Portland's Toxic Air Problem

Oregon Commission Approves New Pollution Rules For Glassmakers

By Cassandra Profita (OPB)
April 21, 2016 8:30 p.m.
Uroboros Glass voluntarily stopped using cadmium following moss testing that found a hot spot for the heavy metal near its North Portland location.

Uroboros Glass voluntarily stopped using cadmium following moss testing that found a hot spot for the heavy metal near its North Portland location.

Bryan M. Vance / OPB

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to approve new air pollution restrictions for colored glassmakers statewide.

Commissioner Morgan Rider voted no, saying the rules were a rushed overreaction to public outcry and would be unnecessarily burdensome to businesses.

The rules aim to control harmful emissions of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and manganese coming from facilities that make colored glass. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality proposed the new, temporary rules following the discovery of heavy metal hot spots near two Portland glassmaking facilities, Bullseye Glass and Uroboros Glass. The hotspots were revealed by a U.S. Forest Service study that tested for air pollutants in tree moss.

The most restrictive new rules apply only to Bullseye and Uroboros. They require the two companies to install and test pollution control devices on furnaces handling any of the six metals of concern by September. The companies will also be required to test how much trivalent chromium used in glassmaking is converted to toxic hexavalent chromium during the manufacturing process.

Three smaller glassmakers would be subject to less restrictive new rules that allow some exemptions.

The new rules set daily and yearly limits for the emission of hexavalent chromium, which is acutely toxic and carcinogenic. DEQ compliance and enforcement manager Leah Feldon told the board that was one of the changes agency staff made to the rules proposed last month in response to nearly 1,200 public comments.


The rules also expanded the list of metals covered by the rules from three to six and added new specifications for the performance of the air pollution controls. More than half of the comments came from artists and colored glass customers outside of Oregon, Feldon said.

The new rules are more restrictive than the federal National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for glassmakers, Feldon said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently concluded that Bullseye and Uroboros are subject to those federal rules, which require emissions controls on furnaces that use hazardous air pollutants and produce at least 50 tons of glass annually. Oregon regulators had previously determined that the company's furnaces were not considered "continuous" and thus were exempt.

Feldon said DEQ will have to revisit the air pollution permits for the two companies to make sure they comply with the federal rules.

"We need both companies to come into compliance," she said. "We have multiple things going on in the meantime."

The agency is also in the process of developing new regulations that will aim to protect human health from toxic air pollution – also in response to the revelation of toxic heavy metal hotspots in Portland.

Commissioner Rider said the agency doesn't have the resources to regulate "facility by facility," and didn't have time to develop "a more appropriate rule." She said she thinks the federal rules requiring pollution controls for glassmakers "will be protective enough."

"I think we have reacted to the public concern," Rider said. "We developed a rule that's going to impose significant restrictions on these businesses. I think it's not prudent for us as an agency to set that precedent."

After the vote, Bullseye Glass owner Dan Schoerer said he agrees with Rider's position and would rather have the agency take more time to develop comprehensive guidelines for how all businesses should control toxic air pollution.

"It just seemed to me like the attempt here is one of crisis management and not well thought out planning," he said.

Complying with the rules is going to be "extremely difficult," he said, though his company is already in the process of installing multiple pollution control devices.

"We have tens of thousands of customers across the world who are all small little artists making products. Right now, they can't get 50 percent of what we make," he said.

Oregon Health Authority toxicologist David Farrer said the daily limit is based on the state of New Hampshire's existing rules, but he hopes to have more time to his own toxicology review before more permanent rules are put in place. The Canadian province of Ontario has more restrictive limits on hexavalent chromium, but Farrer said those limits are based on cancer risk.

"We felt that there's a lot of uncertainty in how one 24-hour exposure to carcinogen can affect your lifetime exposure risk," he said. "We looked at other health risks beyond cancer."

The air pollution monitor near Bullseye recently detected levels of hexavalent chromium that are above the state benchmarks for ambient air, though not high enough to raise health concerns. Feldon said the detection means there must be additional sources of hexavalent chromium in the area, but regulators don't know where it's coming from.

Commissioner Melinda Eden asked Feldon if there could be a way to digitally search the material data safety sheets companies are required to maintain to find out who is using what materials in their operations.

"I can't let this opportunity pass in my quest to modernize this agency," she said. "Wouldn't it be helpful if all that information was in a database that was searchable?"

Feldon said that would be helpful, but the agency doesn't have that capability yet.

The approved temporary rules will last 180 days, which isn't long enough for the state to complete its overhaul of air pollution regulations. Feldon said that means the agency may be looking to make the temporary rules permanent. That would require a separate approval process and additional public comment, she said, and it could involve changes to the temporary rules.