Six new air pollution testing stations are being installed near the Bullseye Glass factory in southeast Portland as a result of a class action lawsuit over the company’s emissions of toxic metals.
As part of a $6.5 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by the factory’s neighbors, the company agreed to pay for a $1 million air pollution monitoring program.
The glass manufacturer was accused of emitting unhealthy levels of toxic metals into the air in 2016 after a scientific study of moss revealed an air pollution hot spot near its southeast Portland factory.
The new air monitoring stations will test for arsenic, cadmium, chromium and hexavalent chromium, as well as diesel pollution and particulate matter.
All six testing stations should be up and running by next month, according to Matthew Preusch with Keller Rohrback, the law firm that represented the plaintiffs in the case. The data they collect will be posted publicly to a website. Two of the stations will be located on the Bullseye Glass property and others will be within a about a mile of the factory.
“Portland has an air quality problem,” Preusch said. “It’s hard to know the extent of that air quality problem without measuring what’s in the air.”
Preusch said his group won’t necessarily be taking any action on the findings aside from posting them for the public to see.
“We’re using a successful resolution to a case to fund something that’s going to benefit people in southeast Portland and really people all over Portland to help them better understand what’s in their air,” he said.
The company Weston Solutions will be implementing the monitoring program for two years. After that, the equipment, which cost about $400,000 altogether, will be donated.
“This is very expensive equipment,” Wilson Yee of Weston Solutions said. “It really is out of reach of most state and even federal agencies. That’s why we don’t have them all over the place.”
Lauren Wirtis, public affairs specialist for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Northwest region, said her agency has not been involved in developing the new monitoring system.
“More monitoring is great,” she said. “And we’ll definitely be interested in what they find.”
If the new air testing stations detect concerning levels of toxic metals, she said, her agency would likely launch an investigation.
However, Wirtis said DEQ already had several air pollution monitors around the Bullseye Glass factory for about a year after the moss study revealed a toxic hot spot in the area.
The agency developed new regulations for colored glass manufacturers that are designed to reduce the emissions of toxic metals like cadmium and chromium, which are used to make blue and green glass.
Once Bullseye Glass installed a baghouse to reduce its air pollution, Wirtis said, emissions of cadmium and hexavalent chromium dropped dramatically.
The agency has four of its own air pollution monitoring stations in Portland at SE 45th and Harney, the Gresham Learning Centennial, Helensview School, and in the Humboldt neighborhood. There is also a monitor at the Wasco County Library in The Dalles and another in La Grande.
The agency will soon be releasing a summary of what those monitors are detecting.