Published by The Oregonian - March 26, 2018
By Daniel Schwoerer and Lani McGregor
There is widespread agreement that Oregon must do more to curb its toxic air emissions. But important lessons should be learned from the state's treatment of Bullseye Glass in 2016 after the community raised concerns about emissions from our glass factory. Despite our small company's decades of compliance with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality regulations and the immediate actions we voluntarily took to address concerns, the state scapegoated our company, employing scare tactics, flawed science and discriminatory standards. Even now, Bullseye continues to be subjected to standards and timelines far more rigorous than those now offered to major polluters. Cleaner Air Oregon (SB 1541) reveals the hypocrisy of the state's position on Oregon's air quality.
If the key to creating a better way to control air toxics in the future is to avoid the mistakes of the past, what can we learn from Bullseye Glass that's useful while rejecting the flaws of SB 1541?
- Make sure regulations are based on real science and clear standards. Two years ago, when the toxic air scare erupted, because of the cadmium and arsenic readings from carelessly conducted air monitoring near Bullseye Glass, David Farrer, Oregon Health Authority toxicologist, stated that based on those readings, the potential increased risk of cancer was 100 in a million. Why was a cancer risk level of 100 in a million considered a public health emergency two years ago, and now a 200 in a million risk level is allowable for large manufacturers under SB-1541? Even though those air monitoring results were based on a flawed test, which overstated the results, Bullseye has met the 1 in a million-risk level demanded of it two years ago. While we are happy to have met these emission levels, we must ask why that standard is asked of no others in industry today.
- Avoid creating a cottage industry of lawsuits based on poor data and false and inflammatory government statements. After two years, Bullseye, a $15 million home-grown manufacturer making hand-crafted art glass in Southeast Portland, is still defending itself from a $1.2 billion lawsuit. The lawsuit is largely based on false and inflammatory statements made by local and state agencies warning neighbors not to eat vegetables from their gardens within a half-mile of Bullseye Glass - even though Forest Service soil tests given to DEQ showed no reason for concern. The class action lawyers and the state have never shown that any harm has been done to property in the neighborhoods surrounding Bullseye Glass, yet we are on track to spend $4 million in legal fees defending ourselves through trial.
- Protect public health by implementing clear, tough regulations developed through a transparent process and applied with even-handed fairness. State and federal agencies charged with protecting human health and the environment knew for over a decade that Oregon's airshed had toxins hundreds of times above the benchmarks. Small to medium-sized companies and the average citizen were never informed. It is a shame that our government didn't take the opportunity to use Bullseye as an example of how government can work with a company that was willing to quickly address a concern and that had a long track record of environmentally responsible practices. Instead, when air monitoring data was leaked to the media, before it was shared with Bullseye Glass, government agencies over-reacted, and in an effort to protect their own reputation artificially manufactured an environmental crisis and went after one of the smallest manufacturers in town, all the while ignoring the state's major polluters.
In the wake of the Bullseye fiasco, the Legislature has passed a flawed measure -- SB 1541. If the health standards embodied in this bill and the 10-year period of compliance constitute acceptable standards and risks for the state, then Gov. Kate Brown and her agencies need to admit that they rushed to judgment in the Bullseye case, scared a neighborhood, panicked an entire city and put people out of work, all to burnish their reputation as tough politicians and regulators. On the other hand, if Gov. Brown believes the state acted appropriately with respect to Bullseye Glass, then she should veto SB 1541 for failure to implement stronger regulatory air standards.
Dan Schwoerer and Lani McGregor are co-owners of Bullseye Glass Co., a factory that Schwoerer founded in 1974 to make colored glass for art and architecture.