to talk about it to the other mothers or her family or her lawyer. And she felt that that scared her.

KD: Has anything come to light since your first story was published?

LG: Yes. I've definitely heard from another inmate, who says that she and others during the program's time in 2013 had the same experience, and that definitely contradicts what I have heard from the Department of Corrections, who says this is a one-time thing that only happened a couple of times. I know from the inmates today that it happened many times, and it also opened up the issue that families on the outside felt as if they weren't being heard. They were trying to advocate for their family members inside, and they didn't feel they were being listened to.

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Vermont's Loss Over Health Care Data Will Affect Oregon Too

The U.S. Supreme Court told the state of Vermont on Tuesday it can’t force health insurers to hand over data on the amounts they pay for various medical claims.

The ruling means large self-insured companies like Intel, don’t have to give the state their data. In Oregon, about 23% of the population get their insurance through such companies — that’s the combined populations of the cities of Portland, Salem and Eugene.

A decision over health care information may not sound like a big deal, but finding patterns in big data is how Vermont, the Obama administration and Oregon aimed to reduce healthcare costs.

Jesse O’Brien specializes in health care for the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group and said the court's ruling will affect the efficacy of Oregon's data gathering.

“It doesn’t completely undercut the ability to collect this data, or the usefulness of this data," said O'Brien. "I think it makes the data significantly less representative of the reality of what’s going on."

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