A Northeast Portland glass recycling facility has 18 months to prevent contaminants like particulate matter from reaching nearby neighborhoods.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued a construction permit to Owens-Brockway to begin installing air pollution control technology to reduce particulate matter. Its catalytic ceramic filter will also reduce emissions from nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions. The DEQ is requiring the work to be finished by May, 2024.
This comes as the glass recycling plant, located between the Sumner and Cully neighborhoods, was given two options last October— either shut down or install pollution control technology — after DEQ fined the facility more than $1 million for multiple, ongoing air quality violations in June 2021.
“While the enforcement was really about particulate matter, the catalytic ceramic filter will address additional pollutants,” DEQ spokesperson Lauren Wirtis said. “That pollution control is called out specifically in their construction air quality permit.”
Under the agreement, Owens-Brockway will send monthly updates to the agency and will continue to operate under an interim air quality permit until the new technology is installed.
Any violation of those limits will result in an $18,000 penalty, Wirtis said.
The glass recycling facility, owned by Owens-Illinois, Inc., melts down used beer and wine bottles in furnaces to create new glass containers. On average, the facility recycles more than 240,000 pounds of glass a day.
Last year, several environmental and local organizations teamed up to call on federal and state environmental regulators for stricter air quality enforcement for the facility. The groups commissioned a report, with help from Earthjustice, a public-interest environmental law organization, that found Owens-Brockway was emitting high levels of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide into surrounding communities, potentially exceeding federal air-quality standards.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, breathing particulate matter can lead to respiratory problems like asthma, coughing and difficulty breathing and heart or lung disease. Nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide can lead to similar health problems.
The community-based environmental advocacy group Verde has been working with residents of the Cully neighborhood to push for reduced pollution from the Owen’s Brockway plant. Cully is one of Portland’s most racially diverse neighborhoods, where more than half of the residents are people of color.
Verde’s Oriana Magnera said the decision to install the new technology has been a long time coming. She said she is hopeful it will begin to improve the air quality in the surrounding neighborhoods but there is still more work to do.
“We’re excited to see this happening but also recognize that it’s just the start of a long road toward accountability and ensuring the implementation happens the way it’s supposed to and in ways that are transparent and are responsive to community feedback and needs,” she said.
But Magnera questioned the company’s commitment to engaging with local residents and community organizations, given that it has not done enough of this in the past. Owens-Brockway’s settlement with the state requires it to spend part of its settlement penalty on community and environmental projects.
“They’ve done the absolute bare minimum and didn’t consult with the community in deciding what project they wanted to do,” she said.
Owens-Brockway spent more than $520,000 for tree planting in the Sumner, Cully, Parkrose and other surrounding communities.
Owens-Brockway declined to comment on the DEQ’s recent action.
Earlier this year, O-I Glass, Inc. parent company of Owens-Brockway announced in a press release the company would spend $11 million upgrading the Portland facility. The technology would reduce environmental impacts and ready the facility for growth. The company anticipates the new filter would be installed by April 2024.