The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission decided Tuesday to postpone a vote on new air pollution rules for colored glassmakers.
The decision followed numerous calls for the board to delay its decision and give the public more time to weigh in.
The rules were proposed in an effort to protect public health from heavy metal air pollution detected in Portland near the Bullseye Glass and Uroboros Glass facilities. They would require companies that make more than 10 tons of colored glass a year to add pollution controls on furnaces that handle arsenic, cadmium, chromium or nickel.
It also requires the companies to report their use of certain metals and test their emissions. It allows Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to limit the amount of metals the companies use if the agency determines there is a health risk to neighboring communities.
But dozens of people at a public hearing on the rules – including employees of Bullseye Glass and neighbors concerned about their health risks – asked the commission to wait at least two weeks before voting.
The board agreed and is now scheduled to vote on the rules at its meeting next month.
“I think it’s good to delay it,” said Commissioner Morgan Rider. “Deciding today would have been too hasty.”
Rider said she hopes to get more information on the glass-making process, especially the use of chromium, which can take a benign or carcinogenic form.
Mary Peveto with the group Neighbors for Clean Air said the immediate public health risks have been reduced now that Bullseye has voluntarily stopped using cadmium, chromium and arsenic. The new rules were written behind closed doors, she said, and released to the public less than a day before the scheduled vote to approve them.
“Having public input is a much higher ideal they really need to strive to meet than this emergency fast-moving rule-making that’s been done behind closed doors,” she said. “I mean, 23 hours is certainly not enough time to give full consideration to whether these rules are going to be protective enough.”
In a statement, Bullseye Glass called the process “rushed, sloppy and based more on politics than public interest.” Many supporters of the company spoke out at the meeting, urging commissioners not to pass rules that would force the company to shut down.
The company joined others in requesting a 14-day public comment period on the new rules. It also disputed the state’s suggestion that the harmless form of trivalent chromium could turn into the toxic form of hexavalent chromium in the glass-making process.
Company co-owner Dan Schwoerer said he will be asking for a change in how proposed rules address chromium.
During the meeting, DEQ staff told commissioners they don’t have a lot of data on whether the glassmaking process could turn one form of chromium into another. Their proposed rules require the companies to test and model the possible chromium emissions from their glassmaking facilities.
DEQ staff told commissioners they recommended an immediate vote on the rules because the agency only has assurance that glassmaker will refrain from using metals in their operation.
Commissioner Melinda Eden pressed staff members on why they took so long to put up an air monitor outside Bullseye Glass after learning about moss testing results, and why the agency doesn’t already have air pollution rules based on health risks as California and Washington do.
Sarah Armitage, air toxics specialist with DEQ, told Eden it takes a lot of coordination put up an air monitor, and the agency didn’t have staff available to work on it immediately.
“For DEQ, putting up an air monitor in five months is really pretty fast,” she said.
Armitage said the agency has held several advisory committee processes that resulted in the rules the state has today. The current rules set health benchmarks for air toxics and outline a plan for reducing them over time.
Rider said the benchmarks seem insufficient because “they’re not enforceable and they’ve been exceeded on a regular basis.”
DEQ is working on making permanent rules that would be designed to limit health risks from toxic air pollution. It has set up a web page where comments can be submitted until April 20.