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.
Thanks to everyone who came to the Cathedral Park soil sampling event!
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: May 2022
DEQ obtained funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do soil sampling in Cathedral Park near the railroad area where we know there is some contamination. DEQ completed this work in mid-May and is waiting for the lab to process the samples.
DEQ anticipates getting raw data back at the end of June. DEQ and OHA toxicologist will review the data and compare any contamination levels to how people use the park (you can still take the survey and tell us how you use the park!). DEQ plans to hold a meeting in late summer to discuss the results.
DEQ also installed signs along the railroad tracks to advise park users to stay on the paved path rather than walk along the railroad.
The status of the cleanup process for N Bradford Street is:
- 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.
- Union Pacific has submitted a soil sampling work plan to sample more of the railroad area. That plan is available on the technical documents page.
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)
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 having walked in this area to go 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 here for a short period of time. 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.
2. Why does staying on the path keep me safe?
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.
3. How will DEQ fix this 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 voluntarily 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. Additionally, DEQ has received funding from EPA that will allow the agency to collect and process samples by June 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:
- Reaching out to Portland Harbor Community Coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org who are coordinating community efforts around this work.
- Checking this webpage for periodic updates.
4. Are my pets OK to walk here?
Yes! 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.
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.
5. Is the contamination in the park or just along the railroad?
DEQ currently has data showing that PCB contamination is present along and around the railroad, and where the path crosses the railroad (see map above). However, these data were collected more than 10 years ago, and more sampling is needed to understand the current risks. Now that Peninsula Iron Works and Union Pacific Railroad are in the DEQ Cleanup Program, the next step is to collect more soil samples to understand how far the contamination goes and how high the levels are.
Additionally, DEQ has received funding from EPA that will allow the agency to collect and process samples by June 2022. DEQ is working with community members to identify priority areas for sampling, including adjacent parts of the park.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. What should I do until more sampling is done and you know that it won’t affect our health?
If you walk on the paved pathway and stay out of the railroad track area, you won’t come into direct contact with the soil in this area. Using parks like Cathedral Park for exercise and relaxation is good for our health.
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. You can also reach out to Portland Harbor Community Coalition at email@example.com who are coordinating community efforts around this work.