Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Director Dick Pedersen tells a legislative committee his plans for improving state air pollution regulations.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Director Dick Pedersen tells a legislative committee his plans for improving state air pollution regulations.

Cassandra Profita, OPB/EarthFix

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Director Dick Pedersen is stepping down effective mid-March, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday.

Pedersen’s resignation follows weeks of public outcry and criticism of DEQ over the discovery of unhealthy levels of cadmium and arsenic in the air in Southeast Portland.

DEQ Deputy Director Joni Hammond will replace Pedersen as interim director until a permanent successor can be named.

In recent weeks, Pedersen and his agency have been criticized for failing to properly regulate polluters such as Bullseye Glass, which has been identified as the source of the elevated cadmium and arsenic detected in Southeast Portland’s air.

Documents show DEQ submitted a timeline to the governor that misstated when his agency first learned about elevated cadmium levels detected in a U.S. Forest Service study of contaminants in moss.

The governor’s statement says Pedersen is citing the need to tend to immediate health concerns.

“Over his many years in state government, Dick has provided steady and dedicated leadership,” Brown said. “I am grateful for his service to the people of Oregon, and I will miss him as a trusted colleague and friend.”

State Rep. Rob Nosse, whose district includes Southeast Portland, said he was surprised at the reason given for Pedersen’s departure.

“I didn’t know that the director was experiencing any bad health,” the Democratic lawmaker said. “I’m sorry for that and for what he and his family might be going through but it’s been a really tense time in my district and that agency.”

Nosse said he hoped Pedersen’s departure would give way to a leader at the DEQ “who’s going to take a different approach.’

“This whole situation with Bullseye Glass has been a big wake up call,” he said. “I’m outraged, my community is outraged and I think we’re going to be able to channel that outrage into putting some regulation into place that will prevent these things from happening again.”

Brown credited Pedersen with establishing one of the first Oregon water quality trading programs in the country to address water pollution, leading efforts to address concerns of tribal governments over pollution of state waterways, overseeing efforts to clean up pollution in Portland Harbor in advance of federal clean-up efforts and developing rules to reduce Oregon’s transportation-related carbon footprint through the use of cleaner fuels.

David Monro, air quality manager for the agency, is also leaving the agency to take a position elsewhere, DEQ spokeswoman Jennifer Flynt said Tuesday.  

Flynt said Monro made the decision to spend more time with his family and had been planning to change jobs before the heavy metals controversy surfaced. She said the timing of both Monro and Pedersen’s resignations was coincidental and not related to the Portland toxic air scare.

Reporters Tony Schick and Chris Lehman contributed to this report.