“We were told by DEQ at 3 o’clock in the afternoon that we needed to meet with them at 4, and that's when we found out about it,” said Dan Schwoerer.
The owner of Bullseye Glass Company says that February 1 conversation forever altered his life’s work.
It was the day that heads at Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality informed him, that the neighborhood surrounding his factory had dangerously high levels of cancer-causing contaminants, including cadmium and arsenic.
They’re the same materials Schwoerer’s staff use to make red, orange, yellow and some green shades of glass.
They’re colors that Bullseye has stopped producing since that day, cutting the ingredients from production altogether. He added, late last week, the state asked him and fellow glass Portland glass maker Uroboros Glass Studio to stop using chromium, another contaminant. He says he also obliged.
Schwoerer, who gave KGW a tour of his Southeast Portland factory Monday, said he was floored. For more than half of his company’s 40-year existence, he says he’s worked with the DEQ, going through regular testing and emissions permit certifications.
“We’ve got an excellent safety record, so this really surprised us,” he said.
On top of that Schwoerer said about half of his 140 employees live in Southeast Portland.
He said his first priority is protecting them and the community.
“We're frustrated. We're scared. I can understand why people in the neighborhood are scared,” he said. “Again, we look to DEQ for guidance.”
Governor Kate Brown put out a statement about the reports Monday, saying that Bullseye put off cutting use of a certain type of chromium, trivalent, until today.
Schwoerer said that’s not true, arguing his staff cut the ingredient Thursday, as soon as they were asked.
He said the process set up to inform the state of measures taken has been disorganized.
Read the Governor’s full release here:(Salem, OR) — Governor Kate Brown released the following statement regarding state agency responses to her concerns about increased air toxicity in specific areas of Portland:
“I have received and reviewed the responses from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) regarding agency responses to high levels of cadmium, arsenic, and concerns about chromium use in north and southeast Portland.
“I have taken immediate steps to address health and safety concerns in north and southeast Portland neighborhoods, while working to develop longer-term solutions to the broader policy issues these circumstances have brought to light.
“As of this morning, Bullseye Glass Co. has agreed, voluntarily, to suspend its use of all forms of chromium, including trivalent chromium. With this step, Bullseye has now ceased its use of arsenic and cadmium as well as chromium. Another glass company in North Portland, Uroboros Glass, has agreed to suspend its use of cadmium and chromium (Uroboros does not use arsenic in its manufacturing processes). These steps address the immediate concerns to public health in terms of air quality.
“While I am relieved to know that specific steps have been taken to address the immediate risks to the public in terms of air quality, it is also important to take actions to address other potential routes of exposure to people in these communities.
• OHA establishing an incident command structure and joint information center with DEQ and Multnomah County to ensure that the agencies work closely together to respond to information as it is learned, and to ensure coordination between efforts at the state and local level.
• OHA establishing a hotline to provide health information to concerned residents, parents, and health care providers.
• OHA making information and resources available to healthcare providers and residents interested in urine testing based on the latest information and best evidence.
• DEQ will embark on soil testing in both north and southeast Portland to analyze the potential for exposures to occur through this medium.
• DEQ and OHA sharing the analyses and results of those tests with the public in a timely fashion.
• DEQ working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the state's university system, and other national experts to better understand the industrial processes involved at these facilities, and means to control emissions going forward.
• OHA working with laboratories to collect data from urine tests on elevated levels of cadmium, arsenic, and chromium near Bullseye and Uroboros. This information will help assess exposure and long-term health effects.
• OHA and DEQ coordinating their efforts to make information available to the public as it becomes known, and to develop a plan for providing ongoing, accurate health and safety information to the affected communities.
“While these steps respond to the immediate needs of these communities, the events of the past two weeks have made it clear that there is a larger and broader issue regarding the emission of air toxics.“Current federal and state regulatory programs are clearly inadequate to assure the public that their health is being protected. I am asking for the assistance of the federal government, other states, Oregon's research institutions, and the public to develop a more comprehensive approach to fixing this problem in Oregon. To assist in this effort, I have asked DEQ to inventory other facilities where there may be significant risks from air toxics emissions with localized or 'hot spot' effects.
“I am directing DEQ and the Environmental Quality Commission to take rapid action under existing statutory authority to begin this work, but I also expect that this effort will result in additional requests to our Oregon Legislature as well as the federal government.“I want all Oregonians to know that I take these issues extremely seriously, and that I am establishing an open, science-based effort to begin to restore confidence in this critical area of government.”
More top stories:
From ship to shore: 125 years at the Port of Portland
Follow us on Facebook for the latest breaking news updates
Watch live or check weather & traffic updates on the go with the KGW News app