The term ‘Vile Soup’ came to me as I was skimming through the tables at the end of the 2018 Oregon Air Toxics Monitoring Summary, released this last February 2020. I figured DEQ would interpret the numbers as stand-alone measurements that were all below a dangerous threshold. With DEQ announcements of the last few weeks, that does seem to be the case. As an environmental activist, and a breather, living near the Owens-Brockway facility and other industrial polluters, however, my own concerns were not assuaged by these numbers. And beyond the numbers, what is that prevalent tang in the air? The constant presence of soot and recurrent solvent odors are easy to notice. Are my senses lying to me? Or, maybe it is just another unusual airflow pattern from PDX or the diesel trucks along Columbia Highway and I-205?
In the DEQ report, there are quite a few compounds that read at a maximum level with a higher concentration at the Cully monitoring site (Helensview Alternative High School) than they do from other sites. When volatile chemical compounds meet, they often interact with each other, creating new compounds that might create more, different, negative health effects for the human body than the original toxin. The large amount of measurable compounds in the Cully airshed creates a ‘vile soup’ of different compounds. We breathe this soup. Every day. But the additives are not just arrowroot put into a broth to thicken it, or olive oil to give it a luxurious swirl. Instead, the amount of different chemicals at levels higher than other sites create a vile recipe that we all smell, taste, and inhale.
When chemicals combine and modify each other, the health effects of this mixture of volatile chemical compounds is called ‘synergistic effects’. The state has done no research on synergistic effects even though they know it is detrimental to health and is happening in our community.
In term of metals (which may or may not be synergists even as they are of individual concern): the reading for lead shows a higher rate than at the NATT’s trend sites (NATT sites are the national trend/average monitors set in specific locations around the city and the nation for baseline comparison.) The problem with lead is that any amount is dangerous, especially to children living near the polluting facilities or attending the three schools within a mile of Owens-Brockway. Lead also bioaccumulates. Once it enters our body, lead will embed its molecules into our blood, bones and teeth, and tissue organs, and that creates real problems like cancers and neurological disabilities.
Chromium-6, a very dangerous carcinogenic metal, shows a maximum reading of .0842 (higher than any other monitor), and yet has a high 96%ND (which is confusing because %ND rates need to be below 80% for the reading to be valid.) The arsenic levels are also very high, and may be the result of Owens-Brockway adding raw materials, like sand, into the glass-cuttle mixture to achieve uniformity. We already have high rates of arsenic in our local environment, so adding more to our airstream and yards increases the likelihood of damage to the body.
While this information is a bit frightening, CAAT means to illustrate the types of dangerous compounds that are routinely sampled in the local airshed. There are so many pollutants around us, some are natural and have always been here, although they may have been hidden underground or in rocks. The industrial pursuit for efficient production and increased profit has mined these metals and brought them closer to us. Metals, mined and then introduced into industrial processes, do not go away, not through incineration nor chemical degradation. They can settle on the ground and sink into watersheds, and they also can be taken up in plant leaves, fruits, and vegetables and bio-accumulate, fixing themselves in our bodies.
As industrial production grew, thousands of under-regulated and poorly understood synthetic chemicals were developed and entered into the mix. Among them are VOC’s, which will disperse with the airstream and most will eventually breakdown. These are the ‘chemical’ scents we catch while hanging out in our backyards tending the garden or enjoying the open-space yards Cully is so well know for. Many VOC’s are extremely toxic in large airborne toxic events and some are recognized as cancer causing carcinogens. Some also are bio-accumulative. While longterm human exposure from many VOC’s has not been researched enough, CAAT surmises that in the least VOC’s are respiratory irritants, causing headaches, nosebleeds, and dizziness, and probably have effects on our emotional health and immune systems as well.
PAH’s last a lot longer in the environment than VOC’s and are often associated with diesel, and tobacco smoke. As PubChem states:
”Our environment is contaminated with a diverse array of chemicals; one of which is polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). While some PAHs are potent by nature, others undergo interactions such as additivity, synergism, antagonism or potentiation to manifest their toxicity.” https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/9154#section=Interactions
These metals are of concern to the people in the Cully and other local neighborhoods. In the DEQ Monitoring Summary, they register at higher levels in Cully compared to other testing sites:
Arsenic (developmental toxin)
Chromium (carcinogen; developmental toxin; female/male reproductive toxin)
Nickel (carcinogen; probable for developmental toxin; F/M reproductive toxin)
These VOCs are of concern to the people in the Cully and other local neighborhoods. Most of these register below danger levels, however, they are part of the recipe for the vile ‘soup’:
High compared to other testing sites:
1,2 Dimethylbenzene (used in many industrial processes, one form being xylene, can cause headaches and depression) (the SE 45th site has some crazy maximums)
1,3 Butadiene (carcinogen; developmental toxin; female/male reproductive toxin)
2-Butanone (MEK) (respiratory irritant)
Acetone (developmental toxin; male reproductive toxin)
Acrylonitrile (carcinogen) (high numbers at other test sites but Cully has 100% ND which is mighty strange)
Benzene (carcinogen; developmental toxin; female/male reproductive toxin)
Carbon disulfide (carcinogen; developmental toxin; F/M reproductive toxin)
Carbon tetrachloride (carcinogen)
Ethylbenzene (carcinogen) (the SE 45th site has a high maximum)
Toluene (developmental toxin)
Trichlorotrifluoroethane (a CFC that destroys the UV protective ozone layer)
These PAH’s are of concern to the people in the Cully and other local neighborhoods. Most of these register below danger levels, however, they are part of the vile ‘soup’:
Acenaphthene (carcinogen; respiratory irritant)
Dibenzofuran (carcinogen if in polychlorinated form)
Fluoranthene (potential carcinogen, scary synergistics)
Napthalene (irritant; potential carcinogen, mothball odor)
There is a lot of data in these tables, and the DEQ did well to set up these monitors. What we, as residents, decide to do with the information and data is up to us. DEQ will continue to monitor, and to permit polluters, as is required under the law, but only the local politicians can make the changes necessary to protect you from industrial polluters and the vile ‘soup’ that they create.
Call them up and tell them about your concerns:
Governor Kate Brown: 503-378-4582;
Speaker Tina Kotek Capitol Phone: 503-986-1200, District Phone: 503-286-0558:
Senator Michael Dembrow Capitol Phone: 503-986-1723;
Representative Barbara Smith Warner Capitol Phone: 503-986-1445;
Representative Tawna Sanchez Capitol Phone: 503-986-1443;
Senator Lew Frederick Capitol Phone: 503-986-1722;
DEQ Complaint Line 1-888-997-7888
Most of the health effects info comes from:
The Prop. 65 List/OEHHA: https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/proposition-65-list/
or, PubChem: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
The 2018 Oregon Air Toxics Monitoring Summary is available online at