The N. Bradford Street cleanup project is addressing elevated levels of soil contamination in the area in and around the railroad adjacent to Cathedral Park (see image right). While they do not present a short-term threat to public health, more sampling is necessary to make sure there is no risk of long-term health effects for someone who is regularly exposed to the soil in this area.
The contamination consists of a class of chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs were historically used as coolants and lubricants, but were banned in 1977 due to their toxic impacts on human health and persistence in the environment. DEQ is addressing this contamination through its cleanup process.
To minimize your exposure if you’re in this area, DEQ and Oregon Health Authority recommend:
- Stay on the paved path when crossing the railroad
- Do not walk along the railway
Updated: October 2022
Union Pacific Railroad did soil sampling the week of Oct. 17 around the railroad. These samples will take longer to process since the work is being done outside of DEQ. As soon as we receive the final results, we’ll make sure to set up a meeting to share with the community. Their sampling plan is available on the technical documents page.
Earlier in 2022, DEQ obtained funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do soil sampling in Cathedral Park near the railroad area where we knew there was some contamination. DEQ and OHA met with community members in July to talk about the results. Download the presentation.
This sampling told us some good news:
- PCBs are below DEQ’s long-term park user screening levels in 10 sampling areas, including the dog park area, which means the levels are too low to harm health.
- In two sampling areas, levels of PCBs are above DEQ’s long-term park user screening level, but well below a level that would be of immediate concern. OHA determined these levels of PCBs are still too low to harm health because the soil is covered by grass and mulch and people do not spend all their time in one area.
- OHA has recommended the City of Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation regularly inspect and maintain the grass and mulch in the area as an extra precaution. Grass and mulch help prevent people from coming into contact with bare or loose soil. The City has been doing this.
- DEQ will continue requiring sampling through its cleanup process and to evaluate the best way to address contamination.
Peninsula Iron Works and Union Pacific Railroad, both of which may have contributed to the PCB contamination in this area, have signed agreements coming into DEQ’s voluntarily cleanup program. Both have submitted draft sampling plans to DEQ and sampling will likely occur in summer to fall 2022.
Signs are currently posted along the railroad to advise park users to stay on the path when crossing the railroad.
DEQ has been meeting with community members since October 2021, and DEQ’s expedited work, the signs, and the opportunities for funding are a result of this collaboration.
Stay up to date on the latest by:
- Signing up for our email list
- Reaching out to Portland Harbor Community Coalition, who is coordinating community efforts around this work, at email@example.com.
- Checking this webpage for periodic updates.
Other helpful documents:
- Fact sheet / Hoja informativa
- Technical documents
- Cathedral Park soil sampling plan presentation (April 26)
- Cathedral Park soil sampling results map
Learn more about the Portland Harbor Superfund Site work nearby
This work is separate from the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing work in parts of Cathedral Park for Portland Harbor. Read more about Portland Harbor on EPA’s storymap. You can get specific information about Cathedral Park on EPA’s project webpage and on Oregon Health Authority’s page for that project. Contact EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, Laura Knudsen, if you’d like to be involved in the superfund work at Cathedral Park. DEQ provides updates about the N. Bradford street project to EPA who shares it with community members involved in Cathedral Park work.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How does this impact my health? Am I going to get sick from going to the park for a long time?
Based on what we currently know about the site, a person’s health will not be affected if they come into contact with soil along the railroad in the short-term. We need more sampling to evaluate how concentrations can affect long-term health. DEQ will be overseeing additional sampling so we have a better understanding of the levels of PCBs in the area and what that means for potential long-term health impacts.
For the low contamination in one area of the park, with the grass and mulch covering, Oregon Health Authority determined PCB levels are too low to harm health.
2. Why aren’t there signs about the contamination above DEQ screening levels in the park?
DEQ and OHA agreed with community members that signs were appropriate along the railroad, because of the level of contamination and the fact that the soil is bare and loose, making it easier to pick up. In the park, contamination levels are lower and it is covered by grass and mulch. OHA evaluated the contamination levels and the ways people use the park and determined current conditions will not harm health. The City of Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation has agreed to maintain the grass and mulch to help further limit exposure, but park users do not need to change how they use the park.
3. Why does staying on the path keep me safe when crossing the railroad?
PCBs, the contamination, cling to dirt particles. When this dirt is tracked and kicked up in the air, we can accidentally swallow it or breathe it in. By staying on the paved pathway, you can reduce contact with the soil and avoid kicking up and tracking dirt along the railroad.
4. What should I do until DEQ gets more information and you know that it won’t affect our health?
If you walk on the paved pathway when crossing the railroad track area, you won’t come into direct contact with the soil in this area. Using the park as usual is still safe. Using parks like Cathedral Park for exercise and relaxation is good for our health.
5. How is this going to get fixed and how soon?
DEQ’s first step is to identify the parties potentially responsible for the contamination and have them enter into the Cleanup Program. As of March 2022, Peninsula Iron Works and Union Pacific Railroad have both agreed to enter coming into DEQ’s voluntary cleanup program.
Next, it will be the responsible party’s the job to collect additional soil samples in the area to figure out how far the contamination goes and exactly how high the levels are. Both parties have draft soil sampling work plans in to DEQ and DEQ will likely have results to share in fall 2022. How the contamination gets addressed will depend on the results of all of this sampling work.
This process takes time, but DEQ is committed to moving the project along as quickly as possible and keeping the community informed along the way. You can stay up to date on this project by:
6. Are my pets safe?
Yes! Pets are generally less vulnerable to PCBs in soil than people. Long-term health risks are less for pets because their lives are naturally shorter than humans. Long-term health risks, like cancer, in humans from environmental exposure doesn’t typically develop until decades after the exposure, which is longer than the lifespan of pets like cats and dogs.
Additionally, soil testing in the dog park confirmed conditions are safe and not above DEQ screening levels.
If pets walk on or around the railroad tracks, brush off their feet so they don’t expose you by tracking soil into your car, home or living space.
7. How is this related to Portland Harbor Superfund Site work at Cathedral Park?
This area is outside of the Superfund Site boundary. For information about the Cathedral Park section of the Superfund Site, please visit EPA’s webpage for further information and updates.
8. Are PCBs the only contaminants present in this area?
PCBs are the only contaminant that has been detected above DEQ’s risk-based screening levels in this area. Other contaminants that were tested for include the metals chromium, copper, lead, nickel and zinc. More sampling is needed to understand current risks from PCBs.
9. How do PCBs impact human and ecological health in the long-term?
PCBs are called a “probable carcinogen,” meaning there is a strong possibility they cause cancer. Other serious health concerns include immune system disorders, low birth weight, learning disabilities and impaired growth and development in children. PCBs are also linked to skin, eye, liver and heart disorders.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has more in-depth health information about PCBs, available in multiple languages. Visit the ATSDR webpage on PCBs.
The primary concerns for animals exposed to PCBs are impaired reproduction and changes in the immune system. At high concentrations, animals can also experience liver, stomach and thyroid damage, anemia, skin conditions and alterations in behavior. An important consideration for animals is the exposure of PCBs through their diet, and the subsequent accumulation and consumption of those animals by predators.
10. How can the community get involved?
Stay informed and join DEQ’s public meetings! Any opportunities for community involvement will be announced on this webpage and through our email list. You can also reach out to Portland Harbor Community Coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org who are coordinating community efforts around this work.