State finds levels of the metal were significantly above federal standards, prompting building owner to voluntarily close for air sampling, clean-up
Portland - A multi-use commercial building in Salem that once stored and finished batteries has closed for testing, inspection and clean-up after state regulators confirmed that lead dust levels on several interior surfaces were significantly above national health protection standards.
The owner of the building at 576 Patterson St. NW in Salem, which contains at least six businesses, agreed Thursday to voluntarily shutter the structure at the request of the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Occupational Safety & Health, effective immediately. The agencies had reviewed results of tests on dust wipe samples taken from more than 20 spots around the interior of the building and determined the lead dust levels that were found posed a public health threat to those visiting and working in the building.
The building owner moved immediately to fence the entire facility and personally contact all business owners in the building to inform them of the closure. Among the businesses in the building are a CrossFit gym with a small childcare facility; a home renovation firm; a baseball training facility with indoor batting cages; a catering business; a roller skating rink; and storage and office space. A microbrewery also is under construction in the building.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits for lead levels at child care facilities are 40 micrograms per square foot on floors, 250 micrograms per square foot for windowsills and 400 micrograms per square foot for window troughs. Many of the samples collected in the 576 Patterson building had lead levels of many thousands of micrograms per square foot—one sample taken from the brewery floor was measured at 2,115.45 micrograms per square foot. A windowsill in the brewery was measured at 6,127.44 micrograms per square foot.
The highest sample in the building was taken from an electrical panel in a batting cage, found at 188,636 micrograms per square foot; and another on a girder above a roller skating rink was at 179,654 micrograms per square foot. Only one sample—on the CrossFit facility floor—was measured at less than 5 micrograms per square foot.
“Chronic, long-term exposure to lead is a serious concern. When we see levels of dangerous contaminants such as lead at extremely high levels that potentially endanger public health, our goal is to stop the source of the exposure,” said Katrina Hedberg, MD, state health officer at the OHA Public Health Division. “This is why we encouraged the building’s owner to close immediately, and fortunately, the owner acted without delay.”
DEQ recommended the owners of the facility test for lead inside the old building on site, which the owners voluntarily agreed to in late February. The owners wanted to see what actions they would need to take for DEQ to lift deed restrictions in place on the site since the 1990s following cleanups to remove concrete flooring and soil contaminated with lead beneath it. In 2016 the owners entered the site into DEQ’s Voluntary Cleanup Program, which provides oversight to property owners who want to clean up hazardous-substance sites in a voluntary, cooperative manner.
While the extent of the public’s exposure to areas of the building with the highest lead dust levels and the precise degree of the health risks are not known, children are most at risk of long-term health effects because their bodies absorb more lead than adults' and their brains are still developing, according to EPA. Infants and young children are often exposed to more lead than adults because they put their hands and other objects contaminated with lead from dust or soil into their mouths. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in behavior and learning problems, such as lower IQ and hyperactivity.
Hedberg says there is no evidence of human illness related to exposures at the facility.
DEQ plans to inspect the 576 Patterson building in the coming days, and Oregon OSHA will work with the building owner to conduct air monitoring during and after clean-up of the interior. OHA also is encouraging anyone who is concerned about past lead exposure to see their health care providers and get screened for elevated blood lead levels.
Polk County Public Health is offering free blood lead testing for children ages 1-18 and pregnant or breastfeeding women who may have been exposed to lead while inside the building. Testing will be offered March 28, 4-7 p.m., at Polk County’s West Salem location, 1520 Plaza St. NW, Salem. Those interested can call 503-623-8175 for more information.
Other adults and parents of children younger than 1 should seek testing through their primary care provider or pediatrician. The testing, though important, is not considered an emergency and does not need to happen immediately.
For more information on lead exposure and health, visit http://www.healthoregon.org/lead.