High Levels Of Cobalt, Cadmium In Portland Detected Through Moss Study


Portland has high levels of cobalt and cadmium, a new study has found.

The U.S. Forest Service conducted a moss study of trees and found that three Portland areas have high levels of cobalt, with the highest concentrations found in Pearl District and Southeast Portland.

The report is related to an earlier moss study in 2013, which also revealed the presence of six metals that are potentially dangerous. Through the study, the researchers were able to identify two glass companies as the source of carcinogenic cadmium in the air. As a result, the Forest Service has provided an interactive map to show areas with high levels of toxic metals.

Portlanders are worried about its effects on their health. Forest Service officials, however, said that the high levels of the metals found in the moss trees do not mean that its levels in the air are toxic. But the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will still conduct air tests to confirm.

They are planning to test for metals that pose potential health risks, including arsenic, chromium, cobalt, lead and nickel. Researcher Sarah Jovan said that they are also planning to have bimonthly collection of moss samples of the areas found to have high levels of toxic metals. But she said that it could develop to become a statewide moss study. Jovan added that the Forest Service will continue working with the Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Jovan said the Forest Service has acquired funding to conduct a different moss study that would focus on source identification of lead hotspots that came out of the 2013 study. The study will focus on the Kenton district, where high concentrations were found.

The group is planning to use lead isotopes, which can be found in gasoline and paint, in mapping the sources of lead.

Toxic Metals And Health

Cobalt is naturally present in the environment, but constant and long-term exposure to high concentrations of it can cause significant health effects. Acute exposure by inhalation may cause decreased respiratory functions and lung hemorrhage, while long-term exposure may force the lung to undergo fibrosis.

Decrease in cardiac function and immunosuppression were also noted to be greatly affected with cobalt exposure.

While cobalt has positive effects in the body as a Vitamin B12 constituent, cadmium has no beneficial health effects. Inhalation of high levels of cadmium can cause lung irritation while long-term low exposure can lead to kidney damage, emphysema, liver injury and immunologic diseases.

Last Easter, health watchdog As You Sow has warned parents about Easter chocolate treats having cadmium and lead.

Photo: Megan Hansen | Flickr

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